Tag Archives: 2021

Salih by Inda Ahmad Zahri illustrated by Anne Ryan

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Salih by Inda Ahmad Zahri illustrated by Anne Ryan

salih

This is an example of a picture book that should not be categorized as being only for children.  The passages of short simple text and the expansive illustrations that pull the reader in, combine to set a powerfully moving tone that holds you in it’s grips until the final page.  The names and hijab clad women could make this book a refugee tale with #muslimsintheillustrations, but because the author is Muslim, and the book so beautiful, I wanted to do a full review.  Some of the vocabulary is a bit advanced for younger children, so I think the best application of this book is not to hand it to a small child to read independently, but rather to read it to a child and let the words tickle their hearts while they immerse themselves in the pictures.  I look forward to sharing this book at story time to kindergarten through third grade.  I think the imagery, concepts, and emotion will resonate and open minds and hearts.

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Salih is like a turtle, he carries his home on his back. He and others are heading to the sea.  He tries to remember when things were better, and forget the bad times.

An old man shows him how to paint.  Salih shares this creativity with others.  Then he slips all the paintings into bottles and when he is on the rough sea, the bottles float away.

The storm rages, but then it calms, and land is seen, and hopes and dreams return.

We, collectively, have become numb, apathetic even, to the plight of refugees.  I have been trying for a while to get this book from Australia, and even though I am over a year late since its publication, it is still timely.  It will always be timely.

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We cannot be so arrogant to dismiss the plights and challenges faced by those in our world.  That is why I say, yes it is a children’s book, but people of all ages, need to be reminded.  It isn’t the worst of the worst incidents that need to only be shared, or the over the top happy stories.  We need to not let our hearts grow so hard. And this gentle book, with a sweet boy and turtle shell imagery has a lot of potential to remind us of the human element of global conflict.

Available to purchase in the USA here

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Lina, the Tree and the Woodcutter by Eman Salem

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Lina, the Tree and the Woodcutter by Eman Salem

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I’ve enjoyed another book in this bilingual series, Little Tree Goes for Hajj,  and was excited to see little tree all grown up and the focus of a book on the environment.  The 22 pages in Arabic and English start out promising, setting the stage, establishing the familiar characters, discussing caring for trees and not harming them for no purpose, but then the book just kind of ends.  It is wordy, the English anyway, I cannot comment on the Arabic, but it is sweet and warm in its own Islamic fiction way.  I didn’t feel like a glossary was needed, it mentions Allah in the text and seems meant for Muslims, so why the definitions of Allah, Hajj, and Mecca are included is a bit odd especially when it uses Christianity and Judaism in the explanation of the oneness of Allah.

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Little tree is now an old tree and was a friend of Lina’s grandfather, they had traveled to hajj together.  As they sit chatting, they hear a horrible noise and discover it is a woodcutter chopping down a tree.  When the young man stumbles upon the talking tree and Lina they question his motives.

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He wasn’t chopping wood for fuel, or to build a home, he was just chopping it because he could.  Lina and the old tree explain what was lost with the destruction of the tree and teach him that Allah swt has made people the earth’s caretakers.  The woodcutter learns from his mistakes and apologizes.

I wish the book maybe would have made a stronger point that trees take a while to grow and that sorry is well and good, but not enough to restore what was lost.  I like that the woodcutter wants to learn more, but a few lines detailing what he learns or that he came every day to sit with them or some sort of ending would have been nice.

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.