Category Archives: How-To

Hope on the Horizon: A Children’s Handbook on Empathy, Kindness, & Making a Better World by Onjali Q. Rauf illustrated by Isobel Lundie

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Hope on the Horizon: A Children’s Handbook on Empathy, Kindness, & Making a  Better World by Onjali Q. Rauf illustrated by Isobel Lundie

This delightful 288 page handbook pulled me in, inspired me, enlightened me, and allowed me to reminisce about incredible fictional characters from iconic books, tv shows, and movies.  Concepts such as kindness, empathy, friendship, deflecting negativity, seeing beyond labels, and asking for help, are framed around the fictional character’s strengths to introduce famous real life people from the past and present, as well as not so famous people the author personally knows and works with.  Written with the author speaking directly to the reader, there are also calls to actions, questions, prompts, and resources to help mature middle grade readers and up.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with an introduction about who the author is and her getting to know the reader, before introducing the concepts the book will cover and how it will go about doing so.  It establishes the super power of kindness and five golden rules.  The 10 chapters of the book then follow a loose format of introducing a fictional character and why the author admires them: Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tintin, She-Ra, Superman, Samwise Gamgee, etc., her connection to them and to a theme: hope, being a ripple starter, never giving up. to name a few.  The book then highlights how the character and theme tie in to a cause that the author is passionate about, refugees, education, feeding the hungry, foster care, etc., then spotlights exceptional people the author has gotten to know personally in her activism that have made an incredible difference in the world, before offering a checklist of how you too can take action.  And finally a famous person is celebrated as being the culmination of all the strengths, characteristics, and super powers mentioned.  People such as Greta Thunberg, Albert Einstein, aerospace engineer Mary Jackson, footballer activist Marcus Rashford and more.  Often there are reflections, and the easy banter and conversation between the author and the young reader never leaves the text.  The reader and the connection to the reader is always prioritized and included in the sharing of information, motivation to action, and celebration of individuals real and pretend that have made a positive difference.

WHY I LIKE IT:

There is nothing overtly Islamic in the book, but there are Muslims featured as both famous real life examples and the author’s personal acquaintances.  Most importantly the author is unapologetically Muslim and offers glimpses of her own childhood growing up Muslim in the UK.  And as a hijab wearing Muslim, the illustrations also proudly show her smiling, eating chocolate and being an activist making the world a better place for all.

I love that the tone of the book is optimistic even when discussing difficult themes and heartbreaking realities of society.  The playfulness of the banter keeps the reader engaged and the text light.  Even if you don’t know the characters referenced, the urge to read their stories is a secondary benefit, and one that I think will further young world changers’ critical thinking skills.  Finding the good in people, even if they aren’t real, is such a lens that needs to be used more often, and the book does a tremendous job of stressing this.

FLAGS:

Talk of refugees, homelessness, food insecurities, abuse, poverty. Nothing is overly detailed, but the concepts are touched upon and explained as needed which could possibly be triggering or difficult to fully grasp to younger readers.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book can be read straight through or referenced, you can even thumb through and read sections that appeal to you.  I don’t know exactly who the book will resonate strongest with, but I’ve got my own children reading it, so I will happily report back. I think it deserves a place on every book shelf and even if only portions are shared with a class, the discussion and foundation that it could provide would be incredibly powerful.  I could see an English teacher encouraging essays about fictional character traits in the “real” world being assigned after reading, or History teachers spending time on some of the characters highlighted, it really is a great tool, a handbook, for young and old alike.

Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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The latest installment in the Hassan and Aneesa series caught my attention because there just aren’t a lot of books about an Islamic marriage process (it is Desi tinged).  Cultural weddings you often see, but despite the misleading title of them just attending a Nikaah, they actually walk the reader through the steps from wanting to get married, to getting to know someone, praying Salatul-Istikhara,  agreeing on a mahr, signing contracts, and a walima.  The idea and premise is brilliant and greatly needed, the finished product, not so much.  Somehow I had forgotten how tiny in size the books in the series are (6.5×7.5), making it all visually cluttered and the text often hard to see over the illustrations.  And while I love how the concepts and terms are defined, the point of view of having it witnessed and detailed by the brother sister duo is often awkward and wordy.  I wish the author would have ditched the familiar characters, and just written a book about the marriage process for kids.  The vacillating between a fictionalized story, factual requirements, kids witnessing their parents helping their cousin get married, makes for a tangled book that fails to connect to readers seven and up, let alone two and up like the book claims. If you’re kids are asking about how Muslims marry or seem curious about a halal way it can be done, I suppose this book would provide a way to understand some of the key facets in broad strokes, but it needs editing, and more space to show joy and excitement in a book about families and a couple coming together.

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The very first page set the tone for me, the overly dressed girl at a barbecue and the way her name seems to be so formally introduced.  Perhaps it is a difference of culture, but the book never bounced back from the heavy handed tone.  Aisha wants to get married and asks her parents to help her find someone.  They ask her what she is looking for and she tells them.  I like what she includes kindness, love of Allah, funny, etc.  I wish it would have suggested that she had given it a lot of thought before answering though.

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Aneesa and Hassan’s mom and their aunt are discussing Aisha’s want to marry at their painting class and a friend over hears and suggests her son Uthman.  The families agree to have the two meet in a cafe with Aneesa and Hassan’s dad and uncle so that her mahram is nearby.  Uthman and Aisha both enjoy sports and Uthman interacts with a baby at another table impressing Aisha.  They both pray istikhara and decide that the families should all meet.

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It is then time to pick out a dress and hand out invitations, which at least involves Hassan and Aneesa, but the pages are so cringe and awkward from the phrasing, to the structure of the concepts.  The spread is disjointed and you’ll catch yourself shaking your head and making a face every time you read it.

Mehndi is next and I’m not sure why it focuses on Aneesa not sitting still and looking sad when her design is ruined.  It seems like an odd inclusion in what should be a joyous book.  Hassan is entrusted with gift to hold on to by Uthman for Aisha, and the Imam gives a khutbah about marriage.

Contracts are then signed with Aisha her wali, uthman and the imam and each party is asked if they agree.  They have already decided on the mahr and then Hassan hands over the gift.  The walima feast is delicious and the reader is encouraged to go back and find the cat in the illustrations.

As for illustrations I do like that the main females are shown out of hijab at home, and in hijab while out.  At the wedding there are different shades of brown, different loves of covering and not covering, there is a guest in a wheel chair and the couple and their families seem happy.  I found it odd that it says they are in love, since there isn’t a lot of emotion mentioned before the last page and I wish the text on numerous pages wasn’t mixed in with the pictures.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms.

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.

Environmental Sunnahs: Emulating the Prophet One Earth-Friendly Act at a Time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

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Environmental Sunnahs: Emulating the Prophet One Earth-Friendly Act at a Time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

This beautiful book explores how intertwined Islam and caring for the earth are in a kid appropriate manner.  The rhyming lines and fun illustrations are accompanied at the end by very detailed sourcing, references, and tips.  All non fiction or fictionalized fact books should be sourced this well, it really has set the bar, and left most books in the dust.  My only real critique of the book is that I wish it was larger.  The pictures and dancing text need more space to be poured over and enjoyed. The 8×8 size doesn’t do the 36 page book justice.  The inside text should also be a more uniform/consistent in size.  At times the rhyme is off and feels forced, but because there are facts on each page the story isn’t read consecutively.  You break the rhyme scheme to ponder over the “Did you know?” sections, so the beat and cadence isn’t super important.  Overall, a well-done book to share and discuss with children ages 5 and up, and a great reference, resource, and memorable teaching tool to bring us all closer to the prophetic mannerisms we strive to emulate.

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The book starts off with a message by naturalist, Director of the Art and Wilderness Institute and author of “How to Draw 60 Native CA Plants and Animals, a Field Guide (and my former childhood penpal) Sama Wareh.  It then jumps in to exploring the miracle of nature on land and under the sea. It shows desert landscapes, and mountainous ones, jungles, and farms, valleys and cities.

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The book talks about water: Zam Zam and wudu and where clean water comes from.  How little water we should use according to hadith and how to respect all living things. It talks about Prophet Sulaiman (as) showing kindness to even an ant. And how planting a tree is charity. It shares information about reusable goods, limiting waste, and understanding eco systems.

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The book concludes with easy to read Hadith references, Quranic references, a glossary, and action items.

The World is Your Masjid written and illustrated by Kate Rafiq illustrated by

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The World is Your Masjid written and illustrated by Kate Rafiq illustrated by

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This 30 page preschool to early elementary aged book is a simple rhyming book that reaffirms all the places we can pray and touches on those that we shouldn’t.  The engaging illustrations and relatable scenarios make the book a great choice for bedtime stories and small group readings.  

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The book starts out with a hadith, “The entire earth is a masjid (place for prayer), except the graveyard and the washroom” (Tirmidhi-317) and points out that one must pray five times a day. Screen Shot 2021-11-17 at 11.37.00 AM

It establishes that if you pray it a mosque you can follow the imam, but not to worry if you cannot, because you can pray (nearly) anywhere: a field in the rain, school, a train, a garden, a shed, even when sick you can pray in your bed.

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It then also turns to places you shouldn’t and can’t pray and sources a hadith about not praying where there are faces and statues that might distract you (Bukhari 374). The bathroom and graveyard are also included.  

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As an after thought, and for added laughs it reminds little readers to not pray in dangerous spots as well.

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Overall, I enjoyed the book and can see it pairing with In My Mosque to help create the foundation of a storytime theme about prayer and mosques.  The fact that it takes it a step further and doesn’t just list all the places serious and crazy that you can pray, elevates the book from being mediocre to being memorable and I appreciate that.  I also appreciate the Islamic sourcing, truly something that is required to show accuracy even in the “simplest” of all books.

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We Will Meet Again in Jannah: What a Great Day that will be! An Activity book for Bereaved Muslim Siblings by Zamir Hussain illustrated by Emily McCann

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We Will Meet Again in Jannah: What a Great Day that will be! An Activity book for Bereaved Muslim Siblings by Zamir Hussain illustrated by Emily McCann

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I don’t review workbooks, or a lot of non fiction books, but by far the most thematic requests I get asked about, are children’s books about bereavement.  The loss of a friend or loved one is just not a topic that you see covered very often, if at all.  Sure there are books about jannah, but they are more silly and framed as a reward, not about the loss felt that would precede paradise.  This 32 page paperback activity book is part reassurance, part encouragement, part discussion starter, and part remembrance all within a faith framework.  Much of the book is not sibling specific, perhaps a few tweaks and you could have a grandparent version, a parent version, an aunt or uncle version, etc.,  even as a parent you may consider adjusting the book as you share it if you are unable to find a specific book for your child’s needs.

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The book starts with the author talking to the reader and setting the tone about what has occurred and what is to follow in the book.  It then asks the reader to write or share who they are, who passed, and something special they remember about them.  It discusses why people die and then starts the two page spreads that address a theme and presents an activity to help you feel better, or to remember or celebrate the one who has died.  Topics include: You’re never too big to cry, It’s not your fault, Talking and sharing the pain, Some things will change other’s will stay the same, etc..  Some of the activities are wonderful and can be done in any order, at any time, and others, you may want to adjust.  The idea of releasing a balloon, for example, with your worries in it, is symbolically effective, but not so great for the environment.  The end of the book has additional resources on how to use the book, things to do with the child, further support,  additional resources, and Islamic guidance.

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I love that Islamic foundations and vocabulary are not just used, but explained in a very age appropriate, non condescending manner, through out.  I love that it is clear that you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, that it is not the child’s job or responsibility to make the adults feel better, that nothing is anyone’s fault, and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

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I wish the book was larger in size and perhaps hardback so that the activities that require writing would have more space and ease in completing.  The text for the activities is also very tiny.  I also wish that the author’s qualifications for such advices was included.  I Googled the author to find out:  “Zamir Hussain is a Muslim Chaplain at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and has pioneered resources in Islamic health care. She has published several books for bereaved Muslim parents and siblings. She has also developed the first UK blended learning resource, including care plans and pathways for Islamic daily, palliative, end of life and bereavement care for paediatric staff. Zamir has worked as a Muslim Chaplain for both the Heart of England NHS Trust and Birmingham Children’s hospital for over five years, where she has also run training courses for the staff as well as delivering training and talks on care for Muslim patients to organisations around the country.”

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We need more books about coping, talking, dealing, understanding death for our children, inshaAllah this is a start, alhumdulillah.

I went for Hajj by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Paula Pang

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I went for Hajj by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Paula Pang

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Before I review this delightful book, I would like to make a public service announcement of sorts.  It is not Hajj season, not even close.  I pre-ordered this book on June 23 from Amazon, I should have/was supposed to have it before Hajj in the middle of July.  I got it TODAY! When I realized that the US publication date was delayed for a book already published in the UK, I reached out to Kube Publishing and they suggested trying “an independent bookseller such as IslamicBookstore.com or CrescentMoonStore.com.”  I know this.  Noura is a dear friend, but I messed up.  Please don’t do the same.  SUPPORT LOCAL BOOKSELLERS! I’m sorry, lesson learned.

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Now back to the book that already feels like a classic staple that needs to be on every Muslim families book shelf, and in every public learning space for non Muslims to enjoy and benefit from as well.   The 31 page “inspirational, semi-fictional narrative” is perfect for ages two to seven as it mimics the beloved Eric Carle and Bill Martin, Jr. classic, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? but framed around Hajj and what is seen, done, and heard.  Each two page spread begins with, “Hajji, hajji…”.

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The book starts with a detailed Note to Parents and Teachers that explains the points to highlight, and discuss with children.  The story is then organized by the steps of hajj in broad strokes and illustrated with both charm and detail that will hold readers and listeners attention.

Hajji, hajji what did you wear?

I wore two white sheets

And my shoulder was bare.

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The book starts with the little boy narrator on the plane looking down on the clouds and sea. He then puts on his two sheets, hears the call to prayer,  sees the black stone and the station of Ibrahim before he makes his seven tawaafs, runs between safa and marwa and heads to Mina. He prays at Arafat like the Prophet (saw) did, and falls asleep in the cold night desert air.  He sees stones being thrown and eats meat on Eid before getting his head shaved.  The book concludes with a glossary.

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The book is well done and is a great mix of information and entertainment, alhumdulillah.

Salaam: Mindfulness for Muslims by Humera Malik illustrated by Najwa Awatiff

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Salaam: Mindfulness for Muslims by Humera Malik illustrated by Najwa Awatiff

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I had planned to wait until the physical book comes out on the 15th to offer up my thoughts, but the Kindle version has released and I want to help put it on everyone’s radar.  My own kids went back to school today and emotions and feelings are all over the place: excitement, nerves, anxiety, worry.  Changes in general cause heightened feelings, throw in Covid cases on the rise, puberty, friends, more open discussions about mental health, etc., and kids need tools to be successful.  Alhumdulillah, the Qur’an and Sunnah offer guidance, reassurance, and direction, and this book helps organize and present coping tools for ages seven to adult.  Thirteen emotions over 85 pages follow a pattern of a title page, a “Remember” page with an ayat from the Qur’an (except in one case it is a hadith), then an affirmation to be said that is either a verse, a dua, or dhikr, followed by an adorably illustrated spread of simple activities to do and try in a checklist manner.  Not only will young Muslims find reassurance and direction in the text provided, but inshaAllah, they will also be comforted knowing that what they are experiencing is very human and that Allah swt and Prophet Muhammad saw have provided insight and acknowledgement of such emotions.

The 13 emotions highlighted are: afraid, angry, disappointed, grief, jealous, lonely, overwhelmed, sad, shy, sorry, upset worried, grateful.  There is an author note to parents at the beginning that mentions that the book is meant to be read “cover to cover in peaceful times and to be dipped into to find specific advice” when needed, and I couldn’t agree more.  There is also a note for the readers normalizing big emotions and reassuring them that Allah swt does not want them to despair.

The diverse character illustrations are absolutely heartwarming and I hope that they will be made in to pictures or charts to be purchased so they can be hung.  They are really well done, and the visual mapping will help kids retain and put the tips in to practice.  I’m not sure what the sizing will be in the physical paper back book, but I hope it is large enough for them to be properly enjoyed.

 

 

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier by Shereeza Boodhoo illustrated by Khalif Koleoso

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Talaal and the Whispering Worrier by Shereeza Boodhoo illustrated by Khalif Koleoso

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This 38 page book addresses anxiety and self confidence with Islamic tips and tools to help kids cope and feel less alone in their struggles.  The rhyming text on some pages is flawless, and elsewhere falters and distracts from the text.  Similarly, the panda that personifies the “Whispering Worrier” is at times a compliment to the story, and at other times seems to muddle the seriousness being discussed (I don’t understand the ever-present watering can).  The book is long and the text small, but overall the message is good and presentation sufficient.  Books like this by qualified professionals are incredibly valuable and important.  The use of Quran and trust in Allah swt to feel confident and at ease is something we need to share with our young ones early, often, and regularly. 

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Talaal comes home from school and declares that he feels sick and is not going back to school.  His parents can’t seem to find anything wrong and send him to go do his homework.  He passes his older sister who is praying and seems so relaxed, when she is done she comes and talks to him.  He explains how he felt when the teacher asked them to share and how the fear and nerves felt like his heart was being beat on.  She reassures him that she feels the same way at times and that a Whispering Worrier whispers unhelpful thoughts to tear us down.

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She suggests countering the negative thoughts with helpful positive ones.  She also suggests reciting Qur’an.  She then has him practice some ayats.  He recites the begining of Surah Ikhlas, and starts to feel better.  Talaal excitedly goes to tell his parents what is going on, and the suggestions his sister has given him for coping and overcoming his stresses.  They let him know that they too get nervous.  His mom, goes a bit off topic and explains various wonders that Allah swt has created and they reassure Talaal that he too is beautifully made.  Talaal starts practicing and finds over time, in different situations, he starts to calm his Whispering Worrier.

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I like that the advice is rooted in Islamic concepts and that his sister, not an adult, is who coaches him and guides him, making it seem normal and not a punishment.  I like that it isn’t an instant fix, but something to work out and be consistent with over time.  The end has a note to caregivers and some tips.  I think reading the book and having discussions is the first step and inshaAllah if your child or student is struggling that professional help will be sought, so that children don’t have to suffer needlessly.  

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I read this to a group of early elementary students to try and normalize the topic and encourage them to talk to a parent or teacher if they felt similar to Talaal.  Unfortunately, the book had a hard time keeping their attention and I think, in retrospect, it might be a better selection for smaller groups or one-on-one so that discussion and feedback can safely occur.

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