Category Archives: Story Time

Dear Black Child by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Lydia Mba

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Dear Black Child by Rahma Rodaah illustrated by Lydia Mba

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This beautiful 32-page picture book by Muslim author Rahma Rodaah radiates joy through the text and illustrations.  The powerful and lyrical words on the page inspire confidence to take up space and encourage celebration through their messaging and tone.  My three-year-old enjoyed me reading it aloud, it kept his focus and his interest, and my seven-year-old read it over my shoulder and then numerous time on his own.  The sway and images painted by the text are so well refined that you could truly read this book a dozen times and still be moved by the passages.  The illustrations compliment the author’s message in their reflection of Black children of all shapes, sizes, shades, and mobility.  There is even a visibly Muslim woman in hijab (#muslimintheillustration) that looks like the author herself.

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I look forward to sharing this book with various story times in the community, in my children’s classes, and in regular rotation at my own home.  Framed as a letter to a beautiful Black child, the book speaks to “you.”  It starts with encouraging you to stand in your own light, take up space, say your name proudly, and proclaim your native tongue.

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It inspires the Black child to speak confidently, roam freely, to be rooted, yet move swiftly. To write the books and tell the stories that only they can tell, and to trust their inner compass.  It also reassures them that they are not alone, that there are those that will always help, always cheer them on, and remind them of their glory.

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The book is as powerful as it is beautiful and I hope it finds a home on every classroom, library, and home bookshelf.  I purchased mine here.

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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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Egypt by Aya Khalil illustrated by Magda Azab

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Egypt by Aya Khalil illustrated by Magda Azab

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This sweet board book is part of a series, the other two books are Japan and France, releasing in October.  All are brightly illustrated, 20 page books for ages zero to four and take the littlest of readers into a country, through sights, experiences, foods and language.  This particular book does not feature any visible #muslimsintheillustrations but the author is Muslim, and so I am reviewing and sharing it here.

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The framing of the book is a day in the life of a little girl, who wakes up with bosas from her mama and baba and greetings of Ahlan.  Some of the words are written in Arabic script with the English transliteration and pronunciation provided, other times it is just the English transliteration of the Arabic with the pronunciation asterisked and written smaller immediately below the text.

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Once she is awake, she gets dressed, brushes her teeth and is off with her baba to buy pita and ful.  The busy street offers sights to see and fruits to pick from.  She ponders and asks herself and the readers which one to choose.

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At her Teita and Geddos there is dancing and tabla playing before walking back home along the Corniche.  Dinner is served and bedtime has arrived. The book concludes with a summary of her day linking the Arabic words to the illustrations and English meaning, as well as some pronunciation tips for the Arabic sounds.

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As a Muslim reviewer I had to hope there might be one hijab clad woman in the illustrations, I know many Muslims don’t cover and Egypt is diverse, but considering the lens I review from, I feel obligated to state that opinion.

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A little more critically, I was a bit surprised on the page with the colorful boats that the color names yellow, blue, and purple, were not included in Arabic and only in English.  Seemed that would have been an naturally and easy inclusion.

Overall, the book did a good job of celebrating Egypt without over explaining, keeping it bright and engaging for toddlers.  I really like the language being shared in a story context, not just a book with a picture on it and words in different languages.  I also liked that while the details were Egypt specific, there were also pages that were universal.

Available for preorder and purchase here

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

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  

Hamza’s Pyjama Promise by Marzieh Abbas

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Hamza’s Pyjama Promise by Marzieh Abbas

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When I flipped through the book standing on my porch as the delivery truck drove away, I groaned a little internally at the simple illustrations, terrible font, large amount of text on each page, and the four fingered boy at the center of it all.  Alhumdulillah, I gave it a chance and ended up really liking it.  The book stayed with me, then I read it to my kids and it stayed with them.  Then I mentally made a checklist of all the teachable ways this book could be used in an Islamic school classroom, story time presentation, bedtime reading, and even just as a regular reference point.  This Islamic fiction book packs a lot of information in while connecting to religious concepts kids are most likely familiar with and silly points that will make five to eight year olds giggle.

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The book opens with verse 65 from Surah Yasin in English meaning of the translation and the Quranic Arabic.  The story then begins with it being bedtime for young Hamza and him running up the stairs to put on his rocket pyjamas.

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When he brushes his teeth he looks in the mirror and finds notes hanging all over addressed to him.  The first letter he reads is from his hands reminding him to wash them before he does anything and reminds him Prophet Muhammad (SAW) “said the best Muslim is the one who doesn’t harm others with his hands or tongue.”  It then mentions that the left hand doesn’t like carrying weight so use your body to ensure you get your book of deeds on the Day of Judgement in your right hand.

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The book continues with eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and feet writing messages urging Hamza to cover his eyes when something inappropriate pops up on the screen, or protecting his ears from listening in on other people’s conversations.  Every point of how to act is connected to an ayat in the Quran or Hadith of Rasullallah.

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After reading the letters, Hamza makes wudhu, says a dua before bed which is shared in English, promises to take care of the body Allah swt has blessed him with and then asks the readers what their pyjama promise is.

The book concludes with pictures and captions of Hamza’s bedtime routine of brushing his teeth, reflecting on his day, making wudhu, reciting tasbih (SubhanAllah 33 times, Alhumdulillah 33 times, and Allahu Akbar 34 times), reciting Ayat ul Kursi, and sleeping on  your right side.

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There are no sources in the book, but most seems “general knowledge” so to speak.  And for as preachy as the book may sound in my review, it really isn’t.  The character’s voice or rather the body parts’ voices are relatable and light.  I think young ones enjoy that they are hearing things they have probably heard before and making a connection to them being repeated in a new way.  Having your body parts talk is both silly and sobering as the target age group can imagine it happening.  It really reminds kids that their actions are seen and recorded, in a non scary or overwhelming way.

I look forward to sharing this book in library story times, masjid story times, and regularly with my own children.  The publisher is a Shia press, but I don’t think any Muslim would find anything controversial in the book (please note though I am not highly educated in these things). And while American’s may find the spelling of pyjama hard on the eyes, with the exception of that one word the book is not region specific or difficult to connect to for global readers of any age.

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.

Mr. Men Little Miss Happy Eid by Roger Hargreaves

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Mr. Men Little Miss Happy Eid by Roger Hargreaves

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The nostalgic cast has reassembled recently, and now have an Eid title available.  Whether you grew up with Mr. Men and Little Miss or have never heard of them before, this book covers the basics of an Eid day celebration with (familiar) characters such as: Mr Greedy, Mr Bump, Miss Splendid, Mr Funny, Little Miss Scatterbrain and more.  The characters’ friend Aleena is fasting for Ramadan, the colorful crew help her to plan, and finally they all join in for the celebration.  The 32 pages are silly and random at best, but with a little discussion to help bridge the British to American English (if needed) ages three and up will enjoy the funny characters, seeing Aleena in hijab, and relating to the activities mentioned.  I love that generosity and forgiveness are included in the messaging, but was really irritated that a musical band is how they celebrate Eid night, and that Eid is compared to Christmas with gift giving.  The book is not written by a Muslim, so perhaps I should be forgiving about the Christian holiday comparison, but why write a book about Muslim joy, if you won’t let the Islamic holiday be enough on its own?  Thank you to Shifa @Muslimmommyblog for gifting me this after making fun of me for being old!

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Mr Greedy’s friend Aleena is fasting, and Mr Greedy breaks his fast nearly every hour so he is helping her.  Little Miss Inventor is out with her telescope and sees the moon, it is time for Eid.

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The days before Eid had been spent cleaning and decorating with the help of Mr Rush and Mr Bump.  They weren’t very helpful.

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Ramadan is also a time of generosity.  The football club receives donation, but what will they do with Mr Silly’s grandfather clock donation.

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Aleena puts mehndi on and is smart enough to not let Little Miss Naughty help, Little Miss Scatterbrain was not so wise.

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They all get dressed up, they give each other gifts, and share a meal. They then all settle arguments and forgive each other.

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Finally, they head to an Eid fair in town and eat treats while they watch a music show.  The book concludes with some factual information about Ramadan, Eid, and Zakat.

Title is available on Amazon.

A Bear for Bimi by Jane Breskin Zalben illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

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A Bear for Bimi by Jane Breskin Zalben illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

This 40 page picture book for preschool and up does a decent job of highlighting how many of us have immigrants in our family history who have relocated much like the immigrants today. The story focuses on Evie and her family welcoming a Muslim family to the neighborhood.  Some are excited to help, including a Muslim neighbor, others are not so welcoming.  The book shows some of the obstacles an immigrant might face, ways someone already established can help, and just how to be a good neighbor- all on a simple pre-schoolr to first grade level.  For little kids it is a good story to start a discussion, and for slightly older kids it is nice to see Islamic names in the text, smiling hijabis in the illustrations, and different characters to identify with.

Evie’s parents tell her that a family from far away is moving in next door, she asks if they are coming like her grandparents did, and indeed they are.  When they arrive Evie runs out to introduce herself to Bimi. Evie’s parents help the Said family move in.  But one neighbor, Mrs. Monroe just glares out the window.

Bimi asks his parents about Mrs. Monroe and Evie asks hers.  Bimi’s parents tell him that some people are scared of people that seem different, and Evie’s parents wish Mrs. Monroe would remember what it was like when she first came to America.

That night Evie has an idea to help furnish Bimi’s house.  The whole neighborhood helps out, including Fatima who lives around the corner.   After getting the apartment set up, they all share a meal, everyone that is, except Mrs. Monroe.

When the kids go out to play, Mrs. Monroe’s shopping bag spills, and Bimi helps her and Mrs. Said invites her in.  Later Evie gifts Bimi her teddy bear and Bimi gives Evie a stone from his grandma’s garden.  Evie asks him what he will name the bear, and when he says Evie, the reader knows the two are friends, and Bimi is “home.”

The book isn’t exciting, emotional, or particularly memorable, but there is value in it and I appreciate the Islamic representation.

The Most Exciting Eid by Zeba Talkhani illustrated by Abeeha Tariq

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The Most Exciting Eid by Zeba Talkhani illustrated by Abeeha Tariq

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I was really excited for this book, I even contacted Scholastic USA and the author to see how we could get it here in America, but once I received my copy from the UK, I was disappointed.  It offers nothing new to the available Eid titles aside from the pretty illustrations. It is a rather forgettable story, with nothing more than surface level growth, predictable emotion, and a formulaic retelling of a basic Eid day.  Meant for preschoolers (3-4 year olds) the story will suffice as an introduction to Eid and reinforce the importance of sharing with others, but anyone older will find the story lacking unfortunately, and question why they didn’t go for Eid salat, if the cousin was even upset about not getting to ride Safa’s new bike, if the neighbors are poor and needy, and if they have gifts for neighbors or are just giving out random leftovers. Five years ago when reasonably priced brother sister duo books celebrating Eid were popping up everywhere, this book would have warranted excitement of representation and Eid joy, but the quality has elevated and while there might not be anything “wrong” with the book, it still feels like it sadly falls short.

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Safa and her parents see the new moon and that means it is Eid.  She is so excited as her mom puts henna on her like every year, and her dad brings out the box of decorations.  At night she is anticipating presents, gifts, new clothes and food that she can hardly sleep.

The next morning she comes down in new clothes, prays, asks Allah for a new doll, a colouring pencil set and a bicycle.  Guests come over, even Alissa her cousin. She opens her presents revealing she got everything she asked for.  Alissa calls after Safa, but Safa doesn’t want to share, she’s been waiting for this bike forever. Since sharing is the point of the story, it is worth noting that Alissa in the text shouts after her and in the illustration is shown to be calling out, there is no reinforcement that Alissa even wants to ride the bike.  I suppose I’m glad that Safa feels it, and regrets it later, but it is subtle and I don’t know that a 4 year old will even register that, that is implied.

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Mom then calls to Safa while carrying two huge purple bags to come with her to share joy and food with those in need.  Safa adds some of the treats she has received in to the big purple bags and they hand the items out to their neighbors. I love that they are visiting their neighbors and it brings the giver and receiver joy, but the set-up is that neighbors and those in need are one in the same, and I think that is conflating two different things.

Some neighbors get small gifts, one a potted plant, another homemade looking food, and then there is one bag left, somehow the purple huge garbage bag sized bags have shrunk to being a shopping bag size and the next recipient is a surprise: grandparents.

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The mom and daughter join the grandparents for desi cultural foods of samosas, kebabs, biryani.  Dad does not join them, and I’m not sure why the grandparents didn’t come to the party at Safa’s house? I also wondered if the party at the house was still happening, because once Safa realizes she enjoyed sharing, her parents and Alissa are seen outdoors, with the little girls on bikes and Alissa asking her cousin where she went.

There is a two page spread glossary at the end which defines words that are not in the text, but is informative.  It mixes “cultural” words such as Allah Hafiz being defined as being a common way among Muslims to say goodbye, which technically isn’t wrong, but it is an Urdu word and only used by Desis.  It isn’t in the story, so it seems off to me as well.

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The illustrations are the highlight in the book.  They are vibrant, expressive and engaging.  The mom seems to have a dupatta on her head, it might pass for hijab, but she has wavy tendrils showing on the side, even the grandma shows much of the top of her hair.  Neither the father in the story or grandfather have beards.