Category Archives: Picture book

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.

Baby’s First Series: Bismillah by Marwa Ahmed illustrated by Natalia Scabuso

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Baby’s First Series: Bismillah by Marwa Ahmed illustrated by Natalia Scabuso

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Every few years a new Bismillah board book comes out and while after a while they all blur together, this new 2022 version is bright and colorful and at 24 pages a good length to show and teach toddlers when to say Bismillah without boring them.  At this age repetition is key, so while there is no real story, the book highlights familiar activities through the character Maryam and stresses saying Bismillah before you begin them. The book concludes with sourced duas to say when leaving the house, starting a meal, entering a bathroom, and before sleeping, and every morning and evening. I do wish the book would have clearly established that you say Bismillah, before starting anything and everything.  It hints at it at the end saying, “throughout the day, remember to say Bismillah,” but I worry that some kids would take it more literal, that you only say it at the times mentioned in the book, and not that the featured scenarios are just examples.  

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The book begins with Bismillah in Arabic text and the translation before starting the format of Maryam doing something on the left page spread and the saying of Bismillah on the right. So, “Maryam likes taking walks with her day,  When they leave, they say Bismillah.” In this manner Maryam takes the readers to play at the park, eat a meal with vegetables, drink a drink after her meal, read a book, wash before prayer, and get ready for bed.

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The faces of Maryam and other people are never shown, the stuffed animals in her room do not have eyes, although the duck bouncy seat at the park does.  The illustrations are blocky and colorful with the text clear and large.  The duas at the end tell when to say the dua, the dua in Arabic, the translation in English, and the source.

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For where to purchase the book you can visit the publisher’s website: www.litfancyhouse.com

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The Great Labne Trade by Eman Saleh illustrated by Eilnaz Barmayeh

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The Great Labne Trade by Eman Saleh illustrated by Eilnaz Barmayeh

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My friend Noura, owner of Crescent Moon Store, said this book was good, so when I saw the amazing illustrations on the cover, I didn’t even look into what the book was about, I bought it and waited impatiently for it to arrive.  When it came I started reading it and thought ok, ok another book about lunch food that is perceived as “other” and the bullying that ensues with having a “smelly” lunch.  But the bullying never really came, and the book was suddenly not about being different, it was about entrepreneurship, and a mother’s love and support, and appreciating good food, and sharing culture, and raging against an oppressive system. Ok, so there was no raging, the book ended with determination and a following of the “rules,” in a very kid appropriate manner, but it was fun and a nice change from the typical storyline in rhyming children’s books.  There is no “Islam” aside from a boy named Ahmed and his sweet hijab wearing mother, but this book will result in smiles for kids preschool to early elementary and encourage business creativity and thinking outside the box.

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Ahmed is not thrilled to be taking a labne sandwich to school and would rather have a pb&j like everyone else. His mom encourages him to “be proud of who you are, appreciate how special you are, stand tall, don’t let other’s make you feel small,” and sends him out the door.  At lunch when the kids start to turn up their noses, Ahmed gets them to try the sandwich, and they love it.

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Ahmed gets an idea, maybe he can sell labne sandwiches to his classmates. Mama stays up late making them and Ahmed sets up shop in the cafeteria. He sets his price, and they sell out, so he increases the charge, and they are still selling. He also is open to trades for those that can’t pay.  Before you know it he is adding dishes to the menu.  Things are going well for entrepreneur Ahmed, until the lunch ladies have had enough and take matters to the principal.

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The 58 page book is not text heavy and the rhyme is fairly good, it is hit and miss at times, but the story is not hindered by it. I did feel like the book took a few pages to set the stage and get into the story. The initial timeline and the “smelly” lunch could be cleaned up a little, but once the business storyline presents it is smooth and enjoyable. And the illustrations, they are perfect for the story and for keeping Ahmed and his dream in your heart.

The book is available here at Crescent Moon or on Amazon.

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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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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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“Granny, Where Does Allah Live?” by Yasmin Kamal illustrated by Citra Lani

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“Granny, Where Does Allah Live?” by Yasmin Kamal illustrated by Citra Lani

 

This 32 page picture book for 3-6 year olds takes readers and listeners on a car ride with Granny as questions are asked, sights are seen, and love is spread.  The rhyme is actually pretty decent, the explanation of Allah swt being on a throne above us wherever we are adhered to, and the illustrations are bright, bold, and have a lot to hold little one’s interest.  Overall, the banter between the kids and their Granny, the drive to the mosque being filled with joy and love, make me overlook a lot of little annoyances.  The book packs a lot in, but the voice and tone is easy and I think most kids will see the connection of asking where Allah is, to asking why we have to go to the mosque, to why it is important to talk to Allah swt in our prayers, etc., as a way to have their own questions touched upon.  I do wish the book was a little bigger and perhaps hardbound, to make story time sharing a possibility, the book is 7.5 x 7.5, so good for little hands and sufficient for in lap reading.  The book concludes with three activities that incorporate a few of Allah’s beautiful names.

The book starts out with a young boy and girl excited to be spending the day with their Granny and going on a ride in her special car.  No idea why it is special, but it is purple and has flowers painted on it, so lets go! The kids love to ask Granny questions when they drive.  So after saying bismillah, they wonder why people don’t have tails or shells on their backs, or where they are going, or if they can have ice creams. 

As they head to the mosque to meet Grandad  they wonder if that is where Allah (swt) lives.  Granny tells them no, so they ask if He lives in the sky, when she says no, they wonder about in the trees or in the sea.  Finally she says that they “don’t have to go anywhere to find Allah, His throne is above us where ever we are.”

She then details how we can be reminded of Allah in things around us, nature, animals, land formations and then tells the children Allah is the most generous friend and it is important to talk to Him in our prayers. The children ask what we can tell Him, and Granny shares that we can tell Him everything and anything because He always hears.

Granny then explains that when we do good, we make Allah swt happy and when we aren’t nice we make him sad.  So then the kids want to know why we have to go to the mosque, Granny replies, to be part of a community.

The book is a string of questions, so it doesn’t come across as overly preachy, even though it is Islamic fiction, and the voice is natural.  It sounds like a conversation a grandma and some kids would have, I’m guessing the book was spawned by some real life experiences.  My kids and my mom definitely have this relationship.

 All this though, isn’t too say the book is perfect.  If  you read my reviews, you know there is always going to be a little nudge to try and elevate it from my perspective for the next go round. So with that in mind, the book does read a little long, the tangents get a little away from the simple articulate answer of stressing where Allah swt is, the text runs over the pictures a few too many times, and the people praying are not foot-to-foot shoulder-to-shoulder.  There are no salutations, saw, or asterisks after Allah. The word Jummah is not used although they are going to the mosque on Friday and a lot of people are gathering in the day, and the word mosque is used, not masjid.

The pictures are fun and will appeal to kids, especially when the car goes all magic school bus and starts flying, and going underwater.  I hope this is the first book in the series as it really does have potential to present answers to kids questions in a joyful colorful way.

Book available on Amazon 

 

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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Iman’s Sunnah Adventures: Mama Once Told Me by Sharifah Huseinah Madihid illustrated by Lakhaula S. Aulia

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Iman’s Sunnah Adventures: Mama Once Told Me by Sharifah Huseinah Madihid illustrated by Lakhaula S. Aulia

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This adorable 36 page board book had me laughing as a mom watching the increasing exasperation and dishevelment of the poor mother in the book page after page.  The book focuses on the sunnahs of welcoming guests, but the interpretations are the efforts and understandings of a small child being overly helpful, and the toll it takes on his parents.  The humor, the presentation, the introduction to various sunnahs is well done for little ones and their caregivers alike.  The book has not released yet, I viewed an e-version and I’m assuming the final spread is a lift the flap review of sunnahs.  Nothing is sourced, and salutations on Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are denoted by an asterisk throughout the book with a footnote at the end.  There are two books in the series and both share sunnahs, humor, and the main character Iman.

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The book starts with Iman feeling bored as his parents prepare for the arrival of guests.  Iman then remembers something Mama once told me (him), “That the Prophet* said cleanliness is half of eeman…” and with that the little one is off to help clean. Bubbles and more mess later, Iman is proud of himself and his parents are shocked and the bigger mess that greets them.

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Up next is recalling that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ “would make a special seat to honor his guests” and Iman decides that glitter will be a great way to fulfill that sunnah.  When Iman is sent to get himself ready, more fulfillment occurs until Mama is exhausted and Iman finds a way to fulfill the sunnah of making his parents happy.

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The book might be a little above level of a toddler, but I think the silliness makes it a great introduction to sunnahs and will be a joy to read over and over again.

For more information about availability you can check the publisher’s website

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.