Category Archives: Poetry

A Bit of Earth by Karuna Riazi

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A Bit of Earth by Karuna Riazi

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This Secret Garden retelling mixes the heart of the original with a dash of modernity, the flavor of desi culture, and the lyricism of a good writer.  Over 368 pages the slow plot but rich imagery will draw readers in, hold their attention, and leave them thinking about the characters they have been fortunate to spend time with on Long Island.  Islam is practiced and normalized and naturally woven into the Muslim characters’ daily lives without othering or over explaining.  I did struggle a bit trying to keep the relationships of who was supposed to be caring for the protagonist at various points since her parent’s died clear, but once I abandoned stressing about it I was able to be swept away.  I recently reread The Secret Garden with my own children and the original is not plot heavy, nor action packed, but I watched as my own children were drawn to the slower, more grounded (pun intended) nuanced tale, and I think this book, in the same vein, will find its way in to the hearts of middle grade readers.  The book is clean, there is a possible crush hinted very slightly at the end, periods are also endured, and I do have reservations of the terrible marital relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Clayborne, but it establishes that change will occur, so at least it isn’t normalized.  There are sprinkles of magic implied regarding the house, but it is always framed without clarity and in a subtle way to set the tone and the emotions the characters are feeling more than centralizing something rooted (see I did it again) in fantasy.

SYNOPSIS:

The book updates and mirrors the original fairly well with an obstinate orphan arriving at a sprawling house, finding a prickly boy, and setting off to form a tentative toleration of one another with friendly neighbor kids in a garden that is unquestionably off limits.

Maria Latif arrives from Pakistan against her will to be taken in by a distant relative (I’m not sure how she is related), but Asra has been called away and she is forced to stay with Lyndsay, the new wife of Mr. Clayborne.  The first wife was a friend of Maria’s family, but Lyndsay is just as emotionally overwhelmed and lost as the child in her charge.  With Mr. Clayborne away on businesses, his mother Charlotte keeps them all on edge.  When Colin Clayborne is expelled and returns home, more tension erupts and the two children find themselves in an off limits garden trying to make the most of a difficult situation.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the mix of poetry and standard novel format.  It is beautifully written and clearly the author does a remarkable job of making her very unlikeable characters worm their way in to the reader’s heart.  Both Maria and Colin are thorny and difficult, stubborn and rude, but you seriously cheer for them, and I did shed a few tears at the end.  With the author’s writing ability apparent, I’m still not sure why the foundation of the relationships and getting Maria to the Clayborne home is so cumbersome.  It is too muddled and it drags the book down every time it is revisited.  The Dadi having the aunt’s phone number was too easy, the inconsistency of the neighbors having no relationship to the Clayborne’s for so long and Lyndsay not even pausing to think another Bangladeshi family living a few houses down might be my husband’s first wife’s friends, seems inconsistent.  Honestly Lyndsey in general needed to read like a competent woman struggling, not a teenager in over her head. I disliked her and Mr. Clayborne’s relationship and I would hate to think any reader would find it ok or normal.

I love the Islam and how it presents when the character has to pray, she goes and prays, it is part of the story and it is seamless.  I don’t think the culture is handled quite as well.  Lyndsay is a foot writer who is always cooking, yet knows nothing of desi foods? If Colin’s mom is desi, wouldn’t she at some point tried to cook familiar foods for him.  Half the neighborhood is Bangledeshi, so it seems everyone has a parent or step parent or distant relative that is desi and I loved the normalizing, but it seemed a bit assuming.  I don’t think kids will wish it was more clear, but as an adult reading it, I felt like it needed to be interjected more without explanation, or if left as is, adding some context. I also wanted to know what Maria’s parents did and a little introspection from Maria.  Again as an adult I see how her anger and grief changes how she remembers them, but from them always being away, to such soft poignant memories at the end, I think kids will need a little hand holding to understand the grief process and her understanding of them.  As it is, they just seem terrible and then all of the sudden great, and the pacing gets thrown off in the process.

FLAGS:

It seems to hint at the end that Maria might have a bit of a crush on Colin, I honestly thought up until a single line that they were making a chosen family with the people who cared for them, but that line seemed to suggest it might be more of a romantic feeling than friend or brotherly.  I read an early copy, so this is subject to change.

Maria gets her period and it is detailed what she is feeling.  I think boys and girls can and should read it.  It is presented on age and appropriately: cramps, achy, dry about blood leakage, having it start young like her mother, etc..

Implied magic (possibly), music and musical instruments being played, milaad, lying, sneaking, being kicked out of school for physical assault, close male and female friendships, ADHD stigma.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION

I think this book would work in a classroom and would appeal to readers in an Islamic or public library.  I would consider it for a middle school book club, I think readers will connect and feel empathy for Maria, Colin, and Lyndsay and be better for it.

I preordered my copy HERE and I hope you will do the same

A Dupatta Is…by Marzieh Abbas illustrated by Anu Chouhan

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A Dupatta Is…by Marzieh Abbas illustrated by Anu Chouhan

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I read this 30 page early elementary book a few times before writing this review and honestly my cheeks hurt because I cannot stop smiling.  The lyrical writing radiates warmth and pride, culture and tradition, legacy and identity, while acknowledging both the playfulness and solemnness of a piece of fabric.  My heart breathed with the clarity and articulation that is felt and contained within the fabric that perhaps all Pakistanis feel, but cannot convey so poetically.  The book may be meant for children four to eight years old, but all readers will appreciate the text and illustrations that seamlessly flow like a favorite dupatta grabbed while running out the door. I struggled with picking only a few images to share, as every page became my new favorite as the book progressed.  Admittedly though, one page did give me pause as it conflated incense burning with getting rid of evil spirits which comes across as a religious belief, but is a cultural practice.

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The book starts out with the actual physical description of what a dupatta is and how it is adorned.  It then moves on to describing the color, the sound, the smell, the place, the function, the art, the beauty, the fun, the faith, the legacy, and the identity.  Each spread ends with the words, “but a dupatta is so much more…” seamlessly weaving so many facets of what a dupatta is together to create a true understanding of it from a tangible, to cultural, to practical perspective.

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I love that there is a page about faith, and praying five times a day with a dupatta being worn, it is a little odd that there is a portrait decorating the wall behind the two characters making dua, but at least it is clearly behind them.  I absolutely loved that so often the wearer of the dupatta was also wearing a hijab, particularly the bride picture- which is absolutely gorgeous.  It signals without words that a dupatta can be worn to cover a Muslim woman’s head, but it is also often not.  The backmatter further details that it was once worn as part of the national dress and as a form of modesty, but now is often worn as an accessory.

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One summer in Pakistan, a friend and some cousins and I started trying to formulate 101 Things to do with a dupatta (wipe noses, pull things out of the oven, catch fish), it was the year of net dupattas so clearly covering your head was not one of them.  Sure we were being silly, but to see the book also highlight wiping sticky hands, and wrapping it up like a sari, and using it as a cradle to rock a baby was very, very accurate and heartwarming.

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Please pre order this book, it signals to publishers that these books are in demand and is a way to show what type of books we want to see.  I preordered  mine here.

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.

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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“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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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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Hold Them Close: A Love Letter to Black Children by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Patrick Dougher with photography by Jamel Shabazz

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Hold Them Close: A Love Letter to Black Children by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Patrick Dougher with photography by Jamel Shabazz

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The power, the lyricism, the images, the layers- this book is not just for children, it is for everyone.  I have spent time with this book and it cannot be rushed, it needs to be felt and explored and reflected upon to feel the emotion that seeps from each and every page.  The book is remarkable in the amount of hope and warmth combined with history and social activism present.  It weaves together the personal with the community with the struggle past and present so flawlessly, but for me it is the pictures that complement the text so well that make this book spectacular on so many levels.  It is not a book for me to review, it is a book for me to support and elevate in any way I can.  The author is Muslim, there is nothing Islam specific in the text, aside from mentioning Malcolm X, and it should be required reading and sharing for everyone.  May Allah swt make us better to one another and actively work against oppression, ameen.

The book is framed as a letter, encouraging happy things to be held close.  For the young and old with stars in their eyes to be be held and elevated.  For stories of greatness to be passed down.  Stories of Kings, of Sojourners and Malcolms.  

The book encourages pushing away the disappointments, but to let the tears come. To not forget the lynchings, slavery, police brutality, oppression.  To stand and make it heard that you matter.

The illustrations are a mix of photographs and collage style layers.  The joy in a child that is very real, carrying those that came before.  Images of the past pulled to be seen in the present, very much a part of today.  The colors, the expressions, the hope, it radiates off the page with the coaxing of the text and becomes a feeling of both being held, and feeling support to take the next step.  Absolutely beautiful from beginning to end.

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The backmatter contains an Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Background information, and Selected Sources.

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Available in libraries and book sellers, including here.

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My First Book About Salah: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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My First Book About Salah: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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Looking at the books in the series, reading them to my children, getting the latest one delivered to my doorstep: every step along the way makes me smile, alhumdulillah.  The soft warm illustrations and impressive amount of information lovingly conveyed in board book form really makes the series a staple for young children.  The newest addition to the series is about Salah, and I love that the framing is that prayer is a blessing, it doesn’t open with listing the five daily prayers, it begins with Isra wal Miraj.  It sets the tone that prayer is special and beautiful and a gift.  It does eventually list the five required prayers, the words of the athan, Fatiha in English and Arabic, steps of wudu, and parts of salah, but the way it is woven together is seamless and so much more than just lists of information.  With ayats from the Quran sprinkled in, the book flows from one focus to the next, leaving the end as always, for facts and questions.  Appropriate for ages two and up, this 26 page board book can and will still inspire and teach older kids.

The only pause this book gave me were the illustrations.  There is not a single page where the people praying are standing shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot.  I could see if in a few pictures the creative liberty, or Covid reality manifest itself in the pictures, but whether it is a family praying, or people in a masjid, there is a gap between the individuals, and that seemed off to me.  Additionally because of the spacing in all the pictures, the pictures where perhaps the people are not praying together, but are just shown to be making tasleem or the illustration that all Muslims of all colors and all professions and all abilities pray, it almost seems to show men and women praying together.  I don’t know that the toddlers in the audience will notice, but perhaps be aware of it if when reading it to your children.  Aside from that the illustrations show the global faith of Islam and the beauty that we all worship together.

Available to purchase here and I’m sure it will be stocked by Crescent Moon as well.  Oh PS it also comes with a sheet of stickers.

52 Poems for 52 Weeks: A Lunar Year by Abdullah Mansoor

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52 Poems for 52 Weeks: A Lunar Year by Abdullah Mansoor

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This isn’t the typical book I would review, but after spending some time in a middle school language arts classroom teaching this school year, I thought I should at least acknowledge the value a book like this can have in a classroom or homeschool curriculum, and that it shouldn’t be completely overlooked and dismissed.  I didn’t get swept away by any of the poems, and honestly am confused by the title seeing as the title page quickly clarifies that a lunar year is 51 weeks? That being said, poetry is such a religious and cultural staple that haikus, sonnets, acrostic poems, free verse absolutely should be taught through an Islamic lens, and why not.  So, while it might not be a book that an upper elementary through middle schooler would pick up and read on their own, it is structured to be taught, and I think educators should consider implementing it in whole, or in part, when teaching structure, and rhyme scheme, and iambic beats.

The poems vary in style and topic and length, and are divided by the Islamic lunar calendar months written in Arabic calligraphy. The true value of the book is the backmatter, though in my opinion.  The details about the poem, about form and structure and prompts to try your own.

I could really see slipping in an Islamic poem when teaching Shakespearean sonnets, and encouraging children to write a ballad or limerick in praise of an Islamic tenant.  I’m a big fan of blurring what is Islamic and what is secular as I don’t find them mutually exclusive, and this little book did a great job reminding me that Islamic centered poetry is important, and Islamic poetry isn’t just translated from other languages.

Happy reading, and inshaAllah happy writing!  The book can be found HERE for purchase.