Tag Archives: 2021

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.

Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Having read the other “princess” retellings by Fawzia Gilani I didn’t rush out to acquire this book, but when a friend said it was available at the public library, I was surprised and admittedly curious.  This book just like the others in the series are very much in my eyes “Islamic fiction” for how centered Islam is for the characters and how it is used to frame the story toward a religious message.  The fact that a small city library in a Southern state purchased and shelves it, is pretty impressive.  As for the story, well it is really long, and wordy, and every page is filled with tiny text filled lines that I doubt most kids will be able to sit through.  The Islamic content is very present, the Uyghur setting appreciated, but wow do the 41 pages pack a lot of text in to a fairytale re-telling. There is a lot of Islam and Quran and at times it fits well, at other times incredibly forced.  The book claims it is for ages 5-8, but truthfully I don’t know that any age would be able to sit through it and be engaged.

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In a tangled forest lives a wife and her husband, a clockmaker and a woodcutter.  Before they married, the wealthy and cold Shuna Leng had hoped to marry the woodcutter, but he never asked, and she never forgot.  As a result seeing her neighbors happy keeps her jealous heart plotting and conniving to bring the couple misery and pain.

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One day, while pregnant, the wife has a strong craving for rapunzel greens.  Some just happen to grow on Shuna Leng’s property.  The husband is nervous to ask, but when his wife falls weak he makes an effort.  She doesn’t answer, so he picks some growing along the path and leaves coin for payment.  This wife regains her strength and then begins craving them again.  He decides to do what he did last time, but is caught.  The evil woman agrees that he can have all the rapunzel greens he wants but if the baby is a girl she shall be given in payment.

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Once born the baby is taken and kept hidden from her parents.  Various governesses are employed over the years to tend to Rapunzel and who teach her Islam and kindness.  Ever so often they have to up and move and abandon their routine when people start asking questions, but the lessons learned from the Quran stay with Rapunzel and she endures what she must.

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Eventually she ends up in a tower, she offers to help a stray boy recite Quran, and the evil plot of keeping her locked up unravels.  Yes SPOILER she is returned to her parents.

It is a decent retelling in theory, it just is really long, and there isn’t quality character building to invest the reader to the side stories being presented.

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

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This book’s beautiful dark blue cover with sparkly stars feels good in your hands and looks lovely on the shelf.  It is a collection of 10 short stories presumably to be read by an adult to a child or children during Ramadan and has its highs and lows.  As often is the case in anthologies, some are written better than others and while I particularly liked two of the stories contained, I couldn’t help wishing that the entire collection would have been better edited.  I don’t know any of the authors, or their ages, and there is not an intro or conclusion detailing how the stories were selected or compiled, but as a whole, the grammar errors (spaces before and after commas and periods), failure to spell out numbers less than ten, and the overall plot holes in so many of the stories, makes it hard to love this book.  Something about judging a book by it’s cover would seemingly apply here, the illustrations are decent, the topics and themes covered are important, but the finishing is lacking, and the book really had a lot of potential.

SYNOPSIS:
The ten stories cover Ramadan in different ways, and do not get repetitive.  With different authors and illustrators and pictures on every other page at a minimum, the books presents well.  Many of the stories are adequate, but largely forgettable as the plot holes just made me and my kids dismiss them.  A few are too lengthy and wandering, but there are two that even despite writing obstacles, thematically were memorable:  “A Ramadan Surprise” by Malika Kahn and “Iftar in Space” by Tayyaba Anwar.

“A Ramadan Surprise” is written in rhyming verse and discusses the need for wheelchair accessibility at masjids.  Focusing on a young girl it also hints on the importance of accessibility for the elderly.  This is such a needed and important reminder and I love that it is present in a book that is positioned to be read and thus hopefully discussed.

“Iftar in Space” similarly opens itself up to be discussed and marveled at between a child(ren) and an adult: how would you fast and pray if you were on the International Space Station. This connection could then be made for people that live near the poles, and how science is valued in Islam and so much more.  I love that Islamic information is seemingly sourced, but I would have loved a line or two at the end clearly articulating that in fact this is what this scholar or these scholars have declared.

WHY I LIKE IT:

At first it didn’t bother me that the text was so small, but mid way through, it started to because the pictures are so inviting and regular.  If a child is snuggled up with a reader looking at the pictures it is impossible for them to follow along. I get that that is kind of the point, but with huge margins, the text size can easily be increased.

I don’t know why the book doesn’t seem to have been edited.  The cover and illustrations and binding are all decent to high quality, the cost of the book for consumers is high, so I don’t know why an editor was not (seemingly) involved in the process.  Sure I am picky, but it isn’t one or two grammar errors, it is a lot, and when it is a regular concern, it ruins the flow and feeling of the book.

Overall, honestly there is also very little Islam present in most stories except for the timing of Ramadan, and many of the stories seem to have gaps.  In the first story, a boy is found by a stranger and gifted a lamp, and the family never even tries to find the person who saved their son to thank him? They live in a small village?  In one of the stories where a little girls is fasting for the first time she is also making a salad independently and pulling a cooked tray of lasagna out of a hot oven. A child in one story eats moldy candy, and in a contemporary story kids donate their money to an orphanage.  Are there still orphanages? In one story it opens with a banner being made that is crooked, but the accompanying illustration does not match.  One error or two is easy to overlook, but again, when it is every single story, it is incredibly disappointing.

FLAGS:

Clean

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think while reading it you would find plenty to discuss with your children.  On stories where your children seem bored you could skip them, if sentences don’t make sense you can alter them.  I doubt children will read the book independently, so there is some wiggle room to add or subtract from the text to make the points you want to make and keep the stories engaging.  There are a few stories that discuss Covid and the frustration that it has caused to daily activities, which might help add another layer of connection to the text.

Eid Empanadas by Wendy Diaz illustrated by Uthman Guadalupe

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Eid Empanadas by Wendy Diaz illustrated by Uthman Guadalupe

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I love books that show, not tell how diverse Muslims are and celebrate the unique ways that Islam and culture come together.  This early elementary chapter book beautifully blends, Islam with Spanish words and phrases that all come together to celebrate Ramadan and Eid in America.  At 79 pages, with illustrations sprinkled in, this is a great book to share all year long.

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SYNOPSIS:

Omar is in 5th grade and when his teacher assigns the entire class to write an essay about their Ramadan and Eid traditions he is nervous that his family’s way of celebrating is very different than everyone else’s.  Omar’s mom is from Puerto Rico and his dad’s parents immigrated from Ecuador, even after a year and a half at the Islamic school, though, he still feels like the new kid, and doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.

Sensing that Omar is nervous, his teacher Ms. Khan offers ways to brainstorm and organize his thoughts.  Once home, in his casa, his little sister and parents join in to give him enough ideas, if only he can be brave enough to share them.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that there is so much joy and love in this little book.  The twist of having a kid not feel like he is fitting in at an Islamic school, is also so fabulous to read.  The OWN voice narrative and recipe at the back will help kids like Omar everywhere feel confident to share their culture, and those that know kids like Omar (even if only fictiously) anxious to learn more about Latino Muslims.

The only thought that did cross my mind, when Jummah was being explained as the congregational prayer on Friday, was why not use the word Jummah, just like all the Spanish words were used, and then defined.  I would love to ask the author who the intended audience is, and how that shaped her word choice, what was defined and what wasn’t.

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FLAGS:
None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m hoping to get copies to the first grade and second grade teacher to read in Ramadan to their classes. This book has the potential to really excite kids, expand their understanding, and show them how beautiful and diverse Islam really is.

Wake Up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim and Dalia Awad

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Wake Up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim and Dalia Awad

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The beautiful shimmering cover of this new Ramadan book drew me in from the first few pages with the emotional impact of the father in the story losing his job.  Unfortunately the fun illustrations and overall story are not quite enough to make the book an enjoyable read over multiple readings.  By the time you read the book a second time, the missing punctuation, the assumptions and continuity holes, make the book unravel.  It has merit and highlights, I just really hope that an editor is brought in before a second printing takes place to clean up the sentences, patch the holes, and polish it to make it shine.  It has so much potential, but it is disappointing especially if you have been waiting, perhaps a bit impatiently, to share this with children to get them excited for Ramadan.  Even more so if you had hopes of reading it again and again throughout the month.

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The book summarizes Ramadan on the first page, presumably making the ideal reader a Muslim already familiar with Ramadan significance, and then jumps into revealing that the Baba has lost his job.  The optimistic mama isn’t deterred and sends the Baba and kids to the store so she can cook up something special.

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While at the store an elderly woman greets the kids and their father as, “Abu Tabla.” The son dismisses it until later that night when Baba has gone to the mosque and Mama surprises Adam and Anisa with the story of their Baba’s baba walking the streets before dawn to wake people up for suhoor.  She even digs out an old photograph, and with that, Adam is determined to get his father to revive the tradition.

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I love that Adam and his Baba work together to figure out lyrics and a beat.  I also like that it isn’t an instant success, but rather takes some grit, determination, and perseverance.  I also like that the whole family and eventually neighborhood come together, and that men and women go to the masjid for fajr.

There are some concerns I have though as well.  There are a lot of missing commas, the text uses mosque instead of masjid which reads inauthentic, and the whole old lady character, Hannah, is all sorts of underdeveloped.  She has to introduce herself, yet she knows where Abu Tabla lives, a drum magically appears in her hands, and her prodding is based on the premise that she knows what is going on inside people’s homes, what they are thinking, and what their intentions are.  I get that it is a kid’s story, but by the second or third reading it is hard to unsee how erroneous the logic is.  Especially when fasting like so many acts in Islam, are between a person and Allah swt, not for everyone else to judge.

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Presumably the story takes place in an Islamic majority setting and the neighbors are all Muslim, which offers a great discussion starter for readers in non Muslim majority places to find ways to maybe share Ramadan or to imagine living where everyone is fasting.

I feel like the last few pages about the drummer going viral is unnecessary, and the story could have, and probably should have, ended with the family and parade entering the masjid.  I particularly found it odd that a line reads, “News of the Ramadan drummer tradition starting up again reached as far as Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia, Turkey and even Indonesia,” why is Indonesia called out like that? Seems off putting somehow, not inclusive. The book concludes by circling back to the Baba getting paid to wake people up and finding jobs through the people also coming to fajr, which seems a bit raw for a children’s book.  A simpler, “even though Baba found another job, being the drummer was still the one he loved most,” would have tied everything up a little better for the demographic.  I’m hoping to include this story during one of my weekly Ramadan story times in my local community, and will probably skip the last few pages and just read the hadith at the end about waking up for suhoor.

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

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

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Once again, Sara Khan pushes the standard of what can be conveyed and presented in a toddler board book.  This book on Ramadan not only introduces concepts of the blessed month to our littles Muslims, but also provides details that will allow the book to stay relevant even as a child grows.  The soft, yet colorful pages allow the book to be engaging and attention holding for ages 2 and up, and provides a great way to get young children looking forward to Ramadan, as well as be read repeatedly during the month.  The 26 thick pages have a facts and questions about Ramadan at the end which make the book shareable with non Muslims and the many shapes, colors, cultures, and ages that make up our Muslim communities fill the pages that radiate with joy and love.

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The book starts out expressing the excitement of Ramadan, the new moon, and the anticipation.  It then talks about how Allah swt wants us to fast from dawn until sunset.  It mentions the five pillars, and fasting in Ramadan being one of them, and what it means to fast.

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It focuses on doing good deeds to make Allah swt happy.  It also dedicates a two page spread to showing who doesn’t have to fast, which answers that inevitably next question that people ask.  The book then says that even if you aren’t fasting, there are still blessings everyone enjoys in the month and spends a few pages detailing those activities and acts of worship.

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It mentions that Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an and that Laylat al-Qadr is the night of power, but doesn’t give much detail about either. Eid is celebrated at the end and a dua is made referencing a hadith in Bukhari about entering through the gate of Ar-Rayyan.

I love that the book’s tone is that this is what Allah swt wants us to do, and this is what makes Him happy.  Even with numerous Ramadan books out there, this one still manages to find a way to be unique, and truly the entire series is enjoyable and beneficial, alhumdulillah.

 

Today I’m Strong by Nadiya Hussain & Ella Bailey

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Today I’m Strong by Nadiya Hussain & Ella Bailey

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I really liked the way Nadiya Hussain’s book My Monster and Me discussed anxiety and was so eager for this book.   Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as connected to the characters, the little girls dread of dealing with a bully, or the resolution of channelling her imaginary tiger to find her voice strong enough.  With discussion I think the book would be a wonderful way to get young children, to open up about what is upsetting them, but on its own I feel like a bit more is needed to transition from thinking to action, from nerves to confidence, and from understanding what is bothering the little girl to understanding what needs to be done.

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The story starts with a small girl going back and forth on whether she loves school or doesn’t and revealing that the tiger listens to her and doesn’t say a word.  It then starts the next few pages with the same line: “I love to go to school.  I do,” and detailing what parts of school make her happy.

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It then transitions to sharing why some days, the little girl doesn’t like school so much.  Days when her voice disappears, Molly laughs at her, or blocks her way to the climbing frame, or takes her cake.

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She then reinstates that she likes going to school most day, but not always, and then one day when Molly is mean, the little girl, thinks of the tiger, and knows what to do.  How to find her voice, and stand up to Molly. She then carries through on it, and realizes that soon she can be on top of the world.

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The messaging is universal and great, and while there is no religion shown, it is great to see a brown protagonist dealing with mental health.  The author is Muslim and I’m sure most everyone knows at least of her from the Great British Bake Off.

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Count by Ibrahim Moustafa with Brad Simpson and Hassan Otsmane-Elhadu

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Count by Ibrahim Moustafa with Brad Simpson and Hassan Otsmane-Elhadu

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This graphic novel retelling of the classic, Count of Monte Cristo, is for middle school readers and up and is by a Muslim author and illustrator. There is nothing Islamic or cultural in the text of this 136 page sci-fi twist, and there is some kissing, a whole lot of killing, brutality and violence, but I think the swashbuckling tale will appeal to early teens and adults who enjoy fast paced reads whether they have read the original tale or not.

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SYNOPSIS:

Commoner Redxan Samud is elevated to Captain and marries his beloved, the first few pages of happiness, however, quickly disintegrate as he is framed and wrongfully imprisoned by the jealous powers that be.  Life in the hovering prison are barbaric, but the meeting of Aseyr, provides him with a plan and means to move forward.  First he will have to survive the death battles in the prison, escape the inescapable fortress, before he can locate the Isle of Sorrow, take control of ARU and extract his revenge.  Oh, but his revenge is strong, so very, very strong.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I was admittedly hesitant to give the book a try, but when writer Shireen Hakim sent it to me, and my kids saw it, I thought I should read it first before letting them dive in.  I read it in one sitting, the story is engaging and clear.  I never was confused with who was who and why something was happening.  At times though it seemed too quick and that details were glossed over, or impact was minimized because major plot points were not given enough time to be felt.  I would have liked some answers provided of basic logistics and of character’s getting from one place to another, and how plans came to fruition shared in the story.  Additionally, some fleshing out of situations to ground the story a bit and make the revenge and extraction of revenge more cathartic, would have elevated the book and made it a popular choice in my house to be reread again and again.

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FLAGS:

Death, violence, murder, rage, kissing, torture, plotting, deceit.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Not a contender for a book club read, but I would shelve it in a middle school classroom and in the school library for graphic novel and comic book enthusiasts as well as for high school students who might be familiar with the classic it references.

The Lady or the Lion by Aamina Qureshi

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The Lady or the Lion by Aamina Qureshi

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I was kind of surprised how well done this YA culture rich 350 page romance story was in holding my attention.  I don’t know that I had any expectations, but I was genuinely engaged in the growth of the protagonist as she began to emerge from her naive political state, and I look forward to some resolution from the cliffhanger conclusion of this the first book in the Marghazar Trials series.  The characters are practicing Muslims who pray and mention Allah swt regularly, they also acknowledge when they make extreme departures from basic Islamic tenants such as drinking, dancing, murdering, exhibiting racist attitudes, and mixing freely with the opposite gender.  It doesn’t stop any of the characters from behaving as they wish, but at least it is noted. The Urdu words and Pakistani setting in this fictional reimagining is filled with warmth and love, and while there are some steamy scenes and outright cruelties, I think 15 year olds and up can handle the contents, and recognize the suspension of reality and moral laxities for the sake of telling a story.

SYNOPSIS:

The book makes clear from the onset that “In the very olden time, there lived a semi-barbaric king. . . This is not his story.” This is the story of 18 year old Durkhanai, an orphaned princess raised by her grandparents, the King and Queen of Marghazar.  Marghazar is a prosperous country that is waging war on two fronts and does not let outsiders in, ever.  When the book begins it is doing so begrudgingly to avoid war with the neighboring districts that are working to unify and have recently been attacked.  With ambassadors arriving to determine the guilt or innocence of the one district unaffected by the terrorist attacks, the foreigners are seeing the inner workings of the kingdom for the first time.  All the ambassadors are females of various ages and experience, save the one from Jardum.  Asfandyar is young, dark, and handsome, and immediately discriminated against by the Badshah for his complexion.  Additionally Shehzadi has been warned by many to stay away from Asfandyar, which naturally makes him a great character for her to be swept away by.  She holds out for a while, but with her people mysteriously getting ill, her betrothed melting in to the background, and cracks in her country making themselves obvious, Durkhanai will find herself struggling to understand her heart, her country, her family, and her future, and with the cliff hanger ending, no simple answers will be given to her, or the reader.

WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that there is a map at the beginning, and lots of supplemental offerings at the end.  There are a lot of Urdu words and phrases and while I am moving away from feeling like all OWN voice books need to include glossaries, I think non Desi readers will be appreciative in this particular book to have one available.  For someone with some knowledge of the language the inclusion of the titles and relations and phrases between the languages is expertly done and delightful. There is also an author Q & A, as well as reader discussion questions.  There is a content warning at the beginning alerting the readers to physical and sexual assault as well as racist behavior and language and makes clear that it is contained to the characters and the story and is not the reflection of the author and publisher.  I like that it is there, and I like that the princess makes a stance against the racism and the sexual assault that she witnesses.

The high school girls at our Islamic School are always wanting “halal” romance books.  Ok so really they just want romance books, but I try and keep their pickings halal, and so I am forever reading these books trying to find new titles to recommend.  The book is very 1990s Bollywood in terms of romance flags.  There is a lot of proximity and caressing of necks and longing, and familiar obligation.  There is some snuggling and kissing, so maybe 2000s Bollywood, but the characters thus far don’t cross “that” line.

I really appreciated that Durkhanai was fleshed out and relatable.  Even though the setting is long ago, and the genre is romance, she didn’t wait to be rescued, even when she was hurting or pining, she was still maintaining her obligations and moving forward.  I also love that it showed some depth to her emotions.  She recognized that Asfandyar would let her speak and would show his support by being there, but he pushed back on her and challenged her too.  Rashid on the other hand would speak for Durkhanai and would fawn over her in a very superficial way almost.  Sure neither relationship was ideal, but from her perspective at least she was able to see how various presentations made her feel.

I was a little lost in some places, but I was reading quick and had distractions so I’m not entirely sure if it is my carelessness or plot holes or if gaps will be filled in future books.  I needed more reasoning though, for why Durkhanai’s cousins, Zarmina and Saifullah, truly hated Asfandyar as much as they did, or what exactly Saifullah was plotting and how it connected to ratting out the princess.  For all that is seemingly going on, the Badshah and Wali always seem available to chat and are often just lounging around.  I know it is not their story, but the negotiations, the plotting, everything seems to be done very slowly and could really use some fleshing out to show some depth to the side characters.  Other than a few voices, the side details are lacking.

FLAGS:
Lying, killing, racism, sexual assault, physical assault, plotting, murder, kissing, manipulation, touching, caressing, sneaking around, theft, cruelty, cursing, romance.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book is not an Islamic story or even a moral one, it is entertainment and it could possibly be used for a book club if the participants relish in these kind of books, but it probably wouldn’t have wide enough appeal and would alienate nearly all the boys from joining.

Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed illustrated by Julia Cairns

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Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed illustrated by Julia Cairns

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This timeless 40 page tale of a young boy as he prepares for his right of passage into adulthood is rich with wisdom, culture, and tradition.  So many gentle lessons can be found in the book, as it leaves deeper understanding and connection to be felt and explored long after the book has been closed and returned to the shelf.  There are seemingly hijab wearing #muslimsintheillustrations, and the author’s name would suggest she is also a Muslim, but with the line, “Called on the spirit of Shabelle,” and talk of the “Spirit of the cheetah,” it is hard to know for sure if the main character is.

The story starts with Roblay running everywhere in preparation for an upcoming race where he hopes to place in the top three, and prove he is a man and no longer a boy.  On the day of the race he races his fastest, but he does not come out at the top.

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His grandfather, his Awoowo, tells him that to be successful he needs to capture the spirit of their people and leave his thumbprint on a cheetah’s coat.  His grandfather then tells him about the cheetahs long ago and how the river is named after them.  He explains that thumbprints on a cheetah’s fur honor those that have proven themselves.

Roblay trains and searches for many days.  He wonders if it is enough to mark a cub.  But his grandfather asks him if he wants to remain a cub.  This motivates Roblay to work harder.  When a year has passed and the race is about to take place again, he finally touches his cheetah.

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He lines up for the race strong, proud and sleek, and he has the chance again to prove he is a man and make his family proud.  Nope, not going to tell you how it ends.

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The book starts with an Author’s notes from both authors and concludes with Notes on the Cheetah.