Category Archives: Folktale

Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Having read the other “princess” retellings by Fawzia Gilani I didn’t rush out to acquire this book, but when a friend said it was available at the public library, I was surprised and admittedly curious.  This book just like the others in the series are very much in my eyes “Islamic fiction” for how centered Islam is for the characters and how it is used to frame the story toward a religious message.  The fact that a small city library in a Southern state purchased and shelves it, is pretty impressive.  As for the story, well it is really long, and wordy, and every page is filled with tiny text filled lines that I doubt most kids will be able to sit through.  The Islamic content is very present, the Uyghur setting appreciated, but wow do the 41 pages pack a lot of text in to a fairytale re-telling. There is a lot of Islam and Quran and at times it fits well, at other times incredibly forced.  The book claims it is for ages 5-8, but truthfully I don’t know that any age would be able to sit through it and be engaged.

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In a tangled forest lives a wife and her husband, a clockmaker and a woodcutter.  Before they married, the wealthy and cold Shuna Leng had hoped to marry the woodcutter, but he never asked, and she never forgot.  As a result seeing her neighbors happy keeps her jealous heart plotting and conniving to bring the couple misery and pain.

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One day, while pregnant, the wife has a strong craving for rapunzel greens.  Some just happen to grow on Shuna Leng’s property.  The husband is nervous to ask, but when his wife falls weak he makes an effort.  She doesn’t answer, so he picks some growing along the path and leaves coin for payment.  This wife regains her strength and then begins craving them again.  He decides to do what he did last time, but is caught.  The evil woman agrees that he can have all the rapunzel greens he wants but if the baby is a girl she shall be given in payment.

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Once born the baby is taken and kept hidden from her parents.  Various governesses are employed over the years to tend to Rapunzel and who teach her Islam and kindness.  Ever so often they have to up and move and abandon their routine when people start asking questions, but the lessons learned from the Quran stay with Rapunzel and she endures what she must.

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Eventually she ends up in a tower, she offers to help a stray boy recite Quran, and the evil plot of keeping her locked up unravels.  Yes SPOILER she is returned to her parents.

It is a decent retelling in theory, it just is really long, and there isn’t quality character building to invest the reader to the side stories being presented.

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The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet

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The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet

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It has been nearly 10 years since a new Rukhsana Khan book has been published, and alhumdulillah, she is back with a delightful folktale.  This story starts off like many popular fairy tales, but it doesn’t simply end with a wedding and living happily ever after.  The story is just getting started, once the clever Danyshman and Khan Bolotbek start their lives together.  Over 40 richly illustrated pages brimming with character, culture, and hints of what might happen, the ending will sweep readers aged 5 and up into smiles and giggles and leave them begging to hear the story again and again.

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When the old Khan is on his deathbed, he leaves the future rule to be decided upon by his beloved white falcon.  The bird lands on the shoulder of a young shepherd and the subjects begrudgingly accept him as their leader.  As his kindness and compassion over the years wins the people over, their only concern is that he hasn’t yet taken a wife.

So, many high born maidens gather and try and solve the questions Khan Bolotbek sets before them.  When one poor maiden learns what is happening and accompanies them, they are surprised with her clever answers, and the khan asks her to marry him.

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The khan discusses and consults with Danyshman and they essentially rule together.  There is just one promise the khan asked of his bride, and that is to “not share her wisdom with anyone, but him.”  The story continues, but with a clever wife being held to that promise, it is only a matter of time before her wisdom is shared, and it will take true cleverness for her not to lose everything as a result.

I love the strength of Danyshman, the levelheadedness of both her and the khan in ruling, and in remembering their humble roots.  The story is timeless, and this retelling ensures that more families with be familiar with this tale from Kyrgyzstan.

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The Tale of Princess Fatima, Warrior Woman: The Arabic Epic of Dhat al-Himma translated and edited by Melanie Magidow

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The Tale of Princess Fatima, Warrior Woman: The Arabic Epic of Dhat al-Himma translated and edited by Melanie Magidow

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I’m not sure how to really review this 167 page book.  It is the translated YA work of an Arabic Epic that took place somewhere between the seventh and 10th centuries and began possibly being compiled in the 1100s.  It was told orally, but when written, comprised some 6000 pages.  The translator notes that the choices of what to include and how to translate, all potentially alter and reshape the narrative, so as a reviewer I’m simply going to review the text in my hands.  I have no outside knowledge of this epic woman, and approached the book as I would have in high school when reading The Odyssey or Beowulf: some of the history is accurate, the characters fictitious, the culture possibly representative.  As a result, I find the comparisons to Wonder Woman and Katniss Everdeen on the back cover, very odd choices.  At times the contemporary diction, in my opinion cheapens the narrative.  Sure I appreciate the modernization of the text to make it an easy read, but throwing in modern slang seems too much.  I found the book’s framing unfortunately counterproductive of what it hoped to achieve.  I have no idea what the other 5,900 pages include and what the translator had to choose from, but the majority of the book focuses on marriage, being raped by her husband, and working to prove who the father of her Black son is when her and her rapist husband are white.  I was prepared for battles, and conquering, and fighting misogyny, and saving the down trodden, not every one just wanting to marry her.  Many of the characters are Muslim, some convert to Christianity to escape Dhat al-Himma, the Quran is quoted, prayers are made, the Kaaba visited.  I do however, take issue with the explanation of the child’s skin coloring being attributed to intercourse (rape) occurring while Fatima is menstruating and a case of Prophet Muhammad (saw) being used as proof of this occurring.  So much of the text is footnoted, this instance is not, and I find it disturbing.  The book also contains a lesbian character who ends up marrying a man, violence, death, and many other potential flags (see below) that might make it better suited for older college age readers.

SYNOPSIS:

The story doesn’t begin with the birth of Fatima, but rather with her great great grandfather.  It sets the stage a bit to show culture, how women and honor are treated, and the line of her ancestry.  When we get to know Fatima a few chapters later she is being born and her gender is a disappointment, so she is hidden away.  As she grows away from her tribe she becomes an accomplished warrior and captures her father in a raid.  When she returns to her people, her cousin, Walid, born the same time as her, is struck by her beauty and wants to marry her.  She refuses.  Repeatedly.  Finally she agrees to battle him and if he wins, she will marry him.  She wins, and he still doesn’t back down, finally she is forced/tricked in to marrying him by the Caliph’s agent.  The two are pronounced wed, but little changes for Fatima, she is a warrior and does not seek intimacy or companionship.  Eventually, her husband Walid enlists the help of Fatima’s milk brother and friend, Marzuq, to have him drug Fatima, so that he can rape her.  He acknowledges the rape, the whole community does, but allows it, because he is her husband.  When the child is born he is Black and Walid and his family refuse to accept that the child is his.  Amira Fatima is socially put on trial for being a whore and that the child is illegitimate.  As Walid works to have them killed, Fatima works to prove her innocence and carry on with her life trusting in Allah swt completely, all while the Arab-Byzantine battles are raging in the borderlands.  As Abdelwahhab, Fatima’s son, grows he too becomes a formidable warrior and the two have continued adventures.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the richness of the culture coming through a compelling story. Fatima is incredibly devout in her worship of Allah, swt.  She does not falter, ever.  When she is being tested she needs only her faith, at one point a man converts to Islam upon having a dream as a result of her conviction in praying.  That being said, I genuinely don’t understand a few critical points.  How can a woman who single handedly destroys tribes not be listened to, to make her own decisions to lead her own life.  I get that that is perhaps the poignant point of the story in today’s context, but there are a lot of strong women in this book, so why does her marriage and being defined by her not wanting to marry get so much of the spotlight? Her father didn’t want her, but they don’t resolve anything, they just reunite and all is well.  I need more.  I want to know what happened to Walid once he became Christian, was it a permanent thing, a temporary fix? What ended up happening between her and Marzuq? He was her trusted advisor and immediately regretted drugging her, what happened to him.  I want more about her mother, maybe even her Aunt or other women to see how their lives compared and contrasted to the powerful women highlighted.  How did they view her, was she inspiration, an anomaly, beloved, loathed?

I appreciate the footnotes, the introduction, the Note on the Translation, the further reading list, help with pronunciation and the character list.  A map would have been nice.

FLAGS:

There is violence, killing, rape, talk of sexual intercourse and menstruation.  There is misogyny, racism, flirting, sexual temptation, a lesbian character, magic, jinn.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would not be able to lead a proper discussion on this book, I am just not knowledgeable enough on the larger story.  I think I would like to be a student or be able to join a discussion led by someone well versed in The Tale of Princess Fatima and all the subtext that brought her story to life and maintained it over time.  It would be fascinating.

City of the Plague Gods (Rick Riordan Presents) by Sarwat Chadda

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City of the Plague Gods (Rick Riordan Presents) by Sarwat Chadda

I was excited to hear that another Rick Riordan/ Rick Riordan Presents books featured a Muslim character and was anxious to see how the multi god genre would account for Islamic tenants.  But I was completely giddy (that’s putting it mildly), when I found out that Sarwat Chadda is aka Joshua Khan, author of the Shadow Magic Series and that this book has practicing Muslim Characters front and center.  In his own words, “it has taken be twelve years and eleven books to get around to writing a Muslim tale.” That isn’t to say that it is Islamic fiction, there is gay romance that is there if you want to see it and has been confirmed by the author outside of the book, there are  numerous fake gods in Mesopotamian mythologies, there is death and violence, but it is fun, oh so fun.  It has salat, and going to the mosque, and an imam, and saying surahs and discussing jihad an nafs, and sadaqa and it says the shahada in Arabic and English, it presents Muslims authentically in their words and actions, and it isn’t just the characters’ backstories it is who they are and how they see the world.  The book is an AR 4.5 with 383 pages and like all Rick Riordan books, full of humor, sentiment, family, growth, and ancient mythology.

SYNOPSIS:

Sikander “Sik” Aziz is 13 and when not at school is at his family’s NYC deli working away.  The son of Iraqi immigrants, he is dedicated to helping his family especially since his older brother Muhammed, Mo, has passed away.  Mo’s lifelong friend Daoud has moved in to Mo’s old room and helps out in the deli, but is really an aspiring actor who does anything to get out of work.  When the book opens, Sik and Mo are closing up when the deli is attacked by rat faced men demanding to know where it is.  Sik has no idea what they are talking about and the two demons tear apart the family restaurant until a mysterious girl appears and sends them and their stream of insects, disease and destruction from the deli.

The next day at school Sik’s injuries are healing remarkably quick and he and the new girl, Belet, find themselves getting sent to the principal’s office together.  When he learns that Belet’s mom is Ishtar, goddess of love and war, or rather passion, and was the girl at the deli, he can no longer deny that the tales Mo used to tell him about Gilgamesh, Enkido, Nergal, Kasusu, and Mesopotamian mythology are very real.  

As Sik, Belet, Ishtar, Daoud, and an army of cats, Lamassu, learn that the plague god Nergal is behind what is going on and that he plans to destroy Manhattan, it is up to them to stop the destruction, save Sik’s parents who are in the hospital, and ultimately the world.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book was written before Covid 19 and the idea of a plague or pandemic was not yet on everyone’s mind, but when it was published in 2021 it sure become that much more relatable and close to home.  I love that some of the reactions of the characters and community to being around infected people and the backlash was so accurate to what we have all seen since 2020.  

The way that the oneness of Allah swt and the multi fake gods is reconciled is that the Mesopotamian cast are old and powerful, but not ALL-powerful, as Ishtar tells Sik, someone had to create us.  She also says that today people might call them something else.  It seems to leave open the idea that they have abilities and because of their abilities people worshipped them and the name stuck, not that they are creators or even claim to be. The concept of being between alive and dead is explored when Sik visits Kurnugi, he asks where Muhammad Ali is and Mo tells him he isn’t there, he went straight to Jannah.  It might not be a clear explanation, but it at least hints that Muslims in real life have a different view than the mythological one being explored.

I love the snark, and the humor, it flows so well and incorporates pop culture with ancient references very smoothly. I love that they say InshaAllah and AllahuAkbar and when Sik is presumed dead at one point and awakens he can’t go to the mosque because they are having his janaza and it would be awkward.  I love that there is a glossary that denotes if words are Arabic, Islamic, or Mesopotamian.  Muslim kids reading this will feel so seen and proud to be openly Muslim and inspired that they too can be heroes.

FLAGS:

Mythology, fighting, death, the use of the term badass.  Daoud and Mo’s relationship.  Daoud and Mo became friends in 5th grade and when Sik sees some photos of his brother that Daoud had taken, he says that he sees love.  When Sik and Mo are reunited in Kurnugi, Mo hints that there is more to the friendship, it is subtle.  In online interviews Chadda says they were in a romantic relationship.  It is not explored or heavily detailed.  The only other romance mentioned is that Gilgamesh in his prime refused Ishtar.

I think fans of Rick Riordan already know that there is going to mythological characters, creatures, battles and violence and a character or two that are LGBTQ+, some possible romantic angst between main characters, death, and unfaithful flirty gods.  This book is much “cleaner” than most, so 4th graders and up that are fans, will be fine reading this.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know if I could do this as a book club selection.  The romance is minor, but once you sense it and know it is there, it is a factor.  I don’t know if it would have to be discussed and how an Islamic school would want me to handle it, because both Mo and Daoud are practicing Muslims.  I think the book does a sufficient job of not committing shirk and shirk like messages with the mythology, but as always with these types of books it is a judgement call if the children (and their parents) can understand where the lines of fiction are and where they stand.

Fandom: https://riordan.fandom.com/wiki/City_of_the_Plague_God

The Ghoul by Taghreed Najjar illustrated by Hassan Manasra

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The Ghoul by Taghreed Najjar illustrated by Hassan Manasra

the ghoulThis 36 page book for ages five through eight is a cute story about being brave, facing your fears, challenging your perceptions, celebrating differences and giving friendship a chance.  Recently translated and published in English, this Arabic inspired folktale is timeless and important for readers of all ages to learn from.

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Hasan the Brave is a young boy that lives in a mountain village.  The children are told not to laugh out loud, the adults tiptoe to their fields, and the fear of being eaten by the ghoul that lives in a cave on top of the mountain consumes them all.

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But Hasan isn’t buying it and starts asking questions. Why is everyone afraid of the ghoul, he asks his aunt one day in the olive grove? She tells him because he is covered in hair, has one eye, long claws, sharp teeth and his favorite food is little boys and girls.  Unconvinced Hasan asks his dad if anyone in the village has been hurt by the ghoul.  His dad can’t think of anyone.  He asks his mom if the Ghoul ever ate anyone in the village? She can’t think of anyone, but has heard plenty of rumors and wants him to not disturb the ghoul none-the-less.

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Hasan is tired of being scared and decides he will climb the mountain.  Everyone in the village tries to warn him against it, but he is Hasan the Brave after all and is determined to go.  When he gets to the top of the mountain and relishes at the beautiful view he proclaims that he is fearless and that he won’t be afraid of the ghoul.  Then he sees the ghoul, and after the ghoul sizes him up, the ghoul runs away.

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Hasan goes to investigate why such a monster is scared of him and learns that the ghoul is scared of people because they have two eyes instead of one, they do not have thick hair like him, they have strange hair, small teeth, and they eat ghouls.  Ghouls, Hasan finds out are vegetarians.

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The two laugh at their assumptions, and run off to play together.  From that day on the two are best friends and the people in the village pass on stories to remind future generations to celebrate differences and not let fear rule them again.

There are a few women in hijab, the villagers say inshaAllah, but there is nothing religious in the book.  The illustrations are detailed and colorful in a muted manner.  Overall a fun book with a great lesson.

 

The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn illustrated by Paul Mirocha

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The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn illustrated by Paul Mirocha

bee treeThis is one of those books that it is hard to know who the target audience is and who would most enjoy the text heavy 40 pages about a boy coming of age in Malaysia by harvesting honey in a traditional manner.  The two page spread illustrations are rich and inviting, and with an AR 5.7 level, the book would work well for children that enjoy other cultures, honey, insects, or children that you hope will be inspired to start seeing the world a little differently than they are used to doing.

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The story starts with a boy talking about his grandfather and how every year he goes to collect the honey from the tualang trees.  The bees travel hundreds of miles and arrive just as the rainforest starts to bloom.  The trees that they build their nests in are higher than the eye can see and grandfather, known as Pak Teh, is the leader of the honey hunting clan.

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He tells everyone what their jobs will be: some will carry ropes, others pails, others torches.  One day, he tells them, someone will have to take his place as the one who climbs all the way up to the top to gather the honey.  He believes Nizam, the narrator, is the one.

To prove himself, Nizam has to practice climbing 120 feet into the sky.  Nizam and grandfather spend a lot of time together praying five times a day and walking through the dense rain forest.  He reminds Nizam that the forest doesn’t belong to them, but to the unseen protector. They enter the forest as if they are visiting a neighbors home.

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At night all the hunters sit together and Grandfather tells the traditional story of the bees.  A story that involves a beautiful servant girl named Hitam Manis who worked in the Sultan’s palace and how the Sultan’s son and her were in love.  When the Sultan found out he ordered the girl run out from the kingdom.  As she and her loyal friends fled she was hit by a metal spear.  She did not die, but her and her friends were magically transformed into a swarm of bees.  Because it was metal that harmed her, she ruled that metal was never allowed to touch the honey.  Hence, when the bee hunters harvest they use a bone knife, leather pouches, and a wooden ladder.

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When it is time to enter the forest, it is pitch dark with no moonlight.  The hunters tap their glowing torches against the trees sending light sparks to the ground to tempt the bees and leaving their nests free for Nizam to collect the honey from.  For seven nights they climb the trees, and then they return home.  With greetings of salam, peace be upon you, Grandfather informs the family that when he can no longer climb the tree, Nizam will carry on the tradition.

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The book ends with factual information about Malaysia, the rainforest, giant honey bees, honey hunters, and the future.

The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

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The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

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A book meant for middle grades, 8-12 year olds, that has depth and layers and culture and strength is not something you find very often.  Over 275 pages, the book is at times dark and haunting, but what is truly remarkable is that it doesn’t talk down to young readers and with its pop cultural references and relate-ability,  the book is not dreary.  In fact, the true “haunting” occurs after the book is finished and the concepts of friendship, being alive, and forgiveness stick around and require thought and consideration.  The book is based on a Malyasian folktale, how much is a fleshing out, or simply a starting point, I do not know, but I do know that the characters are memorable, the concept thought provoking, the writing flawless, and the intertwining of Malay culture, Muslim characters and the supernatural, a combination that makes for an enjoyable read.

SYNOPSIS:

When an old witch dies, her pelesit, her ghostly demon, is passed on to her granddaughter Suraya.  Suraya lives with her mother, a teacher, and is lonely and emotionally neglected.  An adventurous girl, the pelesit, keeps the small girl safe, but waits to reveal himself to her in the form of a grasshopper when she is older.  When he does reveal himself to her, she asks him his name, and he doesn’t know it, so she names him Pink.

Suraya and Pink become best friends, and he provides company for her as she receives very little from her mother and has no friends.  Suraya had no knowledge of her grandmother and Pink modifies the stories to leave out how evil, cruel and vindictive she was through him.  As an evil being with no heart these acts never bothered him, although he stopped enjoying them long before she died.  With Suraya however, he feels things.  He is sad that she is unloved by her mother, teased by the other children, and that she doesn’t have the things other kids have.  Suraya is kind, and forgiving, and tries so hard not to let things bother her.  Pink however, with a twitch of his antenna can make things happen.  Bad things.  Things that might at first seem like a part of life, but when Suraya catches on, she scolds Pink.  She makes him promise never to use his magic to hurt people, ever.  He reluctantly agrees, she is his master after all.  Unfortunately he doesn’t keep his promise.

On Pink’s prodding, Suraya makes friends with a new girl at school, Jing, and their friendship makes Pink jealous.  He harms Jing and Suraya decides she no longer wants to be his master.  As a result Pink is determined to make Suraya’s life miserable.  As desperation mounts, Suraya tells her mom about Pink and a pawang is called in to separate the spirit from Suraya.  Something seems off about the pawang, and when Suraya investigates, she realizes that she must save Pink from him.  Together with Jing, Pink and Suraya are off on an adventure against the pawang and might just learn more than Pink’s backstory in their efforts along the way.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that Suraya and her family are Muslim and that Jing is not and they are best friends.  Suraya and her family pray, celebrate Eid, give salams when at the graveyard, but obviously also believe in magic and ghosts, and somehow in the story it doesn’t seem to be contradictory or odd.  I love Suraya’s strength.  None of the relationships in her life are good.  Yet, she is good, and she forgives and fights to make those close to her better.  Pink is manipulative and controlling and abusive, but she still fights for him to be treated better and that says more about her, than whatever he is.  Suraya’s mom is distant and neglectful, but yet, there is still realistic hope that their future can be and will be better.  I love that all these layers are there and yet are subtle too.  Kids are smart and they will bring their own experiences, understanding, and expectations to decipher these relationships, and that is amazing.  I love that the characters in the story may be so different than the typical western reader, but they will still see themselves in this poor Malay girl from a small village, in her best friend Jing who lives and breathes Star Wars, or even in the religions pawang who is a power hungry charlatan; toxic friendships and family secrets make the book universal.

FLAGS:

Pink makes it look like blood is on a girls back side, implying a girls fear of leaking, but it isn’t explicit or named.  There is death and dying and supernatural and lying.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I am thinking strongly about using this as a book club book, as the discussion would be delicious and varied among the participants.

Interview with the author: https://thequietpond.com/2020/08/20/our-friend-is-here-an-interview-with-hanna-alkaf-author-of-the-girl-and-the-ghost-on-writing-friendship-malaysian-childhoods-being-true-to-your-stories/

 

 

 

The Mighty Head of Moustafa by Rania Emara illustrated by Fruzsina Kuhari

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The Mighty Head of Moustafa by Rania Emara illustrated by Fruzsina Kuhari

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This fun new twist on “The House that Jack Built” uses the same style of building sentences on to a repeated story that the classic uses, as well as the silliness of it all, but is made unique with the Middle Eastern setting and cultural aspects.

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The 8.5 x 11 size gives ample room to see the fun engaging illustrations that bring the comical rhymes to life in both small to medium sized groups.  I won a digital version, and will probably end up purchasing a paperback copy for my bookshelf, as the pictures and text will be easier to pour over in physical form.

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The book is 22 pages of text and perfect for toddlers to listen to, on up to 2nd or 3rd graders to read on their own and still be entertained.  There is nothing religious about the book, the boy is named Moustafa obviously, and there is a girl whose veil is the climax of the story, but nothing in the text is religion specific.

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It all starts out with a tray on the mighty head of Moustafa.   Upon that tray is bread stacked and spread that goes with cake that was quick to bake, and before you know it, there is an aunty who rode a donkey next to a child with a veil, and then a nail, oh that tricky nail that caught the veil. . .

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Moustafa and his tray and everything along the way are all brought to a tumbling halt, all because of a nail. The crash and falling down undoes the entire build up, and the smiling face of Moustafa makes you want to read it all over again.

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Alhumdulillah!

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Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

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Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

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This delightful little folktale is beautifully presented in 32 pages on an AR 1.7 level.  Perfect for little ones to listen to and early readers to tackle on their own.  The pictures are fun and engaging and the story teaches a great lesson of right and wrong in a silly memorable fashion.

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A childless woman asks Allah to bless her with a child, even if it is just a cooking pot, and “Willa! She had a child! And it was a little pot!”

At first taken aback, the little pot professes her love for mama and thus the woman decides to take care of the little pot.  Every day the little pot bumps against the walls as she rolls and jumps around making the sound, Tunjur.

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One day the pot wants to go to the market by herself.  Mama refuses as she is too young and doesn’t know right from wrong, but alas she talks her mom in to it, and off she goes.

She meets a rich man who wants to fill her with honey for his wife.  The pot loves honey so she doesn’t protest, but she refuses to release her lid when the man gifts the pot to his wife.  Angrily he throws the pot out the window and the little pot finds her way home. Mama assumes the honey seller sent it as a gift and little pot says nothing at all.

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The next time little pot heads out she finds herself filled with the queen’s jewels and when she returns Mama is not happy that her little pot has taken things that do not belong to her.

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When little pot heads out again to apologize, the rich man takes her to the king and queen for a reward,  and they fill her with something to teach her a lesson.  When she comes home to Mama, she has definitely learned her lesson.

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The women in the story seem to wear hijab, most notably the wealthy man’s wife.   The Mama asks Allah swt for a child, but other than that there is nothing religious in nature in the book and seeing as I checked it out from the public library, I think it appeals to all kids.

 

Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali by Kephra Burns illustrated by Leo & Dianne Dillon

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Mansa Musa: The Lion of Mali by Kephra Burns illustrated by Leo & Dianne Dillon

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This beautiful work of historical fiction/folklore is both moving and visually breathtaking.  The 56 page book presents as a picture book, but with an AR 6.4 and the amount of text, it reads like a chapter book.  Thus, I’m going to review it as a chapter book, but keep in mind that it is hard bound, 11 x 9, horizontal and while there are frequent small story breaks, there are no chapter breaks.  

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SYNOPSIS:

There is little historical fact about Mansa Musa as a child, thus this story while rooted in fact about the time, about Mansa Musa as an adult, and about what is known regarding Mali and the Malinke and Tuareg tribes, is a work of imagined fiction.  The story begins with premonitions and dreams from Kankan Musa of the Kaba Kangaba tribe.  Kankan and his two brothers live with their mother, and do not know who their father was, a source of stress and teasing for the young boys.  Having just turned 14, Kankan is treated as an adult, but because he has yet proved himself as a hunter, he may sit with the adults, but not yet join their conversations.  Mali in the years after the great King Sundiata had passed away has begun to fade, but their wealth and hospitality still prospers in the desert. 

One day a desert nomad from the Tuareg tribe dressed in flowing blue robes appears and is welcomed by the village elders.  That night he regales stories about jinns, and the sea, and time spent in the desert, and fears he has for their King, when slave raiders tear through the night and kidnap Kankan.  When Kankan awakens days later, enslaved, the same mysterious man, Tariq al-Aya, again appears and buys him from the raiders.  Tariq vows to accompany Musa on his journey to learn who he is and the two spend seven years together learning about the desert, about the larger world, about themselves, in trial and test and challenges.

When Musa journeys back to his home, and Tariq disappears as mysteriously as he appeared, Musa must make himself known to the new Mansa of Mali and see if his wisdom and knowledge can ensure the success of Mali in the future.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I’m not from Africa and my heart was cheering Musa on as if, my own families success was rooted in his growth and understanding of the world.  As a Muslim, I was proud to know of the success Mali found in Mansa Musa and the historical significance of his rule throughout time.   I wish there was more Islam in the book, his Hajj is well documented and thus tidbits of Mecca and his understanding of it is sprinkled through the story.  There is no talk about prayer or what Islam is, just that he is Muslim and that most of the villagers “had converted to Islam, but at the same time, they had not given up their traditional religious practices or their belief in the ancestors.”  It mentions at the end that he built mosques wherever he went, but prior to this it never mentions him spending any time in a mosque or worshiping in any way. 

I love that the story is told like all great stories, it makes you want to settle in and drink up the details and imagery and got lost in the pictures.  The author weaves in cultural phrases and descriptions, that hopefully readers can unravel from the context as there is not a glossary.  There is a map at the beginning, and author’s note at the end that reveals what is fact and what is fiction in the story.

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FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book should be in every school library and used in classrooms to learn about West Africa, cultures, 14th Century, Islamic history, culture, you name it.  I think this book would work wonderfully in home school environments, where the child could dictate how much to supplement, how much to cover, and the wisdom shared could really be understood.  This isn’t a book that most kids would pick up and read, they would need prodding and guidance, but be better for it.  

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