Category Archives: Muslim Illustrator

Tittle Tattle Talia: A Story about Gossiping by Salwah Isaacs-Johaadien illustrated by Zeyneb Yildirim

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Tittle Tattle Talia: A Story about Gossiping by Salwah Isaacs-Johaadien illustrated by Zeyneb Yildirim

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I really enjoyed this Islamic moral book about gossiping.  Over the years I’ve taught a few Sunday school lessons, class lessons, and even hosted story times on the Islamic cautions regarding backbiting, and honestly I don’t think kids really grasp how easy it is to commit the act and be a part of it.  They understand they shouldn’t do it, what the punishment is, and that it is bad, but I don’t know that the materials I’ve used and seen, have really connected with younger kids without a lot of supplementing; and this book highlighted that we really can be messaging better on a child’s level.  The pages are incredibly text heavy, but neither I nor my audience seemed to mind until close to the end, because of the comedy and relatability of the story up to that point.  I think the coach getting overly involved took it back to being a lesson from adults and broke the child perspective tone.  I do love that the kids that listen to the gossip are also held accountable, the importance of the coach’s message clearly is important, but the story telling quality would have benefitted from a few tweaks.  The illustrations are cute, unfortunately the font is not very appealing.  I do like that the salwat is given in Arabic, and that Hadith are mentioned in the text as well as in the backmatter with an author’s note.

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The story starts with Talia owning that she loves to share tales about the people around her, before telling one to her older sister.  Her sister tries to stop her and tells her that she needs to watch what she says or she might one day have to eat her words.  Talia wonders what eating your words means.  Similar situations occur between Talia and her brother, her mother, as well as her father.  Each time the story is reprimanded and a funny euphuism remarked upon and then giggled about by Talia.

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At school she does the same, telling stories, often at the expense of a boy named Ahmed, and the more interest the other kids show, the more outrages her tales become.  She soon starts telling them about everyone, and her classmates and friends grow weary and fearful that they might be next.

It all comes to a climax when Talia’s classmates say enough is enough and stop talking to her, and go as far as refusing to pick her when picking teams, and playing with her at all.  The coach concludes then that the match should be cancelled and Talia should apologize.  The cancellations seems extreme, and the forcing to apologize almost takes away from the emotional realization that her “tales” have become bullying.

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As Talia leaves, her classmates gather up and she sees Ahmed not joining them.  When she gets to her front gate, her friends catch up to her and apologize and acknowledge their roles in perpetuating the gossip.  Talia then goes to find Ahmed and get him some ice cream to apologize.

I don’t quite think the friends needed to apologize, I think they should have just realized their role, I think with discussion it might be clarified, but I worry that it defers Talia’s ownership of wrong doing, and could send some mixed messages.

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It is also a little pausing that Talia makes up a story about why a girl wears hijab, when her own mother wears hijab and she is clearly Muslim.  On the one hand, I like that it shows how ridiculous her tales have gotten, but it also could seem like she is falling for a stereotype as well.  There is good rep in the illustrations of those that cover and those that don’t, there is a child in a wheelchair and lots of shades of skin colors and hair types.  The text also contains traditional Islamic names and some that are not.

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The book helps our children to be better and the story engaging enough to be memorable, that while I wish it was cleaned up a better to strengthen the writing, I do find it a benefit on a shelf to be shared at bedtime, in classrooms, in story times and as a reminder to not participate in gossip or listen to it.

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Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure by Nouha Deliou illustrated by Kadhima Tung

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Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure by Nouha Deliou illustrated by Kadhima Tung

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Algerian culture, as far as I’ve seen, is incredibly underrepresented in western literature and not represented at all in children’s books.  I love that this author, who felt the same- did something about it.  This 40 page colorful story incorporates Algerian traditions and culture with universal themes of sibling love, wedding excitement, and being sad about change.  The OWN voice warmth shows Muslim characters in America holding to traditions and making new ones.  The book is long, but is not text heavy.  For toddlers and preschoolers up to second grade, I can see readers enjoying the detailed descriptions of the dresses and foods, and feeling the feelings of little Mona as her beloved older sister prepares for her wedding and ultimately leaving with her husband.

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The book starts on the morning of the big day, Layla’s engagement.  Mama explains to Mona that the Imam will do the kitab and that her older sister is excited because she has known Ahmed since school and likes him a lot.  Once dressed Mona watches Layla get ready in traditional Algerian clothes.

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When Ahmed and his family arrive, he and Layla announce that after the wedding they will be moving from New York to Arizona.  Mona is devastated, as the women start to zaghreet in celebration. She wonders if she can go with them, but decides she can’t leave her parents.  Later that night, Layla and Mona chat and decide that Mona will help plan for the wedding and they will make a scrapbook.

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Over the next few months, clothes are bought, cakes are tasted, flowers are decided upon, and Arayech is made.  The night of the henna is fun, but then it is the wedding, and then time for Layla and Ahmed to go. Happy tears and promises to always be connected conclude the story before a scrapbook page for the readers is revealed to make their own designs.  That is followed by a glossary, and information about the author and illustrator.

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I love the detail about the different cultural and regional Algerian dresses in the illustrations, the Algerian traditions shared through the text, and the connection between the two sisters. The book is available in hard back or paper back and I got mine from Crescent Moon Store  

Mona's Scrapbook Adventure

That’s Not My Name by Anoosha Syed

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That’s Not My Name by Anoosha Syed

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I have been looking forward to this book, as I’ve enjoyed so many of the illustrations the author has created for other authors, and was anxious to see what kind of story she would write for her own authorial debut.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t wow me.  It is rather forgettable, the book conflates notions of not being able to pronounce someone’s name with not being memorable and with not having a “normal” name, and then recognizing how so many classmates have unique names too.  A bit scattered in messaging, and overall reading like an adult talking, not a young girl of four or five, on her first day of school.  No doubt the illustrations are beautiful, and the book isn’t “bad” or a “waste of time,” but it isn’t a strong clear story.  I’ve seen reviews where people find the little girl rude, and I don’t know that I’d agree with that, she is frustrated and wants to scream, “that’s not my name” when people say it wrong, but I do agree that she could model what to say better and how to handle it.  Not that I expect those with uncommon names to have to carry the weight of making things easy, but the little girl at the end remarks that she has so many new friends at school with “unique, beautiful names, and she always makes sure she says them right,” implying that some dialogue, both about her name and about theirs, takes place to ensure pronunciation is correct, and some “showing” of how that is achieved would be nice.  Before the story starts, on the title page, there is a pronunciation breakdown of Mirha, but not in the text itself. There is nothing Islamic in the book, the Grandmother wears a scarf loosely draped over her head, there is a crescent and moon wall hanging in an illustration, and the girl’s name is claimed to be Arabic in origin.

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The book starts with it being Mirha’s first day of school.  She is excited to learn, to play, and to make friends, but when no one seems to be able to say her name, she starts to feel shy. Frustrated and sad she decides to change her name, and tells her mom when she gets home.  Her mother tells her, her name is beautiful and why she was named what she is named.  She builds her up and the next day armed with her mother’s words she is ready to make friends and teach them how to say her name. By the end of the book Mirha has friends, and wants to be your (the reader’s) friend too.

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The voice of the book is inconsistent at times it feels very older kid, almost adult, even though the 40 page book is meant for three to five year olds.  The examples read like an adult reflecting on their childhood struggles with their name, not as a young girl finding her voice and appreciation for the name she has.

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When Hayden asks if he can call her Maya instead of Mirha it is because Maya is easier.  Kids are hearing all sorts of names for the first time when they enter school, that conversation seems so forced.  Whether the kids are in preschool or daycare or kindergarten, most of the names they are hearing of their classmates are being heard for the first time.  If they watch a lot of tv and YouTube and movies, they have heard a whole variety of names, they are not going to have a dialogue that sounds like that, at that age, just not realistic.  Similarly after the first day of school she wants to change her name to something “normal?” What is a “normal” name even, then the mom even reinforces that notion when saying she knows she named her something “unique and different.”  A concept that returns at the end when asserting that Mirha has friends with lots of unique names.  Seems to go in circles.

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I appreciate that examples are given about not seeing your name on keychains or having the barista get it right, but again, she is under the age of five, are these really her points of reference for having a less common name than those around her?  When her mother is making the case that she shouldn’t change her name she references that names such as Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo are memorable.  First of all, what (under) five year old knows those names or who those people are, and second of all, now her name is not memorable? I thought it was hard to pronounce? Has she done something worthy of history books and admiration? I get what the author is trying to do, I often tell my students that they need to demand people say their names right.  If they can rattle off names from Pokemon, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Beyblades, they can say the beautiful names they have been given.  But the kids I am saying it to are not in preschool, nor am I conflating the pronunciation of their names with being names of famous people that are memorable. Additionally, I do not speak Arabic, but a quick Google search does not show that Mirha means happiness in Arabic, and I have heard from native Arab speakers that they also found the meaning off.

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The illustrations are engaging, the broader message of getting people’s name right and demanding people get your name right is important, it just needed a more age aligning voice and connecting with the reader.

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Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story by Malak Mattar

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Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story by Malak Mattar

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I hate that this book is so timely.  It was written by the author/illustrator recalling the 2014 airstrikes, but alas, has anything changed for the Palestinians’ suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupiers amid the  apathetic silence of the world?  This 32 page picture book shows family love and daily life while Gaza is under siege.  The heartbreak of a young girl’s reality and perception shows the reader, in a simple empathetic, heart-wrenching, real-life example how her dream was limited and caged because she is not free.  The book is not sensationalized, nor graphic, it is written by someone who endured this as a child, and has written the book for children. The theme is not even political, but more hopeful as art is found as a respite and way to keep dreams from completely dying.  May Allah swt ease the suffering of those under occupation and free Palestine, ameen.  

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The book starts with a little girl and her parents going to Sitti’s house for the best maqlouba.  Sitti has a beloved bird, Malak wonders if she too is in a cage.  Her grandmother encourages her to fly in her dreams.  At school she is happy with her friends, playing games, listening to stories, but when an explosion sends them all home, she won’t get to return for 51 days.

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Constant airstrikes keep the family home and in fear.  Malak finds some paints and starts to create.  Sitti’s bird is lost when Sitti’s home is destroyed, but somehow shows up at Malak’s home.  Eventually Malak returns to school and she shows her teacher all her paintings. Her teacher decides to host an exhibit. 

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People show up and marvel at her art work.  Months later an international exhibit invites her to attend with her parents, but sadly she must decline.  Gaza is closed.  She cannot leave.  

The book is hopeful, but does not have a happy ending, and I think the weight of that makes this book all the more powerful: because it is timely, because occupation persists, because dreams cannot be made into reality, generation after generation, this story inshaAllah will inspire some change and lots of compassion.

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There is nothing Islamic in the book, save some #muslimsintheillustrations, the author is Muslim.

Available here at Crescent Moon Book Store https://crescentmoonstore.com/products/sittis-bird?sca_ref=1601585.fIPhoqtScY  

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

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

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

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

WHY I LIKE IT:

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

FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

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

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home written and illustrated by Zahra Marwan

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Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home written and illustrated by Zahra Marwan

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This 48 page picture book shows the journey of a young girl from one desert to another.  The soft water colors in this author illustrated book tell so much of the story and illuminate the prose.   For me the most powerful part of the book was the backmatter.  The learning why the family had to move from Kuwait to New Mexico was new and interesting and gave the story a lot of depth.  I read it to my 6 and 3 year old and it couldn’t hold their attention, the book is not text heavy, but is is long.  I think had I read the author’s note at the end first, before sharing it with my kids, we could have discussed the pages a bit more.  I think the added framing and context would have increased connection and engaged them.  The book shows one aunt in hijab, Allah swt written in Arabic and a picture of the kaba hanging on the walls of their home, a hand of Fatima as well.  There is music and dancing and connections between family, strangers, cultures, and people.

The book starts by establishing the rich and loving life the little girl enjoys in her home: butterflies, swimming in the sea, family.  It then fades to being held close and the stress of people saying they don’t belong.  The next step is the family having to leave their extended family and say their good-byes.

They arrive in a new place, not talking like others, questioning the connections of their ancestors in this far away land.  Eventually there are some similarities, and then the music of a guitarron is heard and people dance and there is joy.

The shift opens up a feeling of home, and connections are not lost, and a new comfort is felt in a place where hot air balloons fill the sky.

As an adult I appreciated the paradigm shift of not being welcome in their home elsewhere and being welcome in America, it is subtle but a nice change.  I love a lot of details come full circle.  I think the book would be a good tool not for the intended 4-8 crowd, but for older kids in a teaching setting.  There are a lot of subtle story telling techniques that could be discussed, stereotype assumptions challenged in a nudging way, and offer social studies and political discussions.

Hana’s Hundreds of Hijabs by Razeena Omar Gutta illustrated by Manal Mirza 

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Hana’s Hundreds of Hijabs by Razeena Omar Gutta illustrated by Manal Mirza 

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I love the idea of this book and I can see me reading it at story time to KG-2nd graders with great success. The illustrations are rich and detailed, the over the top bedazzling is fun and extra, the plot however, is non existent, surface level at best, the Islamic representation incredibly shallow, and the inconsistencies puzzling.  I’ve read this book a lot of times trying to articulate why it just rubs me the wrong way, and I think it is because it really reduces hijab to a fashion piece.  You can change the word “hijab” to hat or t-shirt or sock and the story would be EXACTLY the same. There is no connecting hijab to Islam, no showing or telling why a woman would even where it.  It presents hijab as being a costume or a decoration.  If you don’t read the author’s note at the end, you would have no idea that hijab is an obligation on Muslim women.  Even at story time in an Islamic school I don’t know that the author’s note will make the case clear enough, and I do plan to discuss with the classes how important it is to realize that hijab means something and is an act of worship and faith, and not something frivolous.  The 24 page book is cute, no doubt, but I wish it had just a bit more substance.

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A few other readers have shared that they found the story “offensive” and “triggering” for the main character’s judgmental and snooty attitude of criticizing others’ fashion sense.  As someone who doesn’t care much what I wear, I didn’t feel attacked, but their points are valid, so I share them. Hijab is incredibly personal and many women struggle with dressing for the sake of Allah swt with the messaging all around and pressures to compromise in one way or another, and this book for some could definitely add fuel to the fire of telling a woman how to dress.

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My plot concerns mainly pivot around Hana’s mom.  Why is the mom presented as irritated at the beginning and then so supportive at the end, what changed? Why doesn’t the mom remind her daughter about why one wears hijab when given the chance?  At least add the word “Muslim” in the above page between “strong” and “women.” I know the book is supposed to be fun and surface level, but connecting hijab to Islam isn’t preachy, it is logical. It is a key piece to the premise of the story.  Also, how does offering her services of styling solve the problem- wouldn’t it in fact make it worse?

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The fun illustrations and the extreme decorations really could have made the book a little girl favorite, but as it is, I don’t know that it will be requested more than once, or lend itself to being remembered once story time is over.  It draws on Fancy Nancy extremes, and thinking outside the box, but because of the faith based article at the core, it seems to miss the importance and true beauty that hijab represents.  I think Muslims will pick it up and be excited on first glance, but be left wondering what the point was, and non Muslims will probably be left with more questions than answers.

Lina, the Tree and the Woodcutter by Eman Salem

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Lina, the Tree and the Woodcutter by Eman Salem

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I’ve enjoyed another book in this bilingual series, Little Tree Goes for Hajj,  and was excited to see little tree all grown up and the focus of a book on the environment.  The 22 pages in Arabic and English start out promising, setting the stage, establishing the familiar characters, discussing caring for trees and not harming them for no purpose, but then the book just kind of ends.  It is wordy, the English anyway, I cannot comment on the Arabic, but it is sweet and warm in its own Islamic fiction way.  I didn’t feel like a glossary was needed, it mentions Allah in the text and seems meant for Muslims, so why the definitions of Allah, Hajj, and Mecca are included is a bit odd especially when it uses Christianity and Judaism in the explanation of the oneness of Allah.

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Little tree is now an old tree and was a friend of Lina’s grandfather, they had traveled to hajj together.  As they sit chatting, they hear a horrible noise and discover it is a woodcutter chopping down a tree.  When the young man stumbles upon the talking tree and Lina they question his motives.

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He wasn’t chopping wood for fuel, or to build a home, he was just chopping it because he could.  Lina and the old tree explain what was lost with the destruction of the tree and teach him that Allah swt has made people the earth’s caretakers.  The woodcutter learns from his mistakes and apologizes.

I wish the book maybe would have made a stronger point that trees take a while to grow and that sorry is well and good, but not enough to restore what was lost.  I like that the woodcutter wants to learn more, but a few lines detailing what he learns or that he came every day to sit with them or some sort of ending would have been nice.

The Wonders We Seek: Thirty Incredible Muslims Who Helped Shape the World by Saadia Faruqi and Aneesa Mumtaz illustrated by Saffa Khan

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The Wonders We Seek: Thirty Incredible Muslims Who Helped Shape the World by Saadia Faruqi and Aneesa Mumtaz illustrated by Saffa Khan

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I’ve noted over the years how much I want to love these type of collections, but ultimately I just don’t.  The reason I gave this one a try was quite simply the reassuring introduction.  The book immediately detailed the checklist required to make it into the book, the criteria required, and acknowledged the limitations that the book overall, and personalities included, would have in the presentation. There are sources at the end for each of the 30 people included as well.  Unlike most books in the genre, this book got out in front of my most common complaints: the lack of transparency for how the people were selected, where the primary source information was obtained from, how the order is organized, and the Eurocentric and pop culture framing that is both pandering and renders the book cumbersome a few years after it is published.  For the most part, this book is the best I’ve seen yet, but that isn’t to say I loved it.  While the requirements to be included were made apparent, there is still a lot of opinionated statements about how “religious” or “conservative” or “devout” or “mainstream” or “strict” a person is or was, that rubbed me the wrong way.  Also knowing that the person had to identify as Muslim to be eligible seems like a black and white issue, but a few of the personalities are very controversial (some noted and some not), and I am not an expert at all.  One of the problems with books like this is they present as non fiction, and no matter the transparency, just the mere fact of who is included and who is not is a judgement call and wrought with bias.  It is nice to thumb through, but I don’t know that it would get repeated use, or that it could really be used as a reference.  It is informative and I recognize that I went in to it very skeptical, but only a few text passages connected faith to the person’s accomplishments, and so while they identify as Muslim, it doesn’t necessarily radiate pride or admiration for Muslims as a whole.  For better or worse, if anything, it made me want to conduct my own research on many that were featured. 

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The 30 included in the book:

 

A few I was concerned by, which made me question the ones that I learned something new about. Clearly there are reasons that I shy away from non-fiction.  I wish the book would have had Muslim beta readers, I am willing to assume that it did not.  Take for example the section on Saladin, I absolutely get why his name is shown as both Saladin and Salah al-Din, the book is in English presumably for western readers and that is how he is known.  But why when it says that his real name is Yusuf, is Joseph in the parenthesis? No one else’s names in the book are given the English equivalents of their Arabic or Persian or other native language. Similarly so few tied back to Islam or an Islamic perspective being credited for having a role in their noteworthy accomplishments.  Even Muhammad Yunus when it discusses how interest was not a part of the micro loan process- it didn’t add even one more sentence explaining that interest is not allowed in Islam, why leave that out?  

I liked that the parameters required that the person was influential more globally than just to their own country, but Rebiya Kadeer seemed to be more localized in her work with Muslims in China even when she moved out of China, blurring the rigid standards of who was to be included and who was to be left out.  

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I do like that it mentions Rumi’s religion is often conveniently ignored as the west has made him a hero and chosen to forget his faith.  Similarly, I like that it tries to correct when Ibn Battuta is called the Marco Polo of Islam, for in reality Marco Polo was the Ibn Battuta of Europe.  And I appreciated that Benazir Bhutto was noted as being controversial and not well liked. 

If this type of book appeals to you, you can purchase it here.

 

Grandpa Ali and Friends Volume 1 By Yasin Osman

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Grandpa Ali and Friends Volume 1 By Yasin Osman

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This 46 page comic strip compilation follows the intergenerational Somali-Canadian members of a family. With crossword puzzles, word searches, advice, and graphs sprinkled in-the book at times was laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming, ironic, and honestly, there were things that I didn’t quite understand-and those perhaps were my favorite parts.  The book features Muslims and immigrants and life in the west, and those I could relate to, but I am not Somali, and there aren’t a lot of Somali books available, so I loved the opportunity to see the culture and humor and themes that a book written authentically chose to highlight.  The book is not a graphic novel, the characters and their situations are not a cohesive narrative, so if I didn’t understand a particular joke, it didn’t linger or carry over.  By the time the book was done a sense of love, community, and joy left me waiting for the next installment and a desire to read more voices that are not easily found in Muslamic YA literature.

The humor is at times culture and experience specific, and I feel honored almost to witness a book for a particular group by a member of that group and thus don’t feel a need to “review” the book in my typical fashion.  I simply wish to highlight that it exists, share some inside pictures, and hopefully send some support its way. You can purchase it on Amazon.

Happy Reading y’all.