Tag Archives: 2nd through 4th

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story by Natasha Rafi illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa


This 37 page culturally Pakistani Ramadan story is super sweet and fun.  There is so much I feel like my critical self should not like about the story, but by about page 15 each time I read it, I find my self full on smiling and thoroughly enjoying little Raza’s antics and his endearing grandma’s method for dealing with him.


Raza is too young to fast, but with a house full of relatives gathered for Ramadan, Raza awakens to the sound of his uncle snoring before the siren to signal the start of fasting and the azan calling the worshippers to pray echo through Lahore.  Before he can go back to sleep, however, he hears the cook heading up the stairs to wake up grandma and then the smell of the food hits him and he wants a paratha more than anything.


Raza embarks on a mission that involves him sneaking up to the roof, pretending to be a jinni and scaring Amina the cook through the chimney to convince her to send up food and a blanket.  

Scared out of her wits, Amina gets the grandma, culturally wards off evil, and delivers the goods to the jinni on the roof.  But the joke is on Raza who is out-witted by his grandma and gets the punishment of washing dishes for the rest of Ramadan, and learning that fasting a whole day will take a lot of will power, if he couldn’t even wait a few hours to get his beloved parathas.


The book informs the reader that the following year Raza is able to successfully fast, that he is rewarded with gifts and that all is well and forgiven.  There is a glossary, information about Ramadan and a recipe at the end of the story as well.

I love that the plan just happens, it isn’t premeditated or considered, so it takes the reader along for the ride as it is unfolding.  It isn’t a deep story, but there is room for discussion as to whether Raza was naughty, or just caught up in the moment.


The book is illustrated well and with big 8.5 x 11 pages, the book is engaging for first and second grade readers and listeners, as there is a lot of text on the pages.  The book takes a bit to find its stride as the author tries to use Urdu words, show their Arabic counterparts and then describe them in English. 


There is a lot of cultural stage setting with everyone in grandmas house, the traditions of the family, of Ramadan, etc.  I think Desi familiar kids will get the most out of the book, but theoretically Muslim kids and non Muslims too could learn and enjoy it too.  I wish jinn and jinni were explained just a bit in the text, not just in the glossary, along with why an 8 year old wouldn’t be fasting or be required to do so. 


My own kids, aged 8, 9, and 12, struggled on the first two pages, but when I told them to keep reading they zoomed through the rest smiling and ended saying it was good while giggling and shaking their heads.  We are Pakistani American and I think they enjoyed seeing familiar words and phrases in the book and sympathizing with Raza as well, and his sneaky plan that almost nearly worked.


Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood

Lulu and the Very Big Meanies by Mac McGooshie illustrated by Alexis Hogwood


I don’t know what is more frustrating: quality books that are poorly packaged (binding, illustrations, font, spacing, etc.) or beautiful books that miss the mark in storytelling and basic writing skills.  Both are equally annoying, and while yes, a good story should be the basis, this book is really well written that the presentation of it just makes me sad.  At 116 pages, the book is perfect for 3rd graders.  My daughter and son read it a few years ago when I first picked it up.  I made them read it.  And last week when I pulled it out to read myself, both remarked that it was a good story.  The fact that they remembered it and remembered liking it are huge pluses, and made the fact that I had to make them read it all the more disheartening.  I’m certain if you can get your kids to read eight maybe 10 pages they will zoom through the rest of the book.  It is the getting them to pick it up and start, that is the tricky part.  The book is paperback, thick and glossy, but the cover looks homemade almost.  If you thumb through it the font is too small, spaced too tight and the illustrations mean well, but don’t deliver.  Unfortunate, because like my children, I too think the story is fun and I’m disappointed that the book was published in 2013 as #1 in the Lulubug’s Week in the Life Series, and no further books have come out.


Laila (Lulu), and her family are American Muslims living in Southern Virginia.  Lulu’s mom is a lawyer and a convert, her dad is from Egypt and owns an Italian restaurant, and her older twin brothers are 12 and keep an eye on her.  Being incredibly bright Lulu has skipped third grade and is having trouble with some bullies in her new fourth grade class: Veronica B. and Veronica C.  aka the Veries.  Using help from her brothers, her neighbor and friend Toni, and some friends in class, a trap is set to get the bullies to confess to their evil mischief, but that unfortunately isn’t the only thing Lulu is going through this week.  Throw in her parent’s sudden decision to move closer to the masjid in another city, a litter of kittens abandoned on the side of the road, and some weird noises coming from the woods behind their house, and Lulu has a lot to deal with.


I love that it shows the day-to-day of a typical Muslim family in a normal presentation.  They pray together, they watch what they eat, they know their neighbors and worry about each other.  It doesn’t idolize the family, making them better than anyone or preachy, but makes them very relatable and likable in a realistic way.  When bees are discovered or the kittens need carrying for, sunnahs and ayats are identified, but very seamlessly, that non Muslim kids will learn a bit about Islam and Muslim kids will be excited to see themselves.  My favorite scene regarding this is when the mom finds out there will be a middle-school dance, and even though the boys are not planning to go, know that it isn’t for them, and don’t even seem tempted by it, they still have a family meeting about it, to discuss.  I also like that at one point Lulu meets another Muslim girl and they don’t hit it off right away, the girls work through it, but it is nice to see some diversity in even the way Muslims are presented and possibly misunderstood even amongst one another.

There is a lot going on in the book in terms of action items, but there still is a lot of character development and dimensions to Lulu.  Lulu has to navigate relationships with her family and friends that ring true and aren’t over simplified.  Her friend and neighbor, Toni, expects Lulu to act different at school now that they are in the same class, but returns to her silly self once they are home.  Lulu clashes a lot with her mom, but can smile and get her way super easy with her dad and manipulates that a lot.  She has to balance her sassiness with her teacher and principal, pick her battles with the Veries, and abide by other adults’ rules and expectations.  The book reads in a similar vein as Junie B. Jones, or Clementine, just maybe a more mature and less obnoxious reincarnation.

I wish the adventure involving the backyard noises, was a bit more dramatic, and maybe even the unveiling of the trap involving the dye was more resolved.  At times the book seemed rushed to wrap up all the stories introduced and I think they deserved a little more time to be explored and enjoyed.  If the font and spacing and pictures could be tweaked I think the book would really speak to kids in a fun way.  Third and fourth graders can easily handle a 150-160 page book that has good pacing and is packaged in a tempting, non intimidating way.  I’m holding out hope that maybe the author will write some more, tweak this one, and give it the chance at reaching an audience that would benefit from the smart, fun, grounded life of Lulu.


Clean, it does mention that Toni likes a boy, but Lulu thinks that boys are trouble.


If I still did an elementary book club, I think this book would work.  I think kids need a nudge to give it a try, but once the book gets going, girls and boys alike will enjoy it.  I may read it for a Lunch Bunch choice (I read once a week to 4th and 5th graders while they eat their lunch).  Kids will love seeing themselves, their stresses, their families, and their faith presented well.

The Hajj Adventures of Jamila and Fasfoose by Ediba Kezzeiz illustrated by Abd al-Hayy Moore

The Hajj Adventures of Jamila and Fasfoose by Ediba Kezzeiz illustrated by Abd al-Hayy Moore

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The book isn’t much to look at with its black and white, with yellow thrown in cover, and its 40 pages bound with a staple, but for independent readers between 2nd and 4th grade or so, the book is good.  In many ways it is an older kids version of Zaahir and Jamel, adding a fictional story to the learning about the steps of Hajj.  


The setting is Hajj and all of its different rituals, but the story is that Jamila and her pet mouse Fasfoose get lost in Mecca.  Along the way to finding Jamila’s parents and performing the requirements of Tawaf, Sai, Arafah, Mina, Muzdalifa, Jamrah, and Eid, a few duaas are thrown in, friendship with people of different nationalities and lessons in patience, speaking with your heart and finding your internal compass of wrong and right all come to light.


I like the target audience, and how it doesn’t ever feel preachy or like a How-to-perform-Hajj manual.  If a child is familiar with the rituals of Hajj the story gently reminds them of what they already know and the story takes center stage.  If they are unfamiliar, the book doesn’t talk down to them, and may prompt them to want to learn more.  Strong lessons of being kind and not hurting anyone or anything while in ihram are strong, as are the  beauty of multiple cultures speaking from their heart to find common threads.  There are illustrations to break up the text and not overwhelm the young reader, and the story is divided into seven chapters.  The font and size are all age inviting and even older middle school kids would probably pick it up if they saw it, read it in about 20 minutes and be glad that they did.

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None, alhumdulillah


The book is fun, probably not long enough for a book club selection, but a great read -a-loud. The length of the chapters make it a short read that ideally could be read the week before Hajj or Eid.  My 3rd grader read it and is enjoying listening to me read it to my 2nd grader.

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The Secret Message: Based on a Poem by Rumi by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Bruse Whatley


The Secret Message

Once again Mina Javaherbin retells a Rumi story in a fun, charming way to children that probably have never heard his stories before.  The illustrations bring this 32 page tale written on an AR 4.6 level to life.  While written for older elementary children, this book works well for kindergarteners and 1st graders in story time as well.  The pictures and descriptions make for an engaging story for all levels and the twist at the end make you want to go back and read it again and again.

A wealthy Persian merchant brings a parrot from India to call and sing to those passing by to come in to the shop.  The parrot helps make the merchant famous and before long he has completely sold out of all his wares.  He plans to return to India and asks his family what they want him to bring back, he even asks the parrot.  The parrot asks for nothing but a message to be delivered to his friends about how he misses them and about his new home and cage.  The story follows the merchant to India and through it, showing and telling about the sites and goods.  On the way back the merchant stops in a tropical forest to deliver the parrot’s message.  The birds listen carefully and then one by one, fall off their branches with their backs on the ground and their feet in the air.  When the merchant returns he delivers the message and the same thing happens to his parrot.  (SPOILER). Sad that he has caused his parrot to die, he takes him out of the cage where in an instant the parrot flies out of the hole in the domed ceiling all the way home to his friends in India.


Islam isn’t shown, and I debated including it, but culturally it is relevant with the character journeying from Iran to India and the author being from Iran.  Plus it is based on a Rumi poem.  There is nothing un Islamic in the book, and there is plenty of little places in the book to get kid’s opinion on the action, thus making it a book definitely worth your time.




Snow in Jerusalem by Deborah da Costa illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu


Snow in Jerusalem

The world is always in need of kindness for animals and for one another, so when I saw this book written in 2001 about two boys who live in different quarters of Jerusalem coming together when they learn they are caring for the same stray cat, I was definitely excited to dive in.

The book starts with a Jewish boy, Avi, caring for a fluffy white stray cat and his mom teasing him for caring for him.  He begins to wonder where the cat goes and resolves next time he comes around to follow him.  The reader then sees the cat journey through a market place and have the exact same interaction with Hamudi, a Muslim boy.  Both boys go days without seeing their beloved cat and when they begin to look for her, they find each other.  The boys fight over her as it begins to snow and the cat takes them to see where she has been, with her new kittens.

Again the boys fight and ultimately resolve to divide up the kittens to care for them and let the mama cat go back and forth to feed them.  Needless to say, I was a little let down by the book, I had hoped the boys would bond or see how similar they are. Instead they simply work out a solution for this one situation.  I can’t help but thinking the kitty family getting broken up and the poor mom having to go back in forth is rather selfish on the boys behalf.


The book is 32 pages and written on an AR level 3.1.  Third grade and up can probably understand the similarities of the boys and how they come together to care for the cat and appreciate it with a simplistic understanding of Jerusalem’s complexities. Kindergarten and 1st graders could probably handle it as a story time selection, and understand working together to help a cat.  I’m sure fifth graders and up however, will be a little concerned for the mama cat and disappointed in the boys at a lost opportunity to provide hope in a troubled region.

There is an Author’s note and Glossary of Arabic and Hebrew words at the end, and a simple, yet valuable map of the Old City at the beginning.


Hiss-s-s-s! by Eric Kimmel

Hiss-s-s-s! by Eric Kimmel


So um ya, its a book about a boy who wants a pet snake. Very linear, very simple, often more instructional than story, but somehow I really enjoyed it and read it in one sitting, as did my 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. The book is 154 pages (including the author’s note) and is written on an AR 3.7 level.


Omar is an American Muslim who wants a snake.  His dad, Ahmed, supports the idea, but his mother, Hoda, is terrified of snakes, and begrudgingly gives her permission.  The rules are pretty simple, Omar will have to take care of the pet, and it is never to leave his room.  His mother basically doesn’t want to know that there is a snake under the same roof.  Little sister Zara is just excited.  The majority of the book is Omar learning about corn snakes, and everything involved in their care.  There are a lot of lists, and passages about him researching and taking notes. His friend Philip, nicknamed Samkatt-short for Samurai Cat, is the comical sidekick, who in this case also is the brains in the group, keeps the plot moving along. The author sprinkles in some anecdotes and history giving the characters depth.  We learn Ahmed’s dad is from Pakistan and while he grew up in the city he spent time in the country and with snakes.  He retells a fictional story about how snakes kept the rodent population down, and thus allowed the farmers in his family to have higher grain yields.  He also tells Omar tidbits about his time in college working in a biology lab with snakes.  Omar’s mom is an accomplished artist that often incorporates her Lebanese culture into her work and gallery shows.  The banter between her and Samkatt keep the story light and entertaining.  (SPOILER ALERT) At the climax, the snake gets loose, and Omar learns where his mother’s phobia comes from in her childhood.  During one of Lebanon’s many wars, a man with a snake tattoo beat her father extensively while she was forced to watch.  This somehow over time developed in to Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes.  When the snake pops up, mayhem ensues, resulting in Hoda going to the hospital and Omar having to decide what to do with his snake, Arrow.


It is such a simple story, yet the warmth of the characters at the beginning and end really made it enjoyable.  I truly applaud the author for stretching a very simple idea into a full fledged YA novel.  The characters and family are Muslim, but it isn’t really discussed or made an issue.  There is nothing religious talked about or detailed.  In some ways, it would have been nice to throw a little more cultural or religious depth in to the story to connect with the characters, but being as the author is not Muslim it is kind of impressive that he presented them as just a regular American family.  Culturally there are only a few references outside of the anecdotes the parents share: Omar can’t come up with an example of when he was bullied, some of the foods served or eaten, the mother’s art work.


None. Even if you don’t like snakes, the book should not make you squeamish.


There is not much to discuss with the book, and thus I wouldn’t choose it for a book club pick.  I think 2nd or 3rd graders, however,would do well with the book in small groups.  There is just a tinge of foreshadowing, symbolism, and interpretation that wouldn’t overwhelm the student, but would boost their confidence when they connect the dots so to speak.  Plus, some discussion could come from how he had to persuade his family, the responsibility he had to show, and the sequencing of events. The worksheets and questions would practically write themselves.

Author Eric Kimmel’s blog about the book http://ericakimmel.com/2012/02/h-i-s-s-s-s-s/

Layla Deen and the Case of the Ramadan Rogue by Yahiya Emerick


layla deen

I remember my 2nd graders reading this many years ago and strongly disliking it.  And I vaguely remember agreeing with them, but perhaps at the time, there weren’t a lot of Islamic fiction options for the age group, so I decided that the pros out weighed the cons and left the book on the classroom bookshelf.  Fast forward to today where mashaAllah there are more options, yet this book is still often a staple on most school and family book shelves.  That being said, I thought a revisit was in order, and yikes I agree with my 2nd graders of so long ago, and I have major issues with this book.  At 42 pages, the clipart illustrations and wide spaced font seems a bit dated, but with the short chapters and Islamic backdrop the book overall would still appeal to 2nd to 4th grade Muslim students. The story is sweet in merit and intention, however, some of the details make me hesitate to recommend this book.

Overall, I feel like the author tries too hard, he is trying unsuccessfully to relate on a students level, trying to sound cool, and ultimately in the process uses unnecessary language in my opinion.  The manner in which siblings Layla and Ahmed speak to one another is incredibly harsh, and while perhaps realistic for some families, there is no reprimand or apologizing.  The name calling and yelling at one another throughout makes their collaboration at the end seem unlikely.  Even how Layla talks to her mom about the homeless man at the store, saying he is dirty and gross and a “stinky bum”, seems jarring to a book that is trying to teach a moral lesson.  Layla’s mom gently reminds Layla that Prophet Muhammad (saw) was kind to those in need, but I feel like the mom doesn’t go far enough in correcting Layla, and Layla dismisses rather arrogantly what her mother has to say.

Later, some bullies taunt Ahmed, and while in her head Layla defends her brother which is nice, out loud she resorts to calling the bullies “idiots” and “freak squad” which seems to be a form of bullying as well, and at the very least don’t empower the students to know how better to deal with bullies.  She then remarks that they smell bad and smoke pot and hopes her brother will “kick their butts.”  If the author wanted to make a comment on the ill effects of recreational drug use ok, but for this reading level to mention it as an insult in passing does little to benefit the story and even less to help the reader grasp what pot is and that children using it (irregardless of how one feels about adults using it) is not a joking matter.  Later when something is stolen Layla assumes it is the bullies who have committed the crime and sets up a sting to catch them.  Needless to say it isn’t them, and I wish the author would have at least had her feel bad that she assumed someone to be guilty when in fact they were innocent. A premise that I feel needed some addressing or reflective growth to benefit the reader.

My next concern, would not have been a concern ten years ago, but with the current situation regarding how police are being treated in response to the actions of a few, I wouldn’t want to perpetuate a stereotype that widens the gap between police and the communities they work for.  In the book when a crime is committed Ahmed dismisses going to the police remarking that the police do little and just sit around eating donuts.

And finally the climax of finding out who stole the food and why is sweet, but I really felt could have been handled so much better.  (SPOILER) The homeless man stole the food to feed it to some kittens he found in a garbage bag.  On the surface that is sweet, but I don’t think that, that justifies theft.  Furthermore he didn’t want to take the cats to the shelter because they would be gassed. Again, like the pot reference, that is a bit heavy to just leave hanging out there without explanation or background for such a young reading audience.  Layla then offers to take the cats to her friends and assures the man they will have good homes.  To me a better option would be to purchase the cats from the man so he can have some income and also assure the cats a good home.  It seemed to me that she took them from him in a rather abrupt fashion as if because he was homeless he didn’t have a right to his property, and getting a meal in exchange didn’t cut it for me as the happy ending I was hoping for.


Layla and her family are preparing for Ramadan, which starts in a few days, Layla joins her mom for a trip to the grocery store to stock up and they see a homeless man begging for money.  Disgusted Layla not only can’t stand to be near the man, but it is appalled that her mother stops to talk to him.  When the food set out for the nightly iftaar goes missing from the kitchen window, Layla and her brother take advantage of a night when their parents are out to try and catch the thief or thieves.  They discover the homeless man, and in a change of heart, Layla arranges to meet him at the grocery store the next day with her mom so that they can invite him to dinner.


I appreciate what the book tried to do: blend a fictional story in an Islamic context for a younger elementary aged Muslim child.  I also like that it showed a Muslim family, praying, fasting, and going about their normal life so to speak.


Pot drug reference, less than ideal handling of bullies, negative unsupported stereotypes.

See beginning of this review for detailed concerns.


For some reason, despite all my concerns with the book, I have been trying to find a way to still utilize it.  And I think the only way I could comfortably convey this story to kids would be to read it aloud and self edit it while reading.  I think there are too  many issues to let a second or third grader read it independently and then discuss, but I think if I were to edit out some of the random comments that have no bearing on the story, and then paused to discuss some of the bigger issues of bullies, assumptions, treatment of the less fortunate, and a better way to help others and animals the book might still be successful.  I think it could be read aloud in less then an hour and if today’s students are as perceptive as my students years ago, they not only will pick up with what is wrong in the story, but also devise ways to make it so much better.

Four Feet Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed Illustrated by Doug Chayka


four feet

A beautiful hardback picture book I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse sale, at 32 pages long and an AR level 3.2, Four Feet, Two Sandals, works well as both a story time selection to younger students and as independent reading for up to 5th grade.  The story is about two refugee girls that come to know each other when relief workers throw donated clothes for the people and Lina and Feroza each end up with one sandal each of a beautiful pair.  Rather than fighting or being ungrateful, the girls work out a plan so that they can both enjoy the sandals and in the process, become friends.  The girls share their stories with one another, and thus the reader, about how their families have been affected by war and how they came to be at this refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan.  The girls dream of school and their futures and show the readers a bit of their daily struggles getting water and doing chores.  When Lina’s name shows up on a list to go to America, and Feroza’s does not, the friends must part and decide who gets the sandals.

While it probably bothers some that America is seen as the saving grace to sweep Lina to a better life and pander to an American audience. I think it makes sense seeing as the book was co-authored by the executive director of the Pittsburgh Refugee Center and was inspired by a refugee girl who asked “why there were no books about children like her.”  Clearly refugees do get a chance at a new life when other countries open their borders and stories like this that give our children insight into the world they have left behind, with the hopes of fostering compassion, is something that I definitely want to share with my own children and students.

The author’s website and reading guide: http://www.karenlynnwilliams.com/files/sandals_guide.pdf

One Green Apple By Eve Bunting Illustrated by ted Lewin


one green apple

One Green Apple is a great story that really puts the reader in the shoes of a new immigrant that doesn’t speak English.  Farah, a young Muslim girl goes on a field trip to an apple orchard her second day of school and as they go for a hay ride and pick apples and make cider she and her classmates develop a connection that shows the reader how easy it is to reach out to someone new.

The sunny pictures and delicate words aptly describe Farah’s frustration in not being able to articulate her thoughts, and knowing where she belongs.  Similarly as she asserts her self and the others accept her you cheer her on and feel optimistic that she will find her place just fine.  

This story works well for new kids and for students with someone new in their class.  Being able to imagine what someone else is going through and discovering ways to help is a great lesson at any age.  The AR level is 2.6 and I read it to many of the classes the first week of school with new students, and even the older elementary grades were engaged and drawn to the message of the story and young Farah.  I don’t know that classes younger than Kindergarten would truly understand the story, maybe one-on-one, but I don’t think clothing and communication skills are a big deal with the younger ones.

Ramadan by Susan L. Douglass Illustrated by Jeni Reeves


ramadanThis is a non Fiction book about Ramadan that is thorough and accessible.  It has an AR level of 3.7 (third grade, seventh month), and with the short sentences and well-spaced text, I wanted to include this book so that those looking for an informative book for their independent readers (second grade and up) would consider this one.  At 48 pages, the book isn’t divided up into chapters but there are headings that keep the book flowing from one topic to the next. The illustrations supplement the text giving them context and there is a list of “New Words” in the back making this book appropriate for Muslim and non Muslims alike.  

Overall a good read for those looking to learn more about Muslims and Ramadan, or for those looking to see themselves in a book that isn’t too childish. The book is clean and factual, and keeps a nice balance between giving solid information and overwhelming the reader with details.  The book also includes examples of Ramadan in other countries as well as students fasting in America.  We have this book in our school library and the students that have stumbled upon it are excited to check it out, and when they ace the AR test they are absolutely beaming.