Category Archives: Muslim Illustrator

The Kindest Red: A Story of Hijab and Friendship by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali illustrated by Hatem Aly

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The Kindest Red: A Story of Hijab and Friendship by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali illustrated by Hatem Aly

This heartwarming book centers kindness, family, and friendship in an inclusive way; and while the tagline says “A Story of Hijab and Friendship” I think the hijab angle is a bit of a stretch.  The authors are Muslims that wear hijab, the older sister and older females in the family wear hijab, but there is nothing in the story or text that connect hijab to Islam or to something Muslim women wear as part of religion.  I don’t want to compare the first book in the series, The Proudest Blue, to this book, but hijab really was centered in that book and the Author’s Note mentioned that hijab is an Islamic act.  This book does not make those same connections, which is fine, I just want consumers to be aware.  This book is beautiful and the messaging endearing, and the tone and heart over 40 pages ideal for preschool to early elementary children.  It works as a standalone, but with the same characters and sisterly love, I think most people will enjoy keeping them together.

The book starts with Mama passing on Asiya’s dress to Faizah, that had been Mama’s even before that.  It is picture day, and the girls are helping each other get ready. At school Faizah and her friend Sophie twirl in their pretty dresses before heading in to class to discuss what kind of world they want.

Faizah wants a kind world, where there’s always a friend nearby, where everyone helps. At recess, Sophie and Faizah combine their visions, superheroes and kindness, to help other kids on the playground.  When picture time arrives the class is full of smiles, but when it is time for sibling pictures, Faiza and Asiya realize they don’t match.

Faizah is sad, and Sophie notices, can the kindness be passed along like the dress to help the sisters? To make Faizah happy too? I’m not going to give away the conclusion, but it is sweet and idyllic and shows how lovely the world can be if we all just share some kindness.

I love the illustrations and the hijab wearing super hero that presumably Sophie drew is powerful.  I think the book does wonders to normalize hijab, even if I do wish it articulated why one would wear hijab.  It seems that the industry trend is to keep hijab superficial and I recognize I am in the minority that wants religious centering for religious tenants.  So yes, I’m fully prepared for the backlash when people want to point out that it is joyful and that I’m a naysayer, but I deal with people on a daily basis that do not know that my own hijab is a reflection of me being Muslim.  With as connected as the world is through technology, I  think those in diverse environments take for granted the understanding of basic Islamic principals in the general population.  However, not everyone has those real life connections and rely on books and media to fill the gaps, so when books about hijab, don’t actually connect hijab to faith, I feel obligated to point it out.

I purchased (preordered) my copy here, but I hope you will support small business and order yours here  use code ISL for 10% off.

Ahmed Goes to Friday Prayer: Ahmed se va a la oración del viernes by Wendy Díaz illustrated by Muhammad & Mariam Suhaila Guadalupe

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Ahmed Goes to Friday Prayer: Ahmed se va a la oración del viernes by Wendy Díaz illustrated by Muhammad & Mariam Suhaila Guadalupe

 

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This dual lingo: English and Spanish is a linear story of Ahmed going for Jummah prayers.  The rhyming text in both languages is fairly consistent and the information framed in an upbeat, fun, positive way.  From waking up early and taking ghusl to reading Surah al-Kahf, the book shows some spiritual aspects, some sunnah reminders, and social Jummah interactions with friends as well.  The 48 pages are good for preschool to early elementary aged readers and with the minimal text on the pages, even younger listeners will enjoy the book.  I wish the religious statements were sourced, and while I didn’t initially love the aesthetics of the puppets when I first saw the cover, I definitely warmed up to Ahmed and absolutely cooed at the adorable (puppet) Imam.  The book starts with a sourced hadith and ayat from the Quran and ends with questions to test your knowledge.

The story begins in a bit of an awkward fashion with Ahmed breaking down the fourth wall, and addressing the reader, and then on the next page, the “narrator” reaching out to the readers to have them pay attention to Ahmed.  Then the story starts with asking if the reader knows what the special day of the week is called.  It then tells us that it is called Friday in English, Jummah in Arabic and that I, Ahmed, is going to tell us about it.  With all the introductions and signposting it makes the book actually start 11 pages in.  I read the first few spreads numerous times trying to see what was going on, and finally just realized it has a lot of framing and set up before diving in.  Alhumdulillah, after the repetitive first few pages, the book reads smooth and clearly.  

Ahmed wakes up, does ghusl, puts on nice clothes, and then waits until midday to go to salatul Jummah.  Muslims read Surah al-Kahf, and then get to the mosque early.  It is noted that we get rewards for every step we take, we are encouraged to praise our Lord, we greet friends with Salam, and after athan we sit calmly and quietly listening to the Imam.  The khutbah talks about our faith and then we pray foot to foot closing the gaps. The last few spreads are about the importance of Jummah.

The illustrations show Ahmed the puppet in different places with other Wendy Diaz books displayed in poster form, books on side tables, and graffitied on a wall. The only other character beside Ahmed and the Imam is Ahmed’s un named friend.  The simple illustrated backgrounds with puppets in the foreground, the minimal rhyming text and the content presentation make this book a great addition to home and school libraries as well as ideal at story time or bedtime where early elementary aged children are able to understand both the excitement and protocols of the blessed day.

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Over the years I’ve done a few Jummah themed readings and this book would be a great addition at story time.  You can purchase the book here.

Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

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Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

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For years it has been noted how few children’s Islamic books about grief and loss are available, and while numerous titles have come out in the last few years, it wasn’t until I saw this new book, did I realize how desperately we were in need of a book on janaza.  I love that the author establishes on the first page that this book is not focused on grief, but rather about death, the burial, and preparing to meet Allah (saw) in the hereafter with our deeds.  The beauty is that while the topic is critical and needed, the story is also well done.  It may not focus on emotion, but it has a lot of heart and tenderness, thus making it a wonderful addition to all book shelves for children preschool and up as a brief introduction to how Islam views death, the rituals of burial, and the worship that surrounds it. Packaged with clear text, robust backmatter and absolutely adorable illustrations, I am very happily impressed with this book.

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The book starts with Hamza telling about his favorite day of the week, Saturday, the day he spends with his Nano-ji and cousins, but one day all that changes when his mom gets a phone call about the loss of a community Uncle.  Mom says, inna lillahi wa inna illahi rajioon quietly in to the phone and Hamza knows something is wrong, but doesn’t quite understand why the passing of Uncle Sameer, the owner of the local sweet shop, means he has to attend a janaza instead of going to his grandfather’s house.

Hamza’s parents explain the reward of going, and remind him that we all have to leave this world one day. They recall Uncle Sameer helping bandage his knee when he got hurt and gave him a lollipop.  Once in the car, Hamza wants to know what is going to happen.  His parents explain the ghusl and the body being wrapped in the kafan and the body being put in the ground.

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When they get to the masjid there are a lot of aunties on the women’s side, including Auntie Salma who everyone is hugging and reassuring.  After dhuhr the janaza begins, but it is a standing up namaz, and is very short, and Hamza is confused. Later outside the long box is loaded into the car, duas are made, and the body taken to the cemetery.

At the graveside, more duas are made, and Hamza worries that Uncle will be lonely.  When his father explains that his good deeds will keep him company, Hamza remembers the kindness Uncle Sameer has shown him and makes duas.

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The backmatter contains hadith about what still benefits those that have died, reward for attending a janaza, a glossary, discussion points, suggested activities, and duas.  The book is a great starting point to introducing death, rituals, and answering questions any child might have in a gentle manner.  

I bought the book from Crescent Moon Store 

 

What Colour is your Mosque? By Jenny Molendyk Divleli illustrated by Aybüke B. Mumcu, Damla Koçak,  Fatma Betül Akbal, Gökhan Özdemir, Gülşah Irmak, Hümeyra Yorgancı, M. Ahmet Demir, Menekşe Özdemir, Özlem Güneş, Şüheda Başer Yılgör, Zeynep Alptekin, Zeynep Begüm Şen  

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What Colour is your Mosque? By Jenny Molendyk Divleli illustrated by Aybüke B. Mumcu, Damla Koçak,  Fatma Betül Akbal, Gökhan Özdemir, Gülşah Irmak, Hümeyra Yorgancı, M. Ahmet Demir, Menekşe Özdemir, Özlem Güneş, Şüheda Başer Yılgör, Zeynep Alptekin, Zeynep Begüm Şen  

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Sometimes the idea and presentation of a book make it stand out even if the writing is a bit bland and erroneous.  This book with bright colorful illustrations from 12 different illustrators highlighting the bold colors and designs of 12 masjids around the world is one such book for me.  I think young children will delight in seeing such beautiful masjids and appreciate that Muslims are found all over the world.  Adults and older children will also learn about mosques I’m sure they had never heard of before.  I kind of wish the book was a board book for little hands learning colors to enjoy, but the 8.5 x 8.5 style does suffice for story time and bedtime. 

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The book starts with an introduction to the author, Jenny and her sharing her favorite mosque in Turkey, Hagia Sophia. Each two page spread after that is a child introducing themselves, telling where they are from, and sharing their favorite mosque in their home country.  From Sri Lanka’s Jami Ul Alfar that looks like candy to the purple lights of Mohammed Al Ameen Mosque in Oman.  Some masjids stand out for their colors, others for their 99 domes, and some look like castles or are built out of mud.

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The illustrations reflect the beautiful buildings and radiate with joy from the smiling children introducing them.  I think the text is translated from Turkish to English which might account for some of the errors, but spelling Kabbah with two b’s doesn’t seem right in any language. 

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Despite it all, I’m happy with the book, I think we need to make a more intentional point to instill a sense of global community in our children and celebrate the beauty that our architecture and culture can result in for the worship of Allah swt.

The book is available from here from Crescent Moon Store.

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Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mohdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mohdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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At first glance it might seem that this Iranian set book with a chador at it’s core is a political statement.  I do not believe that it is.  The backmatter does state that, “Our wish in writing this book is to add to the growing list of stories for children that demystify this veil (that is too often used as a symbol of hate) and instead present a different view of it as the safe and comforting space we always knew it to be.”  This is an OWN voice authored book, from what I can find online the authors do not cover. It is a warm memory of finding love and humor and safety in the modest coverings worn by a grandmother.   I do wear hijab and I choose to do it based on my understanding of what Allah swt commands, I have never been forced to cover by a person or government, and do not know how that would effect my love of fulfilling a tenant of my faith.  But all that is an aside to make the point that this book to me is not weighing in on Iran’s politics, books are written and slated to be published years before they finally release, and this book is a silly heartfelt picture book about a girl and her chador wearing grandmother heading to the bazaar.

In the bustling city of Tehran, Samira is heading out to buy groceries in the big bazaar for the first time with her grandmother. Samira is nervous that it will be loud, and she might get lost, she asks her grandmother if she can rider under chador on her back. Her grandmother tells her no, she will look like a turtle.

Samira then suggest they walk in a line with grandma in front and her behind.  Grandmother Shamsi says, na, na, na, she doesn’t want to look like a donkey. Various other suggestions involving hiding under the big black chador and staying close to Mama Shamsi are suggested, but all make grandma look like a funny animal, and she declines.

When at last they arrive at the bazaar, Mama Shamsi encourages Samira to not hide but to use her eyes, and ears, and nose to learn about the world around her. Hand in hand, they stick close together, and enter the market.

The love between the two characters is heart warming in the text and truly elevated by the remarkable illustrations.  You love their relationship, you can feel Samira’s nerves, you appreciate Mama Shamsi’s humor to lovingly empower her granddaughter, and at the end you truly long to have your grandma next to you guiding you.

I enjoyed this book and don’t mind one bit reading it over and over again as kids giggle at the pictures and find details they hadn’t noticed before.  The book releases in February, and I hope that presales can reinforce the power of OWN voice authentic tales to be shared.  You can preorder/purchase it here.

 

A Sense of Gratitude: Exploring the Five Senses by Halimah Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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A Sense of Gratitude: Exploring the Five Senses by Halimah Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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As a story time host for littles, you always need books about the five senses.  Additionally as a story reader at an Islamic school, thanking Allah swt while talking about your senses and the world around us is a staple year after year.  So purchasing this book with large adorable pictures and claims of rhyme was an easy decision to make, and while it will get used, sigh, the rhyme and lacking rhythm is terrible.  There’s also frequent illogical sentence structures and a bizarre tangent- two pages on wafting.  The book is for toddlers through kindergarteners, not kids learning experiment safety protocols.  @muslimkidsbooknook did a wonderful Instagram post regarding rhyme in kid’s books, and this book really would have benefitted from some additional editing and outside eyes reading the book aloud repeatedly.  That being said, the book will still be used and will be enjoyed with real time editing.  A positive about the book, in addition to the illustrations, is Allah (swt) in Arabic script.  But overall, it really could have, and should have been so much better.

The book starts with a note to grown ups reminding them to stress the importance of being grateful and exploring God’s creation.  It starts with what eyes can be used for, stressing the beauty in nature. and moves to the nose, and has the pages on wafting chemicals, enjoying baked goods, and saying please pardon when passing bad smells.

Tongue is next and stresses that sweets are not nutritious, and then assumes that veggies and fruits are unliked by children, but the narrator admits that they enjoy consuming them.  Hands and skin- touch and feel, and also convey love.  As an FYI- the text states and illustrations show kids petting a dog. The final sense of ears and the gift of hearing wraps up the book.

I’m terrible at grammar, really bad, but even I know not to say “colors like purple,” it should be colors “such as” purple, not “smells like Teta’s baked cookies,” but smells “such as” Teta’s baked cookies.  The formatting on a spread seems off as well with “Like slimy frogs” being under a a two line refrain and the rest of the sentence, “and hairy dogs…” being on the next page with another line and a half, it throws you off when reading aloud to keep some rhyme and rhythm going, every. single. time. On some pages the chopping of normal speech structure to make the “rhyme” is difficult to understand, and I don’t think the glossary, nor putting (God) in English was particularly necessary.

My favorite pages are when they tie directly back to ibadah and Islam, hearing the athan, using your hands to make dua and the little rhyme that starts and concludes the book. Truly the concept makes the book important on a shelf and the illustrations make it attractive, the text needs some editing.

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My Garden Over Gaza by Sarah Musa illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

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My Garden Over Gaza by Sarah Musa illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

This book is hard to read, it hurts the heart, it doesn’t let you claim ignorance regarding the plight of Palestinians, and it shows cruelty,  a specific inexcusable cruelty, in a children’s book that will haunt you and infuriate you for weeks and months, if not indefinitely.  I’ve read a number of Palestine set books, but this one, in its simplicity, leaves me raw.  A child with a rooftop garden that helps feed her family is deliberately targeted by Israeli drones and destroyed.  This isn’t science fiction or dystopian, this is based on real acts.  The book itself threads in themes of hope, of not giving up, of remembering strength of a lost parent, of vowing to move forwards, but the catalyst for it all is not happenstance, and while the details of the occupation and oppression are not stressed and articulated, they are referenced and skillfully present to be discussed with children on their level with the included backmatter at the end.  This book is powerful and should be required reading. It is a difficult read and it has flags, but it is also a glimpse of the reality of our world, and the manner in which this book is told allows for the discussion to taken place with middle grade readers and up. The book is not text heavy, but the nature of the content makes me suggest it for mature children.

Noura, a young girl, is in her home in Gaza when drones are seen just out the window and she quickly pulls her little brother Esam away to safety.  To distract him she tells him about their father and his farm that he used to have in Umm An-Naser.  She explains how the wall cut them off from their land and when the drone noises fade, she takes him up to her rooftop garden to pick green beans.  Their mama works downstairs as a seamstress, and while they wish they had meat, the garden helps them have fresh vegetables.

The next day after Noura gets her little brother ready for the day they head to the roof, but drones arrive and start spraying chemicals on the growing plants, killing them, and sending Noura gasping to breathe.  She tries to cover the plants and swing a shovel at the drone, but it does little to save any of the food and Noura is devastated.

Noura’s mama reassures her daughter that the food can be regrown, but she is irreplaceable, as Noura goes to scrub the chemicals from her skin.  The frustration is real, but determination prevails as the family cleans the garden and begins again, just as their father did.

The last two page spread of the book is a basic map, general touchstones of the situation in Palestine, and the very real drones that fly in to Gaza to surveil, attack, and spray herbicides on crops. You can purchase a copy on the publisher’s website or HERE at Crescent Moon Store.

Basking in My Brown by Fatima Faisal illustrated by Anain Shaikh

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Basking in My Brown by Fatima Faisal illustrated by Anain Shaikh

This picture book celebrating brown skin, particularly in girls, and specifically from a Desi culture point of view, takes on the notion of dark brown skin not being as ideal as compared to lighter skin.  If this is not a concept you are familiar with, I don’t think that the book will hit home, but as someone who has heard this refrain of staying out of the sun to not get darker since childhood, aimed at my friends and cousins (I turn red and burn in the sun), I do appreciate this owning and pushing back on a ridiculous colorist mindset. I don’t love the “magic” diction choice, and there is nothing Islamic in the book, save some covered heads that could be religiously inspired, or culturally, or even weather related, and I’m not sure if the author or illustrator identify as Muslim, but I’m sharing anyway because I know young Pakistani girls particularly, hear this colonial mindset messaging still, and I support undermining it.  This book is not about systemic oppression and racism and taking up space, this book is internal cultural acknowledgement of a pointless beauty notion.

A young girl begins the book telling of things she loves: trips to Pakistan to fly kites with her Dada, her mother’s dinner parties, swimming, climbing trees, but most of all she loves basking in the sun.  One day while playing with her friend Zoya in the warm sun, Zoya abruptly says she should go in before she gets too dark.  The protagonist counters that she loves all the shades her beautiful brown turns and equates it to magic.

She holds out her hand to show her magical brown skin shimmering, and connects the beautiful brown to the brown clay pot her Nani used to carry water in, the brown shawl her mother wore when coming to a new home, the brown of the henna her sister puts on, etc..  She says her brown skin has its own story of being proud, brave, courageous, soft, sweet, and fearless.

Zoya decides she likes the magic and decides to stay and bask in the sun. The author on the final spread raches out to brown girls to own, embrace, and celebrate their brown skin.

Elephant’s Makeover by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ikram Syed

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Elephant’s Makeover by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ikram Syed

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I absolutely respect and appreciate Rukhsana Khan and even my least favorite Ruqaya’s Bookshelf published book is still a good quality book, so I preordered this with such giddy delight.  And yet, when I read it the first time, I didn’t get it.  I put it away, pulled it out again weeks later and still wasn’t feeling it, I repeated this process over and over, and finally, I’ve resolved what I’ve always known: that it is ok not to love a book.  It doesn’t mean I don’t still love and respect everyone involved, but alas, it just didn’t appeal to me.  So, as always, I’m accountable for my thoughts and my thoughts only and you are free to disagree and argue with me, it isn’t personal, and I will try and point out good and problematic elements so that you can make your own decisions based on your preferences and see if the book would be a good addition to your shelves or not.

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This hardback Muslim authored, Muslim illustrated anthropomorphized book takes the shape of a moral fable in which Elephant has no friends, attributes it to her appearance, forces the insects and animals around her to give her their eyes, waist, nose, arms etc., and then when they still don’t like her is persuaded by ant to return the body parts, apologize and be content to be ant’s friend.

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My problem I think with the book is that it conflates appearance with friendship without a clear moral, and then Elephant being forced to change by Ant to have a friend seems to reinforce a questionable mindset, even if Ant is more or less in the right.  There is no self reflection on the role of appearance, or what kindness looks and feels like, or even insight into what self confidence, friendship, and body appreciation entails.  It lumps it all together, uses outside influences to get elephant a friend, but doesn’t really articulate any lessons learned or moral to be conveyed.  If I am mistaken and the book is not set to be a moral inspired fable, the climatic joy of the book is simply, what- Do as you are told to have a friend? 

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The book starts out with the other animals questioning, but essentially bullying Elephant about her size, calling her big and awkward and wondering if she can even see or hear them.  Elephant then looks in the mirror and picks herself apart, body part by body part. She tells Owl, who has beautiful eyes to switch with her. Owl doesn’t want to, Owl needs eyes to see, but the transaction occurs.  Next up is Wasp, who has a tiny waist, then Mole with a star shaped nose, etc.  The result is a bizarre looking “Elephant” and numerous unhappy, unable to move critters.  Yes, they are all friends, size, nocturnal, predator, prey not brought in to consideration.  The animals leave and Elephant is still friendless and feeling bad.  Ant pipes up that he knows what should be done.  Interestingly Elephant doesn’t want to listen because it is “just an ant.”  Ant responds, “I have a million friends and I know how to be nice.”  So now we are using appearance, having friends, and being nice as synonyms. Elephant agrees to listen, Ant forcefully convinces Elephant to give everything back and apologize. Ant agrees to go with Elephant, once the animals and insects get their body part back they race off in fear.  Elephant is left back to normal but still with no friends when Ant says that he likes her.  So, was Elephant really sorry? Did she learn to be nice? To be a friend? Did she want to give the parts back or did she do it so Ant would be her friend? Did she appreciate the function and beauty of her own body? So many loose ends that don’t show any growth, teach a moral, convey entertainment or joy, or make me get what the purpose was.  It left me, and my children confused.  And again, had we laughed along the way and been entertained, I wouldn’t need a character arc or lesson, but sadly we closed the book having not felt those feels at all.

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When the cover was revealed I’ll admit I was intrigued by the texture and tone of the elephant, but for some reason the inside pages went from creepy with poignant intent, to a little disturbing, The body parts of the animals are removed and swapped and reaffixed with masking tape.  I’m not opposed to slightly dark humor in children’s books, but I think this could really bother some younger kids that will dwell on the idea of body parts being taken unwillingly.  The text is sparse and presumably the book is for younger readers, so consider this if your children are sensitive.

There is nothing religious or Islamic in the book, nor is their scientific elements to why the animals bodies are the way they are or for what purpose.  It does not discuss environment or relationships in a non fiction manner.  The clear large simple text would suggest the book is for 4-8 year olds.

 

Connecting with Allah: A Treasury of Poems by Mona Zac illustrated by Neamah Aslam

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Connecting with Allah: A Treasury of Poems by Mona Zac illustrated by Neamah Aslam

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Similar to Call Me By My Name, this book stands out in highlighting the Names of Allah swt.  In this collection it is the descriptive poetry, warm illustrations, urge to reflect and act, and space to think through and write up your own du’as that make this book so versatile.  I can see a middle grade to middle schooler using the book almost like a journal, just as easily as I can see an Islam teacher using the book to teach the names of Allah and have their students ponder and write their own verses.  I plan to use it with my own children when we gather up for salat-waiting for everyone to make wudu- to read a poem, discuss, and understand each name on whatever level the child is at thus bring the names of Allah swt, into our daily awareness, inshaAllah.

The book is divided into sections following a heading and seasonal imagery: Loving Allah, Asking Allah, Knowing Allah, and Blooming with Allah’s names.  The table of contents is out of order, but it isn’t an issue.  Poems are given a two page spread, some poems are one name, others are two.  At the end of each poem is a “Reflect and Act” section with bulleted items to help connect the name and the poem’s content with one’s own life and Islamic principles.

At the end of each section are two pages to write your own du’as using Allah’s names followed by Sources from the Qur’an and Hadith.  The illustrations are adorable to look at, and while on first glance the collection might seem more female appealing, I think boys and girls alike will benefit from time spent with the book and not find it targeting to only one gender.

The Asking Allah section features easy to read Arabic with harakat and even the English font is very appealing and easy to read.  Overall the hard bound book is beautiful and I hope to see it stocked in more places, hint hint Crescent Moon.  Currently in the US it is available here by the publisher.

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