Category Archives: Kg-2nd

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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I started to read this book to myself, abruptly stopped, gathered my children around, and began again aloud.  This 40 page early elementary picture book isn’t just counting up and down with silly scenarios and outrageous details, it is familiarity with a culture often not represented with universal humor, appeal, and anticipation. This rhyming book begs to be shared: one-on-one, at story time, or in a classroom.  There is so much joy and connection that I’m ready to felt-board the story, march into my kid’s school and demand an audience.  I found mine at the library, but I think I am going to order it because it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf to be read again and again.

Musa and Dada get in a daladala and are off to the crystal blue waters of Zanzibar.  But it is hotter than peppers out and the kind driver is offering everyone a ride.  First is the old man with his seatless bike, then it is two little goats and their herder, next is vendors with their three baskets of fruits.  Each time Musa cries and protests that there is not room for anyone else, let alone their stuff.  Yet when everyone wiggles and scoots and smooshes, there seems to be room for everyone.  This continues until there are ten scuba divers joining the smelly fish and stinky chickens, umbrellas and milk pails.

Alhumdulillah, they reach the beach.  Then one by one they all get out at Nungwi beach.  Giggles and wiggles and Musa and Dada are off the minibus and swimming in the cool waters. Alhumdulillah indeed.  The book concludes with a glossary and an author’s note.

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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A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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This book combines knowledge with a sweet story and a spunky narrator.  Over 32 brightly illustrated pages the reader learns about the art of dyeing yarn, weaving, and the tradition of weaving saris in India moving from Mysore to Kaithoon in Kota.  The little girl loves it all, helping her father dye the threads, and watching her mother work the loom.  It often takes a month to make a sari, and her mother makes beautiful saris, but she never wears them.  With the help of her older sister Sadaf, the little girl hopes to earn enough money to gift her mother a beautiful sari to wear.  It will take a lot of work, some community help, and some sacrifice, but Ammi is worth it and the girls are up for the challenge.  Preschool to early elementary readers will enjoy learning about the daily life of these amazing Indian Muslim artisans and a craft that they perhaps were not aware existed.

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The buffalo are sleeping, but in the afternoon Abba is busy dyeing threads, and mama is weaving colors into prints of mangoes, peacocks, birds, leaves, and flowers.  The whole family helps.  Abba goes to the haat to sell the completed saris.  Sometimes Mama goes as well, but she doesn’t wear the saris, she wears worn-out salwar-kameezes.

One day, when Ammi finishes a particularly beautiful sari the little girl asks her to keep it, but her Ammi says, “If we keep the saris, how will we eat?”  The little girl doesn’t understand, they don’t eat saris.

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Sadaf explains to her little sister that the only way their Ammi will wear a sari is if they buy her one.  So the little girl breaks her bank apart to count the money she has and convinces Sadaf that the things they wanted with the money are nothing compared to how much they want something for their mother.

But Sadaf says they only have enough money for a towel, not a sari, so the girls gather some items to sell to the junk man.  They have enough to buy Ammi a duputta, but still not a sari.

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They wander home through the wheat field trying to come up with other money raising ideas.  The wheat remind the little girl of worshippers on Eid day- all praying together at the mosque.  The little girl remembers that sometimes their neighbor Amina Khala purchases dyed threads from them and they rush over to see if she has any work for them.  Luckily she does, and they have just enough to buy a sari for Ammi and be rewarded with a smile and tears from their beloved and talented mother.

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The book has an information page at the end about The Saris of Kaithoon, as well as a glossary.  The story ends a bit abruptly, but the teardrop in the illustrations, the hugging, and the smile, do provide a universal relatability to parents everywhere when their children gift them something so genuinely from the heart.  The illustrations also show women with their heads covered going about their daily life.

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Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

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Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

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This 40 page month-by-month celebration of Arab culture, both old an new, will be a source of pride and smiles for readers of all ages.  The author is an Arab American of Lebanese decent and the illustrator was born in Lebanon.  The book shows Muslim’s teaching others about Ramadan, looking up hijabi fashions, as well as making cookies at Easter and dressing in sleeveless shirts.  To be Arab is not a monolith and this book seems to convey that culture and tradition and love are all it takes to be included in the broad diverse identity of being Arab.

January starts with finding stars with Arabic names, and February recalls how a comic about Martin Luther King, Jr. helped inspire the Arab Spring.  The kids in turn make a comic to teach others about Ramadan.  March is a chuckle about Arab time, and April is making maamoul with Sitti for Easter. May is learning to write Arabic and June for gathering grape leaves to make warak enab.  July is picnics that remind mama of Morocco and making perfume with familiar smells and memories. 

August is playing the doumbek with Dad who is in an Arab band. September is researching hijab costumes to wear to comic con.  Dressing up like Umm Kulthum wins first prize.  October is pomegranate time, which means the kids jump in the tub to eat and enjoy the messy fruit. Chilly November air requires the Palestinian keffiyeh to keep memories warm, and December when friends are busy over winter break it is time for sleep-overs and henna parties.

I like that dressing up is not for Halloween and that while some examples are country specific, many are general.  The book specifically mentions a few Arab countries, but the electronic arc did not include all the supplemental information that the published hardback book will contain.  I can’t wait to check it out and gift to my Arab friends and their children. 

Little Seeds of Promise by Sana Rafi illustrated by Renia Metallinou

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Little Seeds of Promise by Sana Rafi illustrated by Renia Metallinou

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This sweet, well-done 48 page picture book for early elementary aged readers shows the fear associated with being in a new place, the love of an elder family member, and the courage it takes to make new friends.  The story focuses on a young Pakistani girl who has recently moved to a new country and how she tries to remember the wisdom of her Nani to blossom in her new home.  The culture rich story is universal and lyrical, with hints of making duaa, greetings of salam, and the soothing sounds of the athan that make memories of home so foreign to her in her new residence. Young readers will empathize with Maya, and see the symbolism in the seeds she is anxious to plant and cultivate.

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Maya finds her new home unfriendly and cold, she feels different with her food, and clothes, and way she speaks.  Home to her is dancing in the warm mansoon rains, saying As-salamu ‘alykum, and waking up to the sweet athan.  Nani was also there, her old home.  Sweet Nani with her hundred wrinkles, smelling like flowers.  When Maya left, Nani gave her a gift.  Little seeds of promise, so that they and she might bloom where planted.  But Maya doesn’t know where to plant them, she carries them with her everywhere she goes, but like a secret, she keeps them close.

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Channeling her Nani’s tenderness, she knows that she has to plant them if one day she wants to be surrounded by flowers.  Maya loves flowers, dancing around them, praying among them.  Maya finds a patch of earth.  She longs for rain, she hopes for warmth. She makes way for the rays of the sun.  The text talks of flowers, the illustrations show both the plant and the growing friendships.  For days nothing happens, with the seeds or the classmates.  But Maya remembers that seeds have a long journey from the ground up.

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Maya nurtures her seed, just the one she dared plant, with love and kindness.  She too feels ready to burst.  Can she be brave enough to plant all the seeds, can she share them, and her self in her new world? Can their be warmth here, like there was over there? Can this too be home?

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I love the symbolism and juxtaposition of the seeds growth with her own.  The character arc and the transition of home being one place to being the other, is very well done, older readers will feel an aha moment when they grasp it and younger kids will enjoy both the surface story and the dialogue you can have with them about blossoming where planted.

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Religion is not a strong thread, but Islam is present in her memories of her maternal grandmother and all the warmth and love that those memories contain.  I love that the classmates were never mean, they just didn’t know her either.  I wish there was a bit more diversity of skin tone and mobility in the classroom illustrations and the friend circle she is hoping to join.  Overall, a beautiful OWN voice picture book that will be enjoyed for multiple bedtime, small group, and classroom readings.

A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman illustrated by Peggy Collins

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A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman illustrated by Peggy Collins

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I know many of you are thinking, another book about school for girls in Afghanistan, and given the reception by most to the author’s first book, The Library Bus,  I can sense the rolling eyes.  I was in the minority on that one, as I enjoyed it, but, this one is simpler, sweeter, more universal while being complimented by culture, and I hope it is a more authentic and accurate OWN voice portrayal.  I know I have a lot to learn about white washing narratives and breaking down colonial paradigms, so I promise if you disagree I will listen.  But I genuinely enjoyed the illustrations and little Aria finding a way to make a bench so she could sit comfortably at school with her prosthetic leg.  The girls go to school, and the furniture was burned to keep warm in the winter, a concept that the author verifies at the end as something experienced in his own life.  Aria has to find a way to sit in class because she wants to learn, and lack of wood working experience, resources, and doubt that a girl can do it from her classmates, isn’t going to stop her.  Over 32 pages, early elementary age children will meet a determined young girl as she pieces together scraps to build a bench.

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Aria has been in the hospital for a while after an accident took her leg.  She is excited to be back at school, but quickly realizes it is hard to sit on the floor with her new helper leg.  She tries leaning on the wall, standing even, but just getting up and down off the floor is really difficult.  At home when she mentions it to her mom, her mom reassures her that she can get through it and her little brother offers to help her carry her things.

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That night Aria considers how much she would miss school if she isn’t able to figure something out.  Then she has an idea, she’ll build a bench.  At school the next morning, classmates tell her “Girls don’t build benches,” but Aria responds, “I can do anything a boy can.”

With that, a single friend joins Aria as they comb the city for discarded wood, broken furniture, screws, and nails.  They assemble the resources and when they have enough Aria and her mom head across town, past the Blue Mosque, to visit the carpenter, Kaka Najar.  He shows them how to fit the pieces together like a puzzle and loans them the tools needed to be successful.  He even gifts her some sky-blue paint, “the color of courage, peace, and wisdom.”

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That weekend Aria and her mom and little brother build a bench, paint it blue, and get it to school.  When the other students see it, their excitement bubbles and they imagine building tables, book cases, and more.  Anything is possible after all, there is paint left in the can and they are willing to work together.

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There is nothing religious in the text, save the mention of walking past a mosque, but in the illustrations the women are all covering their heads when they are out, and are uncovered at home, the school uniform seems to be a white hijab and black abaya.  I wish there were some Pashto words sprinkled, and it was a bit off that she was building a bench, but the finished project was a bench and table. The end has an Author’s Note and I enjoy seeing the smiling faces and bright illustrations in a book set in Afghanistan.

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What’s The Matter Habibi? written and illustrated by Betsy Lewin

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What’s The Matter Habibi? written and illustrated by Betsy Lewin

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This short silly 32 page AR 2.7 book by the illustrator of the famous Click, Clack, Moo books tells a tale of an unhappy camel in Egypt and his caring owner Ahmed’s attempt to understand what is wrong.  There is nothing religious in the book, save a few visible hijab wearing women in the bazaar illustrations, and the main human character’s name.  The cultural backdrop though,  does introduce and encourage familiarity for young readers who may not have exposure to Arabic words and people.  The author is clearly not Arab, but the book thanks the Cairo NESA delegates for their help in developing the story.  Before reading it I was nervous that because the presentation would be coming from an outside perspective,  that the messaging would be condescending and/or stereotypical.  I think I was perhaps giving the book way too much thought, because ultimately the story isn’t that deep.  The illustrations and tone are warm and focus on a camel wanting a fez and the efforts it takes for Habibi to acquire one and for Ahmed to track him down.  It is surface level silliness for younger kids, the camel and owner are kind to each other and the setting just ties it all together.  I am not Arab, and could definitely argue that the camel and his silly owner do perpetuate stereotypes, so feel free to offer up your thoughts if you have read the book.  Irregardless of where you side, the fact that I’m sure had I read this book in 1997 when it was published, I would have been gushing to see the name Ahmed in a widely available book, but here we are nearly 25 years later and I’m questioning if these are stories that are better left to be told by OWN voice perspectives.

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Ahmed and Habibi give rides to children every day, but one day Habibi refuses to get up.  Ahmed asks if it is a toothache, a tummy ache, and no response.  When he asks if his feet hurt, Habibi stands up, and Ahmed gives the camel his babouches (that magically fit).

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Habibi then takes off running through the bazaar.  He approaches the man selling fezzes and a trade is made: the slippers for a hat.  Ahmed trailing behind barefoot, then has to purchase his own shoes back.  As Habibi passes different shops and hears how handsome he is, Ahmed is able to follow him.  When they finally reunite, Habibi is surrounded by happy children, and Ahmed admits, he really is a handsome camel.  Happily Habibi gives the children extra long rides and then let’s Ahmed ride him home.

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This book would work well for story times to ages four and up.  It would lend itself to themes about silly animals, hats, Egypt and Arab culture.  The crowds of people including the children are dressed in both thobes and pants and t-shirts.  You see traditional headgear on some and none on others.  It seems clear that the camel is not the normal mode of transportation, as there are no other camels, or even cars, only people walking in the book.  Habibi is a novelty for the children and adults he passes, so one could possibly safely assume he is a tourist attraction of sorts.

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There was an Old Auntie who Swallowed a Samosa by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Milton Bazerque

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There was an Old Auntie who Swallowed a Samosa by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Milton Bazerque

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I feel like such a broken record of late (and in the future), of my reviews of books published by Ruqaya’s Bookshelf; the stories are WONDERFUL, but I really struggle with the titles.  I truly thought this was a cultural/religious version of the classic, I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.  But it isn’t.  It is an original clever, laugh-out-loud hysterical story for preschool to early elementary.  And one that parents and caregivers will not dread reading over and over again with the well done rhyme, expressive illustrations, a silly conclusion, religious framework, and universal appeal.  The book is on point, the title and cover illustration, sadly for me are not, and don’t, in my opinion, do the story justice.

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Auntie Sophie is making samosas with some peppers she grew herself.  Under the close company of her kitty, we learn how the Scotch bonnets were grown and cared for.  The doorbell rings and Auntie Eynara has arrived with her beautiful cake to take to the masjid for iftaar.  

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Auntie Sophie  hurries and fries her samosas and the ladies head up the hill to the only mosque in town.  Everyone breaks their fasts with a date, but Auntie Sophia dives in to her samosas.  When the imam’s mic crackles, she swallows the samosa whole and something is terribly wrong.  Her belly is on fire and jelly nor garlic knots nor mint lemonade not rice can cool it down.

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Just when she thinks she is ready to pray, it starts up again, and having eaten everyone’s dinner, Auntie Sophia is getting very tired. As she rolls out the door and down the hill to her house, she figures out what happened to her delicious samosa filling, and calls to have pizza and halal hot wings delivered to the mosque.  She also pledges to grow flowers next year instead!

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Kids will love the book as it is outrageous, while at the same time being so relatable.  The mosque, iftar, eating something spicy, the book is a favorite at our house for both the two and six year old and the horizontal 8.5 x11 orientation, keep eyes glued to the pages, while the rhyming lines move the story along.  I enjoy being able to talk about the peppers and different foods and smell of garlic with my kids after the 17th reading or so, and I love the diversity of the characters at the mosque. 

Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

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Beautifully Me by Nabela Noor illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

beautifullyThis 40 page glowing OWN voice book bursts with body size positivity, Bangladeshi culture, Islamic terminology, diversity, and a beautiful message.  The illustrations and theme alone make the book worth your time and reveal how few body positive books are out there for our early elementary aged children.  That being said, the book might require or benefit from some child led discussion.  If your child is aware of various body shapes including their own, then this book is a great mirror to build them up and as a tool in emphasizing the critical importance of understanding and knowing people are beautiful just as they are.  If your child doesn’t seem to be aware that society views individuals with a larger body size as being a negative, this book might take a little navigating as the theme is more focused on pushing back on fat shaming than it is on accepting all body types.  The book also opens its self up to discussions about pronoun identity, what beauty means, why people tease or be mean to themselves and others, and being aware of how our words affect those around us.

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The family is visibly Muslim with Zubi starting with salaam.  The mom wears hijab and a sari, even at home, Dadi also has her head covered.  Eid is mentioned as a time when a gift was given that is too tight to wear, and worth noting from an Islamic perspective- Zubi’s sister is dieting to look pretty at a school dance.  Bangladesh is represented in the foods and some of the phrases the family says, and the clothing mentioned and depicted in the illustrations.  There is a glossary at the back.

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Zubi is excited for her first day of school, she slides on her dress and shirt her mom had made for her in Bangladesh and her bangles on each arm.  She heads to her parents room to show off her outfit where she finds her mom in a gorgeous yellow sari complaining about her big belly.  At breakfast Dadi has made flaky parathas, but Zubi’s older sister Naya is dieting and would rather have oatmeal. Dad calls the girls to take them to school when his mom asks how come he hasn’t worn the new shirt she got him for Eid.  He embarrassedly admits he has put on some pounds and his size is now a large, not good.

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At school she is having fun and even makes a new friend, but at recess some one yells that Alix looks fat.  Alix is wearing a yellow dress that Zubi thinks is beautiful and doesn’t understand why when they are called fat in it, it comes across as negative. After each incident Zubi mulls over what she is hearing and what it means for her, once she is home though she isn’t quite ready to talk to her family about it.  At dinner, it all hits her as she decides she too shouldn’t eat, that she should be on a diet to be pretty.  She heads off to her room, as her family realizes the impact of their own views and words about themselves, have had on Zubi.  The family works to unpack their own mistakes and be better all while making sure the message to Zubi is that you are beautifully you.

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I like that the book has the dad helping the mom put on her sari, and the dad comes and chats with Zubi about what happened at school.  Mom might be in the medical field, she seems to be wearing a white coat over her sari, which is subtle and impressive that she is going to work in a sari for anyone that has ever tried to wear one and simply get in and out of a car (just me maybe).  I do like that the mom remarks that she should be kind to her body since it housed her daughters.  I think reminding us that bodies serve a miraculous function is important.   I love the diversity in the classroom and how full of life Zubi is in all aspects of her day.   She is proud of her culture, and sees those around her as being bright, kind and funny, not just the shape of their bodies.  Some of her self reflections after an incident do highlight that many kids, including Zubi, don’t see body size as good or bad, its just one’s body.  Hopefully the adults reading the book will also be reminded and realize that is a message worth actively working to maintain, at any age.

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I think some of the criticism about the book not showing healthy food choices, or overall health is that we sometimes expect one book to do it all when there aren’t a lot to chose from.  The book celebrates being beautiful AND being big.  It doesn’t need to address all the societal and adult baggage that comes from food choices, lifestyle, health, judgement, stereotypes, etc.. And I think if you feel really strongly and defensive about it, then focus on pushing for more books, not one book to do it all.  Encourage illustrators to show a variety of body types on the pages of books in young children’s hands as well as by toy makers, cartoons, movies, tv shows, etc..  Body positivity and being confident in yourself, no matter your size, shape, appearance, benefits everyone. Celebrate being beautiful.

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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.