Category Archives: 2nd through 4th grade

The Girl Who Lost a Leopard by Nizrani Farook

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The Girl Who Lost a Leopard by Nizrani Farook

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This stand alone middle grade read by Muslim author Nizrana Farook is similar to her first two books about an elephant and a whale in that it is set in Serendib a long time ago and revolves around a beautiful wild animal and clever, endearing, determined young children. This actual story is an easy read at 203 pages (the end of the book is the first four chapters of one of her previously published books).  I think seven and eight year olds will enjoy getting to know Selvi and the beautiful leopard Lakka that she considers a friend.  For me the ending took an odd turn that seemed out of place, but up until then I was enchanted by the lush imagery, sheer determination, and sweet friendship shared within the pages.  The main character is not Muslim, but presumably some of the side characters are with names such as, Amir and Salma.

SYNOPSIS:
Selvi and her mother live in a small home on the mountain.  Most days she runs wild with a golden leopard she has named Lakka.  She keeps her distance, but there is a pattern to their interactions, and when Selvi’s mother finally allows her to go to school, and she finds the other children unkind, Lakka becomes her only friend.  One day poachers are on the mountain hunting not just any leopards, which are protected by the queen, but the rare golden one that is often seen in the area, Selvi tries to interfere.  And before she knows it, they are after her.  She hides near a home, and when the poacher’s come looking for her, she is at the mercy of Amir to lie and say he hasn’t seen her.  Amir is a classmate, a mean one, but he has seen her before with the leopard, and suddenly Lakka is not so alone.

Between making friends at school, battling her uncle’s rules to start behaving more ladylike, and keeping a leopard safe, the adventure is fast paced and the story entertaining.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love kids outsmarting adults and saving the day, it makes for good story telling.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I really felt like it was forced.  I truly do not understand why the children needed to take a drugged Lakka to the port and back.  Why not leave him with the new friends and go to the port without him? He is a wild animal, we have been given reasoning for so much of the human animal interactions to be believable, that this seems to be negligent.  So much could have gone wrong and for what? There was no need.  The kids wanting to see punishment handed out is motivation enough for them to make the journey in my opinion.  Sigh, I don’t know that younger kids will be as bothered as I am, but I think fourth graders and up will definitely question it and be confused.  I also don’t know that I have ever seen the sneak peak of another book included at the end, being for a book previously published.  Aren’t they usually for upcoming releases? Either way, it seemed to make the last portion of the book deflate a bit for a story that was engaging, entertaining, and hard to put down until then.

FLAGS:

Lying, poaching, abuse, threats, killing, animal cruelty, bullying.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a fun read aloud in a classroom or at bedtime.  The short chapters have little illustrations above the headings that hint at what is to come, and the writing style is perfect for short blocks of time.

The book is available on Amazon

Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Ani Bushry

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Marya Khan and the Incredible Henna Party by Saadia Faruqi illustrated by Ani Bushry

I thoroughly enjoyed the voice and playfulness of this 144 page early chapter book.  Mary Khan is a hoot as she navigates third grade, her Pakistani-American family, and the politics of birthday parties.  There is not a lot of Islam sprinkled in, save a few salaams, but the mom and Dadi wear hijab which is mentioned in the text and in the illustrations. Culture is presented warmly and her current stresses are not tied to her faith or background.  There is mention of witches and churrails, and she calls her sister one too, some lying, and numerous over the top efforts to be helpful as “Operation Help the Khans” is put in to action.  Nothing a first or second grader won’t be able to handle or understand, and a great series in between the author’s Yasmin books and her Must Love Pets series.

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SYNOPSIS:

Marya’s birthday is two days after her neighbor Alexa’s, her rich spoiled neighbor who is also in her class, and in her seating group.  The youngest of three kids Marya often feels that no one listens to her, and her wanting a birthday party this year, is met with the same dismissal in her eyes.  Aliya is a teenager and Salman, who she calls Sal to her grandmother’s chagrin, is in 5th grade, so Marya often finds herself hiding out in her Dadi’s room watching dramas in Urdu that she doesn’t really understand.  When she sees a birthday on the screen with henna, a band, and an elephant, Marya doesn’t want just any old party, she wants it all. 

Every year Marya’s best friend Hana comes over for pizza, cake, and a sleepover, but when Alexa hands out beautiful invitations to everyone at school, Marya says she too is having a party, a henna party.  Hana knows something is up, but it is full steam ahead for Marya as she devises a plan to convince her family to allow it to happen. With her mom’s flower shop busy with an upcoming wedding, there are lots of ways that Marya can help around the house, and then her family will have to let her, right? If only something could work out as Marya plans.  Then to top it all off, Marya starts to feel bad for the annoying Alexa and in a moment of kindness invites her to her party. It will just be boring pizza and cake, but if Marya can be nice to Alexa, perhaps anything is possible, and there might be more surprises in store for them all.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the vocabulary calendar words thrown in and the fertilizer smell that permeates all.  The story line might not be the most unique, but the silly disasters and the spunk of Marya make her endearing and the book enjoyable.  I love that the stress isn’t her culture or religion, she is a Pakistani American Muslim and she has concerns that all kids have, everywhere.  I also love that the mom owns her own flower shop and is passionate and successful in her work.  

One thing I didn’t quite get was why henna is called henna in the book and not mendhi? There are desi food names included, I wish it would have also maybe had a conversation in the book explaining that it is called mendhi in Urdu, but they are calling it henna.  I love that Dadi doesn’t like Salman’s name getting shortened and that mom’s hijab is remarked upon in a normative way. 

I probably shouldn’t like the comments that Marya makes about her sister, but I laughed, and yes she is cheeky, but it is funny and love filled, I hope. She also makes mean comments about Alexa, but the growth arc shows improvement and reads real.

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FLAGS:

Name calling, lying, teasing, mention of jinn, birthday, bands.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Too young for a book club, but definitely preordering for the school library.  

Thank you to Netgalley and Amulet Books for the arc.  You can preorder your copy HERE

 

Anisa’s International Day by Reem Faruqi

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Anisa’s International Day by Reem Faruqi

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Full of determination, creativity, culture, misunderstandings, and learning from your mistakes, this story will resonate with readers 6-10 who want to solve problems on their own, stand out and be special, and who must own up to their mistakes when they happen.  In just under a hundred pages of story, the characters are developed and made memorable, the voice realistic, and the story engaging and enjoyable.  I love that there is no cultural or religious identity crisis, no parental fixing of problems, and no preachy moral overtones.  There are many lessons learned, explored, and threaded through the book, but the incredible writing never lets the threads overpower the story.  The emotional attachment to Anisa has you cringing when she messes up, cheering for her to solve a problem, and sighing in relief when amends are made.  The backmatter is quite robust with recipes, a glossary, numerous activities, and notes from the author.  I know the book says it is meant for grades 3rd through 7th, but I think early chapter book readers will enjoy it the most.  There is not a lot of Islam in the book, but enough that Muslim readers will appreciate the representation and OWN voice authenticity.

SYNOPSIS:

Anisa is an artist, a baker, and pushes herself to be ingenious in all she does.  With her aunt’s wedding coming up, her and her sister and their A-Z Bakery are tasked with making cookies for a party, and her Nani in Pakistan has even sent clothes for her to wear.  Included in the package is a beautiful kurta that Anisa decides to wear to school.  Inspired by her pride in her culture the teacher, Miss Torres, decides the class will have an international day.  Anisa can’t wait to bring samosas, but Prerna from India commits to bringing them first and ingenious Anisa can’t copy her.  To make matters worse, Anisa’s best friend Katie doesn’t seem to like the mehndi Anisa got put on at the dholki.  Misunderstandings, assumptions, and hurt feelings get amplified when Anisa takes action, and when everything gets put out in the open, she will have to find a way to make things right.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the drama is not over sensationalized, it is on par for 3rd grade and the solutions are as well. The teacher and Anisa’s parents are supportive and present, but they don’t solve the problems or force reflection, the children in the story do.  I love the subtle backstory of Anisa and Prerna seeming to be in competition, but finding support in one another as the story moves through.  I also love that no one puts pressure on Anisa to be the most creative or the best at anything, it genuinely feels like her personality and a standard she expects for herself.  I was glad that there was no cultural (or religious) self doubting.  The problems with a friend is communication, approval, and misunderstanding.  The mehndi is the catalyst, but it is not meant or perceived to be a symbol of a whole culture and identity.  It is just mehndi. Of course I also love that the apologizing is not just saying sorry, but rather making things right.

There is mention of the aunt wearing hijab and taking it off because Anisa’s dad is not home, that is tucked in and appreciated.  There are black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout that show women in hijab (#muslimsintheillustrations) as well.  The pictures are not finalized in the arc I received, so I will update the included images in this review at a later time.

FLAGS:

There is mention of music, not sure if it is just drums, or other instruments as well. Makeup is also worn by the adult women and mentioned a few times.  Anisa is mean, but she does apologize.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think fans of the Yasmin series (Saadia Faruqi) will move on to this book, and also enjoy the upcoming Marya Khan series also by Saadia Faruqi. The book fills a gap for this reading demographic, and will add relatability, representation, and warmth to whatever shelf it is placed on.

Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with Videos (The Story of Riya) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra binte Absar Kazmi

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Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with Videos (The Story of Riya) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra binte Absar Kazmi

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This illustrated 64 page Islamic fiction chapter book is meant for early readers, but it was a good reminder for me as well.  Tackling the rarely covered topic of Riya (to do good deeds only to be seen by others), the book has been checked by a religious scholar (and his name included), features Quranic references at the end of the story, and the book is entertaining, relatable, funny, and adorably, albeit simply illustrated, by a child no less.  Like the first book in the Hiba’s Readalicious Series, there are a few grammar errors, and the Mommy/Daddy references read childish, but the story has interest, heart, humor, and both myself and my children found the book engaging on its own while also lending itself to worthwhile discussion around the dinner table.

SYNOPSIS:

Twins Zayd and Musa don’t have a smart phone and their friend Isa not only has one, but also has a YouTube channel.  Isa’s desire for likes and followers gives Zayd and Musa a variety of feelings, and with the context of their involved parents, friendly neighbor, and their own conscious, they learn about riya, and that often things in life are not just good or bad, but one’s intention that matters.

The illustrations not only illustrate the text, but also include talking bubbles with additional comedy or facts about screen usage, internet availability and study results as pertaining to the topics raised.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the topic isn’t just handed down from the adults in the story, the boys and their point of view flesh it out and make it so the reader will actually understand the concept and hopefully recall it later in life.  The humor makes it relatable and the lessons while preachy, it is that type of book, are not presented as good/bad, right/wrong, it shows different scenarios, and how we all must constantly check our intentions, not just the “antagonist” of the story.

FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book lends itself to discussion with older children than the intended audience.  While the book is meant for say a six year old, the discussion using the examples in the book, at least for my children, was much more relevant to the middle schoolers.  Naturally, teaching early readers about intention is still a valuable lesson, but I’d encourage 10 and up to also read the story, so that discussion from their perspective can occur.  It is an easy read for older kids, but a beneficial one- just give them a heads up that the kid parent relationship is notably cringe and babyish, the lessons however are food for though.

Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan illustrated by Wastana Haikal

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Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan illustrated by Wastana Haikal

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This early chapter book packs a lot of personality, growth, and fun into 127 pages.  The writing quality is engaging and the characters relatable.  If you have read the Zayd Saleem books you will recognize the family in this new stand alone series.  Either way though, from the surprising Naano to the fun Mamoo, the neighborhood children and the desire to maintain her reign as Queen of the neighborhood, the book may be meant for 7-10 year olds, but based on the kids in my house, anyone that picked it up, read the entire book before putting it back down.  The grandma covers her head, it mentions she reads Quran, there is a Salaam or two, an InshaAllah, and desi cultural foods mentioned.  The focus is not on religion or culture, but the layer adds depth to the characters, and normalizes names and practices in a universal plot.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zara’s neighborhood has a lot of kids in it, and Zara has the reputation of being the leader who rules with grace and fairness.  It is a position she takes very seriously.  When Mr. Chapman moves out and a new family moves in, Zara fears losing her place.  The new girl Naomi has a lot of ideas and everyone seems to like them.  Zara has a grand idea to set a Guinness World Record, but with her little brother Zayd messing her up, nothing is going as planned for the summer.

As she finds her self alone a lot and not having much fun, she decides to change things up.  She works to be less bossy, less controlling, more willing to to share her crown.  With a lot of heart, internal growth, recognizing her strengths and weaknesses, the neighborhood kids just might have a record-breaking summer.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story wasn’t just surface level, it acknowledged some emotions and stresses and introspection, that I was pleasantly surprised to see played out in an early chapter book.  I really just enjoy the family, they read relatable and fun. The Nanoo’s surprise ability to hula hoop and her pettiness over a cooking competition genuinely made me smile.  The neighborhood kids and the politics of the different aged children having to find ways to compromise reminds me a lot of my summers as a kid, and the nostalgia was sweet.  I like the Islamic touchstones, I would have loved if they had to go in at sunset to pray or something of the like, but I was glad that at least that Nanoo reads Quran and an inshaAllah in the text made me feel seen.

FLAGS:

Music, dancing, frustration, jealousy

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book should definitely be on every library and class shelf.  It releases tomorrow on Amazon, but Crescent Moon Store already has it.

Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale retold by Kathleen Moriarty illustrated by Amin Amir and Somali translation by Jamal Adam

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Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale retold by Kathleen Moriarty illustrated by Amin Amir and Somali translation by Jamal Adam

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This bilingual (English and Somali) book tells the folktale of a wise leader challenging the men in his province with a riddle, and it being solved by a poor farmer’s eldest daughter.  Based on a real Sultan from the mid 19th century, the book does not claim the story to be true, and leaves it up to the reader to form their own impression.  The lesson however, is rich with culture, insight, charm, and perhaps surprise.  There is no Islam present or hinted at, but the illustrator’s and translator’s names suggest that they are Muslim as the majority of Somali’s are, and the picture at the back of the book of members of the Somali Book Project show multiple females in hijab- so I’m sharing it on my platform to inshaAllah encourage often rarely seen, in western literature, cultures and traditions to be brought to more peoples’ attention.

The book starts with an author’s note explaining the tradition in East Africa of having a nickname and that Wiil Waal was the naanay of Garad Farah Garad Hirsi, a man who was a sultan for a brief time.  He was known to be a great leader who was brave, and clever, and used riddles to unite people.  Like all folktales though, this doesn’t claim to be a true story, but one filled with wisdom.

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Long ago Wiil Waal set forth a riddle, “bring me part of one of your sheep.  The sheep’s part should symbolize what can divide people or unite them as one.”  The one who can do so will be honored as a wise man.

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The men pick different parts to bring to the sultan with little success:  a rib, a liver, a shoulder of meat.  In a distant province a poor farmer who had few sheep and many children half heartedly prepared to slaughter his finest animal to present to Wiil Waal.  His oldest daughter comes to help him, and he tells her the riddle.  They work through it, and she thinks she is certain she knows the answer.

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Trusting his daughter the farmer presents the sultan with what his daughter recommended.  Quick to see that the farmer is not confident, he asks who solved the riddle and the story of the daughter’s intelligence is conveyed.

The book ends hinting that she is a future leader of Somalia.  And no, I’m not going to tell you the answer.  Go read the book!

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Ali and the Gladiators by Farheen Khan illustrated by Evgeniya Erokhina (Ali Series Book #1)

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Ali and the Gladiators by Farheen Khan illustrated by Evgeniya Erokhina (Ali Series Book #1)

This new early chapter book series from Ruqaya’s Bookshelf comes as a boxed set (Books 1-5), so I wasn’t sure if I should review all of them as a collection, or just the first book.  I don’t typically review additional books in a series, but these books can be read out of order and stand alone just fine.  Ultimately, I’m just going to review the first book, but know the entire series is silly, clean and engaging for ages 7 and up (2nd grade will love these), they will connect with boys, girls, Muslims, non Muslims, and get readers of all ages smiling, if not laughing, at Ali’s outrageous adventures and choices.  Ali is presumably Muslim, the author is Muslim, the publisher is Muslim, but there is nothing religious at all in the text.  Even the one about Eid is very culture framed, not “I’m Muslim and this is what we do and why,” so to speak.  In Ali and the Gladiator there is a friend named Abdullah, his parents are referred to as Mama and Baba, they eat at Moe’s Shawarma Shop, and eat daal and roti at home, so there are hints of culture and religion that will further mirror a Muslim reader’s experience, but the focus is on the hilarious situations that Ali finds himself getting in to and out of with good friends, kindness, enthusiasm, and bravery.  All the books are about 60 pages long with short chapters, detailed pencil style drawings every few pages, inviting text, and an activity at the end.

TODAY (3/25/22) IS THE LAST DAY TO PREORDER AT THE SPECIAL PRICE, and THE BEAUTIFUL BOXED COLLECTION RELEASES APRIL 1st, JUST IN TIME FOR RAMADAN!

SYNOPSIS:

Ali really wants to impress his teacher, Mr. O’Reilly and a big project on Rome will be a great opportunity to do so, but he isn’t anxious to get started.  He has his April Party to prepare for, his friends to hang out with, and plus he knows he works best under pressure.  When he finally realizes he should get started, all the books on Rome are checked out, save a small book on the floor, yes Ali is on the floor in the library.  The book is about how to become a gladiator and that gives Ali an idea.  As his imagination works out the details he is off to his favorite store, the hardware store.  He has weapons to make and actors to train, and beasts to tame.  The assignment is supposed to be written, but Ali is extra and he does not want to be boring.  When he raises his hand to go first in the presentation, Mr. O’Reilly is confused, no one is presenting, they are just handing in their reports, but when gladiators and a “ferocious” cat enter the room, it is clear that Ali has his own way of doing most everything.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is fun and well written.  The characters grow and the writing and descriptions smooth, the illustrations add detail and the books are perfectly silly for their intended audience.  So many books for this demographic resort to brattiness or potty humor, and I love that these are outrageous shenanigans, but they don’t cross into being obnoxious

I do wish there was more Islam in the books, or really any.  It doesn’t need to be Islam centered of preachy, but to add a bit of depth to the characters and flesh out their backgrounds would have been nice.  The desi foods are included, why not mention halal or toss in some inshaAllahs or that Ali gets to work on his weapons after fajr.

I absolutely love the presentation of all five books in a hard glossy case.  They look lovely on a shelf and would make wonderful gifts for Eid, or any time really.

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FLAGS:

none

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I hope to have these in our school library, and encourage the 2nd and 3rd grade teacher to look in to having them on their classroom shelves.  Kids will be tempted to pick them up off the shelf, they will thumb through them and be drawn in, inshaAllah once they read one, they will read the whole series, and if that isn’t praise for a book series, I don’t know what is. Happy Reading!

My World of Hamd: A Reflective Book on Gratitude by Lateefah Binuyo

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My World of Hamd: A Reflective Book on Gratitude by Lateefah Binuyo

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This thick hardback 46 page book is a great next step after teaching your kids to say “Alhamdulillah” to helping them to understand what it truly means.  Meant for second graders and up, this book is text heavy and encourages deeper thought, reflection, and practice.  It is not a quick read, and some children may struggle to sit through the entire book, but any time spent, I think, will be incredibly beneficial as it strives to move from the habit of just saying “Alhamdulillah” to being intentional in our appreciation and gratitude.  The thick inside pages, warm large illustrations, and colorful reflections are well done and enjoyable.  I only wish the cover better conveyed the content within.

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The book begins with ayat 18 from Surah Nahl stating: “If you tried to count Allah’s blessings, you would never be able to number them.  Indeed, Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. With the tone set, the fictionalized story begins with Ibraheem and his mum having breakfast.

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Ibraheem is a curious boy that is only ever quiet when he is sleeping or eating.  When his mum reminds him to say Alhamdulillah after he finishes eating, he gets to wondering, “What does Alhamdulillah mean?”

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Mum explains that the hamd in Alhamdulillah means praise and gratitude, and it is for Allah swt alone.  Ibraheem then wants to know how can he feel “hamd all the time?”  He and his mum discuss that hamd has to be felt within the heart, and it isn’t just saying it after a meal, but appreciation that you have food to eat.  Appreciation when you wake up in the morning, because many do not, etc.  The two discuss small and large aspects in a day that provide opportunities to truly appreciate the gifts of Allah swt.

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The book covers topics such as: sneezing and appreciating your muscles, getting dressed and recognizing the blessing of clothing, awards at school, losing your backpack, happy times and sad times too.  Along the way mum passes on information about how when we are grateful Allah swt gives us more, about how even in sad times we have so much to learn about patience and asking Allah for help, that we can fill our days with hamd.

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The book touches on never feeling sad in Jannah, Allah’s name Al-Hameed, and explaining how we have to still thank people and show appreciation to them because Allah sends his blessings through people as well.

The book concludes with teaching duas about hamd one word at a time, a glossary, and tips for using the book.  There are a lot of hadith and ayats explained on a child’s level and overall really answers and provides insights about saying Alhamdulillah and feeling Hamd.

Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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This delightful 70 page early chapter book is filled with humor, Islam, and a sweet story that ties it all together.  The book definitely has a teaching agenda, but it carries it with hilarious banter and relatable examples, all while covering a topic not often discussed in children’s books: money.  The book has a few grammar, vocabulary, and consistency concerns, but they are easy to overlook for readers 2nd grade and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Twins Zayd and Musa are very, very different.  Both boys enjoy cricket, but Zayd is more focused and enjoys homework, whereas Musa tends to daydream and often says something funny, but unintentionally.  When Musa makes the case in Science class that food, water, shelter, and money are all needed to survive, the class finds him hysterical.

Musa knows not to argue, his teacher is his elder and he knows he should have taqwa and be respectful, but he doesn’t give up on his idea either.  When the boys’ mom talks about halal money and gives them Islamic references for how money should be handled, Musa has a great idea: kids should be paid to go to school.

Once again, the whole school finds him funny, but Saeed Uncle, a neighbor who helps feed the poor at a roadside stand, doesn’t dismiss Musa’s idea and tells him, in some places kids are paid. And offers to take him and show him.

With references to sahabas who had great wealth and examples of how wealth can be used for good, Musa and Zayd learn numerous lessons, and share them with those around them, in a fun, engaging manner.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I get that the book is preachy, but in my mind, it is a story built around a teaching concept, so it doesn’t bother me.  I love the jokes and the tone.  At times the book is written quite formally, but being the author lives in Karachi, Pakistan, I assume that part of it, is just different standards.  I appreciate the Quran Circle table that lists where the Quran mentions wealth and the glossary.  I didn’t quite get all of the random facts included throughout, as some were about money, others about school, but I think kids will enjoy them none-the-less.  The illustrations are enjoyable, the text bubbles often hilarious (once again, a few I didn’t get).

I liked that it mentioned not drawing faces, and not going somewhere alone with someone you aren’t close with.  It is said in passing, but I love that those little nuggets exist in a book that is about something more, but normalizes and takes advantage of the opportunity to remind children of basic safety and Islamic concepts.

There are some awkward tense changes, and a few gaps in the story, but overall, I really enjoyed it and need to find the first one in the series.

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS TO LEAD THE DISCUSSION:
This would be a great book to use in a middle grades Islam class as a starting point to having students research the Quran and Sunnah to find information on a topic.  The humor will keep kids engaged, and the concept is an important one.  I plan to make all my kids read it, so that we can discuss as a family, and benefit from the lessons presented.

Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa’ Tarnowska illustrated by Vali Mintzi

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Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa’ Tarnowska illustrated by Vali Mintzi

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Set in Daraya, and based on a real events in Syria, as well as the author’s own life in Lebanon, this 32 page elementary and up story does an amazing job of showing relatable childhood adventures and ingenuity shining through even in the most horrific of environments.  The book is inspiring and warm, but the backdrop of war is very much present.  Some young children may be bothered by the images and text, while others will benefit from understanding the humanity that is affected by such violence.  I know the book says the pages are not final, but I wanted to put it out to help drum up interest.  I feel this story would best work in intimate settings where discussion, compassion, and gratitude can all intuitively transpire.

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Nour’s best friend is her cousin Amir, they love to read and imagine adventure and secret societies.  As their dream to create a secret club, complete with a secret password and handshake, for them and their friends starts to come to fruition, war arrives first. 

Families are forced to seek shelter away from the bullets at night in their basements, and only are allowed to venture out when absolutely necessary.  Every time Amir goes out, he collects any books he finds, and encourages his friends to do the same.  

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They begin sorting the books, and trying to decide what to do with them, when Nour has an idea to create a secret library.  Everyone pitches in when an empty, half destroyed basement is located, and the books are moved and set up on discarded planks of wood.  A boy next door is entrusted with the secret handshake and becomes the deputy librarian.

As word spreads, everyone from boys and girls to soldiers and rescuers, collect books to stock the shelves and checkout books to keep their minds busy.  The library, named Fajr, is open every day from morning to evening and closed during Jummah.  It becomes the city’s best kept secret and a source of hope for the community.

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There are references at the back that tell about the true story of the Secret Library in Syria, the author’s memories of hiding in the basement in Lebanon, a glossary of terms, information about Syria, the illustrator’s research, information about the war, and famous libraries in the Middle East.

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