Category Archives: Story Time

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.

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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Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

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Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

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For years it has been noted how few children’s Islamic books about grief and loss are available, and while numerous titles have come out in the last few years, it wasn’t until I saw this new book, did I realize how desperately we were in need of a book on janaza.  I love that the author establishes on the first page that this book is not focused on grief, but rather about death, the burial, and preparing to meet Allah (saw) in the hereafter with our deeds.  The beauty is that while the topic is critical and needed, the story is also well done.  It may not focus on emotion, but it has a lot of heart and tenderness, thus making it a wonderful addition to all book shelves for children preschool and up as a brief introduction to how Islam views death, the rituals of burial, and the worship that surrounds it. Packaged with clear text, robust backmatter and absolutely adorable illustrations, I am very happily impressed with this book.

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The book starts with Hamza telling about his favorite day of the week, Saturday, the day he spends with his Nano-ji and cousins, but one day all that changes when his mom gets a phone call about the loss of a community Uncle.  Mom says, inna lillahi wa inna illahi rajioon quietly in to the phone and Hamza knows something is wrong, but doesn’t quite understand why the passing of Uncle Sameer, the owner of the local sweet shop, means he has to attend a janaza instead of going to his grandfather’s house.

Hamza’s parents explain the reward of going, and remind him that we all have to leave this world one day. They recall Uncle Sameer helping bandage his knee when he got hurt and gave him a lollipop.  Once in the car, Hamza wants to know what is going to happen.  His parents explain the ghusl and the body being wrapped in the kafan and the body being put in the ground.

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When they get to the masjid there are a lot of aunties on the women’s side, including Auntie Salma who everyone is hugging and reassuring.  After dhuhr the janaza begins, but it is a standing up namaz, and is very short, and Hamza is confused. Later outside the long box is loaded into the car, duas are made, and the body taken to the cemetery.

At the graveside, more duas are made, and Hamza worries that Uncle will be lonely.  When his father explains that his good deeds will keep him company, Hamza remembers the kindness Uncle Sameer has shown him and makes duas.

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The backmatter contains hadith about what still benefits those that have died, reward for attending a janaza, a glossary, discussion points, suggested activities, and duas.  The book is a great starting point to introducing death, rituals, and answering questions any child might have in a gentle manner.  

I bought the book from Crescent Moon Store 

 

Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mohdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar by Mohdeh Hassani and Samira Iravani illustrated by Maya Fidawi

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At first glance it might seem that this Iranian set book with a chador at it’s core is a political statement.  I do not believe that it is.  The backmatter does state that, “Our wish in writing this book is to add to the growing list of stories for children that demystify this veil (that is too often used as a symbol of hate) and instead present a different view of it as the safe and comforting space we always knew it to be.”  This is an OWN voice authored book, from what I can find online the authors do not cover. It is a warm memory of finding love and humor and safety in the modest coverings worn by a grandmother.   I do wear hijab and I choose to do it based on my understanding of what Allah swt commands, I have never been forced to cover by a person or government, and do not know how that would effect my love of fulfilling a tenant of my faith.  But all that is an aside to make the point that this book to me is not weighing in on Iran’s politics, books are written and slated to be published years before they finally release, and this book is a silly heartfelt picture book about a girl and her chador wearing grandmother heading to the bazaar.

In the bustling city of Tehran, Samira is heading out to buy groceries in the big bazaar for the first time with her grandmother. Samira is nervous that it will be loud, and she might get lost, she asks her grandmother if she can rider under chador on her back. Her grandmother tells her no, she will look like a turtle.

Samira then suggest they walk in a line with grandma in front and her behind.  Grandmother Shamsi says, na, na, na, she doesn’t want to look like a donkey. Various other suggestions involving hiding under the big black chador and staying close to Mama Shamsi are suggested, but all make grandma look like a funny animal, and she declines.

When at last they arrive at the bazaar, Mama Shamsi encourages Samira to not hide but to use her eyes, and ears, and nose to learn about the world around her. Hand in hand, they stick close together, and enter the market.

The love between the two characters is heart warming in the text and truly elevated by the remarkable illustrations.  You love their relationship, you can feel Samira’s nerves, you appreciate Mama Shamsi’s humor to lovingly empower her granddaughter, and at the end you truly long to have your grandma next to you guiding you.

I enjoyed this book and don’t mind one bit reading it over and over again as kids giggle at the pictures and find details they hadn’t noticed before.  The book releases in February, and I hope that presales can reinforce the power of OWN voice authentic tales to be shared.  You can preorder/purchase it here.

 

Salim’s Soccer Ball: A Story of Palestinian Resilience by Tala El-fahmawi illustrated by Naveen Abu Saleem

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Salim’s Soccer Ball: A Story of Palestinian Resilience by Tala El-fahmawi illustrated by Naveen Abu Saleem

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This 58 page rhyming picture book weaves together a tale of a little boy and his lost soccer ball, with larger issues of community, oppression, and perspective for the youngest of readers to older children too.  I am noted to be skeptical of rhyming books, but the large font, the sweeping pictures, and the dropping of occupation, struggle, and resilience really make this book a treat. Add in discussion questions and an author’s note and you have a solid book that deserves space on home, library, and classroom shelves.  My only wish, was that the book was hardback.  The horizontal layout with a soft cover make the book difficult to read during story times as the pages flop back.  The book is long, but the text on most spreads is minimal and while I could not identify the author’s religious identity, their are numerous hijab wearing #muslimsintheillustrations as Salim journey’s around his neighborhood and into his grand father’s memories.

Salim wakes up, brushes his teeth, and is out the door to play soccer with his best friend Qusai, but the ball goes flying and Salim can’t find it. He starts walking down the hill and it seems to have disappeared.

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He asks the fisherman, Abu Zaid, if he has seen it, and he hasn’t, but he offers to help.  They then go and ask the seamstress, she hasn’t either, but she puts down her tatreez, offers reassurance, and offers to help.  As they head out they bump in to Dr. Bassam.  “‘I will help you look,’ the kindly man said. “I can fix broken bones with very few supplies.  A lack of resources has made me clever and wise. Resilience and courage are plentiful here. We will find your ball. Salim, no need to fear.'”

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The searching continues, with a small break for khanfeh, and then Qusai is found, and so is the ball.  Like so many joyful items, the barbed wire of the apartheid wall has destroyed the soccer ball. Upset, Abu Omar, calls out to Salim, and his grandpa embraces and consoles the young boy recalling a donkey with wonky ears and life on the farm.  With resilience and joy Salim heads home to a community surprise and a hopeful future inshaAllah.

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The book concludes with five discussion questions that connect Salim’s experience to universal experiences of people everywhere.  It is followed by factual and personal author’s note about Palestine and the book.  

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There is nothing religious aside from the hijabs worn, Dome of the Rock, Masjid al Aqsa, and Church of The Holy Sepulcher in the backgrounds of a few images.  I purchased my copy from Amazon HERE and can also be purchased through Shop Palestine HERE.

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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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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.

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.

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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