Category Archives: Poetry

My Baba’s House: A Poem of Hope by Dr. Amani Mugasa illustrated by Eman Salem

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My Baba’s House: A Poem of Hope by Dr. Amani Mugasa illustrated by Eman Salem

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I wanted to love this Islamic centered children’s book about grief, but I found it a bit problematic and misleading.  I am by no means an expert in Islamic matters of death or in psychological bereavement, but the note at the beginning of the book- if I wasn’t already going to look at it critically- really raised some warning flags.  It says that the book is not an instructional book on Aqeedah, that even though the title and whole story is about a house being built that “the book only expresses the idea that we hope and pray that Baba’s good deeds will lead him to Jannah, that that the rest of the family will meet him there one day, not that he is there already.” So, before you even start the story, it seems that the disclaimer is making it clear that this book is not religiously accurate, and that it is just meant to soothe and provided hope.  After taking all that in to consideration, and reading the 26 pages of text over a dozen times, I think I finally pinpointed why the book further reads problematic for me.  It is the repeating phrase, “Your Baba has been building a beautiful house for you,”  because he hasn’t right? He has built a house for himself through his good deeds in this duniya, he benefited HIS parents by being a righteous Muslim.  The words “for you” completely take the book in my head from being a slight suspension of timing where the deceased are, in to be misleading.  So if the book is not accurately framed and only to be taken as something “to open the discussion,” what is the point? Why fill it with Islamic references and concepts, if they will then have to be clarified, corrected, and re taught?  Sigh, I’m happy to listen to those that want to change my mind, truly I am.

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The rhyming book starts out with a mom and two kids being consoled by the text that their Baba has been building a house for them with Allah’s help.  That it is amongst the flowers, made with Allah’s powers. That with every good deed he did, their Baba becomes a builder, that there are pure rivers and trees, and that the house is hidden through Allah’s gate.

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To find their Baba’s house they will walk with Prophets, and see ripe fruits, and smell sweet musk.  There will be rivers of milk and he will carry them above his head.  The illustrations on this page are a little off in my opinion the shadows of a person elevating and even the girl looks a little concerned.

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I like that the next spread addresses that only Allah knows when the day will come that we reunite. And then the next pages tell how the children can help decorate their Baba’s house by calling adhaan, reading Qur’an, being kind, giving charity, and making duas.

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The book concludes with encouraging patience and finding reassurance in knowing we belong to Allah and to Him we return.

With the exception of the one page, the illustrations are adequate and show a mixed racial family.  The rhyming lines are rather weak, and ultimately there are just better books out there about grief that don’t have to be so qualified for accuracy.

It’s Springtime! by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Azra Momin

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It’s Springtime! by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Azra Momin

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This sweet 18 page board book introduces seasons to our littlest Muslims through rhyming lines, Islamic gratitude and activities enjoyed during certain times of the year.  It even has a “spot and talk” activity at the back and a way to explain “Alhumdulillah” to children.  The text is simple and the illustrations engaging for ages infant to pre-k.

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The book starts with spring and dedicates four pages to praising Allah swt by appreciating the flowers and baby animals before looking forward to summer, that is on its way.

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Summer is also four pages of saying Alhumdulillah for the sunshine, ice cream, the beach, and sandcastles, before heading off to autumn.

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The book covers all four seasons and mentions that after winter is spring again.  The book’s size and the thickness of the pages makes it great for toting around for little ones, and the flowing lines make it a quick read that you don’t mind reading over and over again, Alhumdulillah.

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Songs and activities available at www.preciousbees.com

What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

This rhyming Islamic tale wonders what dinosaurs would do if they were Muslim and alive today.  For littlest Muslim readers this repetitive tale ponders how they would eat, pray, love their mothers, respect their neighbors, dream, and feel, by tying all those things back to how Muslims behave.  The adorable illustrations kept my 6 year old glued to the story and the simple text held my 2 year old’s attention.  A fun book with wonderful supplements at the end to engage children in activities that everyone does compared to those that just Muslims do, a Fun Fact about (Muslim) dinosaurs and mums in Islam.  As well as extra activities, valuable information, and details about donations made with the purchase of this book.

The book takes place in London and imagines if dinosaurs were alive and if they were Muslim what day-to-day life would be like.  The refrain starts out “If dinosaurs were alive today and if they were Muslims too,” before stating what they would do and having it conclude with “just like me and you.”

In a similar vein as the ever popular How do Dinosaurs series by Jane Yolen, the book teaches kids how to behave by teaching the dinosaurs.  The book is short, and the humor comes from the illustrations, primarily the facial expressions of the parents, more than from the text, but I think the wildness of Dinosaurs living today will get most little kids smiling.

The only real concern I have with the book is the text when they are in the masjid praying and it reads, “they would try their best to pray five times a day.”  I know we don’t demand our littlest ones to pray all five salat, but I don’t know if it would imply that trying to pray is sufficient even when you are older.

From start to finish I found myself smiling while reading this book aloud to my kids, even after the fourth time in a row, alhumdulillah.

Inventors of the Golden Age (Just like) by Umm Laith and Muhammad Khaider Syafei (Proud Little Muslims)

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Inventors of the Golden Age (Just like) by Umm Laith and Muhammad Khaider Syafei (Proud Little Muslims)

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Usually when you purchase a personalized book, the charm is that you get to see a name of your choosing in the story, and that you can make the main character look a certain way.  So imagine my surprise when this book arrived, and yeah sure my son’s name and likeness was included, but the story and information contained was also really well done and engaging.  This book, even without the personalization, is a solid story highlighting Fatima al-Fihri, Abbas ibn Firnas, al-Zahrawi, al-Idrisi, and their skills of generosity, persistence, kindness, and adventure as they shaped the world as we know it.

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The fourth wall is broken as the book speaks to the reader encouraging them to come on an adventure in to the Golden Age.  A time when scientists, engineers, explorers, doctors, and astronomers were making remarkable advancements.

The first stop is Morocco to learn about Fatima al-Fihri and how she established the first university.  Her generosity in building and creating a place of Islam and learning is what set her apart and made her so remarkable.  It is then on to Abbas ibn-Firnas in Spain and his attempts at flying.  He failed often, but his mistakes helped him as he persisted and continued to learn and understand and make flight of humans possible.

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Al-Zahrawi, the surgeon, is who is detailed next, as his knowledge, skill, and inventions he made are still used today.  His regard for his patients fear and nerves and his kindness is what the book stresses before moving on to the mapmaker al-Idrisi.  Al-Idrisi was adventurous as he traveled the world making his maps and switching the poles.

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The book then focuses on the reader encouraging them to be generous and adventurous, kind and persistent, in making the future better like those mentioned from the past.

The book is horizontal, the pages thick, the faceless illustrations warm and detailed and the rhyming text flowing and appropriate for preschool aged children and up.

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Birmingham Boy by Kate Rafiq

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Birmingham Boy by Kate Rafiq

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This 36 page ‘day-in-the-life-of’ book, follows a young boy and his mom on a day out and about in his city of Birmingham, England. Told in rhyme a few Urdu words are sprinkled in as general city observations are made, fun is had, and kindness is shown. The book touches on homelessness and protests, and the illustrations take the story deeper and show support for Black Lives Matter and Palestine, multiple hijab wearing women (#muslimsintheillustrations) throughout the city (including a burkini swimming mama), storefront signs acknowledging a diverse community, street artists, and different races, religions, and cultures everywhere.

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The book starts off with Birmingham Boy waking up, based on the Arabic signage in his room, I’d guess his name is Zakariya, everything is quiet and still- except for a giant that he sees outside his window.   He refers to the homeless man throughout the story as a giant, it doesn’t seem to be a negative description, nor is the boy scared, he shares food with him at one point, it is just what he refers to him as. 

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He then heads downstairs for breakfast of toast and dudhu (milk), before getting in a pram and heading out in the town.  They go past the deli and the flower show, and the giant on his cardboard mat.  They see someone getting their hair cut at the barbershop and they arrive at the swimming pool.

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The mom and son swim and play and Birmingham boy takes a nap in his stroller as his mom and he head off to their next location.  He wakes up to the sounds of the masjid and sees his mom praying.  He plays and then joins her in salat.

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After the masjid it is off to a cafe for cakes and tea, which they share with the giant, before they head off to a rally for justice and peace.  The book carries on in this sweet style of visiting places and interacting with the community until ending with a bath and dinner and getting tucked in to bed for the night.

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Being American and living in Birmingham, Alabama, my kids and I also learned about the sights of a different Birmingham and they got to learn some British words such as pram and wellies.  I loved the inclusion of Islam in their daily life and the joyful illustrations.

Shems and the Magic Seabream by Alwia Al-Hassan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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Shems and the Magic Seabream by Alwia Al-Hassan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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I don’t know how to review this book, I truly don’t, it claims to be based on Saudi folklore, it has #muslimsintheillustrations, and references Allah swt once, it is by a Muslim author, but it isn’t religious. And it definitely isn’t for everyone. It is terrible, and yet you can’t look away. Every stereotype about appearance and trope about step-mothers, it is all there, but EVIL CACKLE, the book is delicious, and not in the cooking the children and eating them sort of way, that is in the book too, but in the laugh-out-loud, gasp in disbelief, and be shocked at the complete disregard for political correctness, moral messaging, and lesson teaching that leaves a brightly illustrated dark tale for kids, and adults, to thoroughly enjoy. It pulls you in, it suspends reality, it makes good and bad so black and white that you accept the attempts at murder as justified, and it ultimately reminds you of the horrors that all fairytales build upon to entertain. I remember the first time as an adult I was asked to read Hansel and Gretel to a young niece. I knew the story, and started not thinking much of it, and then I froze: children are lost, they seek shelter in a home where they are not allowed to leave, the owner of the home wants to cook them and eat them. Yeah, this book is like that.

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Shems and her twin sister Shareefa live in a small town with their fisherman father. They are poor, but happy, until their father remarries and the stepmother is horrid. She is ugly and fat and covered in greasy spots, negative connotations that reflect her personality. (FLAGS: superficial judgement and body shaming). She hates children. (FLAG: Yes it uses the word hate, and calls children fat while contrasting them with cute children).

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She especially hates Shems and Shareefa. She tries to get rid of them: she puts them in the oven, abandons them in a field, tries to drown them in the night. But the girls somehow always escape and their father believes that it was all a misunderstanding. (FLAG: attempted murder).

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Now that the girls are older, they are forced to serve Mama Ouda, and when food runs low, she considers eating them. (FLAGS: abuse and threats). Luckily they are much too thin. One day when Mama Ouda is craving fish, Shems heads out to catch some seabream, yes that is a real type of fish. And the only one she catches is a magical one. (FLAG: magic).

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The next day Shems dressed as Shareefa recalls the fish’s promise near the water, and a basket of fish appears with pieces of sparkling gold. The girls eat like queens, hide the gold, and keep Mama Ouda fed. This carries on until they get caught and a murder and mermaid and moving out of their mud hut conclude the story and set up a potential sequel.

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The dad is pretty clueless and that has its own negative assumptions to counter, but if you and your kids can handle the over the top darkness, the story written in playful rhymes is sure to entertain and be asked for repeatedly. (FLAGS: stereotypes about fathers and stepmothers).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pizza in his Pocket: Learning to be Thankful to Allah by Jawaad Abdul Rahman illustrated by Natalia Scabuso and Johera Mansura

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Pizza in his Pocket: Learning to be Thankful to Allah by Jawaad Abdul Rahman illustrated by Natalia Scabuso and Johera Mansura

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I didn’t think the old version was falling short, but I had to have the new one, because well, I’m a mom.  And sometimes songs that have stood the test of time really do translate perfectly to story books that are engaging, memorable, and so fun.  I can’t get through it without singing it, but the new pictures do force me to slow down and look at the maps and the points of interest that have been included.  Ages two and up will love the book, older kids will enjoy the nostalgia, parents will beam at the words getting stuck in everyone’s head and the lessons making their way in to real actions.

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The new book is slightly different than the original, but more inline with the online videos by Zain Bhikha and his son.  The back of the book has an ayat from surah Al-An’am and reinforces that while the song is fun, the foundation of not wasting and sharing with the poor is an important part of Islam.

A great book to read over-and-over again and one that is universal enough to be shared with Muslim and non Muslim children alike.

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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

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

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

“Find me on Twinkl’s list of best children’s books of 2021!” 

Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi

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Golden Girl by Reem Faruqi

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I began reading this book not having any idea what it was about. All I knew, or all I cared to know, was that the incredibly amazingly talented Reem Faruqi wrote it, so I wanted to read it. While I know it will be hard for most to avoid knowing the plot, I think it was a blessing that I was able to be swept away so completely and so fully in a story that is wonderful and memorable, and truly sets a higher standard for the way that a story can be told. Faruqi’s voice and authenticity had me in tears. I didn’t even realize my eyes were dripping until my son asked me if I was ok. It wasn’t the plot that had my emotions spilling over, sure it helped, but it was the storytelling, the hadith and deen and snapshot of a life so unlike my own that simultaneously is exactly my own that a physical reaction emerged. It is the power of OWN voice storytelling. It is the power of brilliant writing. It is not just a book about a Muslim character, this book blurs the lines for me between Islamic fiction and fiction with Muslim characters. Middle school readers (mature middle grade readers) will enjoy the book, older readers will enjoy and appreciate the 336 page story told in verse. You can pre-order the book and I hope you will, it helps convey the message to publishers that this book is highly anticipated and that we need voices like this. Additionally, Goodreads currently is hosting a giveaway, you can head there to try and win a free copy.

(If you don’t want to know what the story is about, maybe skip the next section.)

SYNOPSIS:

Aafiyah’s name means well-being, protection, health, money, happiness, everything good, but Aafiyah has secrets too. She is privileged and loved, and she knows it, but sometimes when she sees something she likes she accidentally borrows it. Sometimes it isn’t an accident. Sometimes she doesn’t just borrow. Much of her life is wonderful, a best friend that lives next door, doting parents, tennis, vacations, trips to Pakistan to visit grandparents, and a love of “weird but true facts.” So what happens when all that changes. When her grandfather gets sick and the family wants to bring him to America for treatment, when Aafiyah’s dad gets detained and imprisoned on the way home, and Aafiyah’s secret may be a way to help her family?

WHY I LIKE LOVE IT:

I absolutely love that the characters are so well rounded and developed. Yes, Muslims have vices, and even young practicing Muslims have tests and struggles. The bar has been raised, we aren’t just a monolith, and our only struggles aren’t girl/boy issues, alcohol, not being oppressed and getting an education, we are complex people, we are human. The bulk of the story is Aafiyah growing up: her responsibility within her family, her changing body and appearance, her friendships, her responsibility for her actions, her desire to want to help and improve and step in to her own. I love that all these layers of life somehow are explored in such sparse lines. It doesn’t drag, but it gives the necessary pauses to involve the reader in her logic and view of the world. Aafiyahs’ kleptomaniac tendencies, her father being detained, her grandfather’s illness. they all move the story along, but they are foils for a much more intimate character story. A story that is surprisingly funny and light and impossible to put down.

I absolutely love how Islam is woven in, how she exudes Islam in all that she is, because she is a Muslim completely, the good and the bad. The guilt she feels, the desperation to be forgiven, the knowing that Allah swt sees all. The book is never even close to being preachy, but she proudly owns her identity and the details of her faith are not watered down, or even justified, it is who she is and it isn’t up for debate.

Culture is presented unapologetically as well. She is critical of things she sees in Pakistan, and similarly celebrates and admires good things about Pakistan and Pakistani culture. The book does not seem to have an agenda in presenting Muslims or Pakistan as good or bad, just as Aafiyah sees them. Which isn’t revolutionary on the surface, but it really is refreshing because it highlights how many books simply don’t. It makes the contrast painfully obvious between books that are shy about certain things, when they have their characters deflect and disassociate from certain “realities” and books that confidently uphold their identity and demand that the reader steps up and truly see the characters and their experiences.

There is a beautiful and raw author’s note at the end that shares some of the inspiration for the threads of the book, a glossary, a recipe for Aloo Gosht and resources for help with kleptomania.

FLAGS:

Stealing, lying, chatter about crushes, music, dancing. Being attractive and the reactions that it gets is woven through out.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

If I have a majority girl group, I will teach this. It isn’t a girl only book, but I think some of the more subtle themes would need a safer girl space to discuss.