Tag Archives: 2nd to 4th

Nusaiba and the 5th Grade Bullies by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Zul Lee



As someone who deals a lot with reading and comprehension, I really misread the description of this book and assumed erroneously that it was a chapter book targeting 5th graders.  Oops, alhumdulillah, my confusion and slight disappointment didn’t last long as I got swept up in Nusaiba’s spunky imagination and endearing personality.  The message of the book is powerful.  Not only does Nusaiba have to deal with bullies, but she has to wrangle with accepting herself, even if that means being different.


Nusaiba is almost to school when she overhears some 5th grade boys making fun of her mom and what she is wearing.  Nusaiba’s mom is wearing a hijab, and the story is set up to imply that that is what they find “weird.”  This morning encounter bothers Nusaiba all day, and while she doesn’t talk to her teacher about it when asked, she does spill the beans to her best friend Emily.  The next day Nusaiba distances herself from her mom and asks to walk to the school gate alone.  The bullies don’t say anything, but Nusaiba feels guilty about leaving her mom like that. Later that day when Mom picks Nusaiba and Emily up from soccer they swing by a local hijab shop for some clothes shopping.  I don’t know why, but I found the premise for taking the girls clothes shopping a little forced.  It seemed too words of a setup, and I couldn’t help but wonder why Emily would be dragged along.  As mom tries on skirts for work, the girls in their boredom get swept up in using the scarves as costumes and transforming themselves from queens, to underwater divers, to fisherwomen, to mountain climbers, to fantastic cleaners ready to clean up all the scarves on the display.  Her mom lets her pick one to buy, and she decides to wear it to school the next day.  It is noteworthy that Emily doesn’t try on any of the scarves.  She is an amazingly supportive friend, and even in make-believe is right there with Nusaiba, but she doesn’t put one on, and I kind of want to know the author’s reasoning or purpose as to why.  So the next day at school, Nusaiba asks her mom to again walk with her, and when the 5th grade boys call her mom an “odd-ball.” Nusaiba finds her courage to confront them.  Nusaiba and the reader discover the boys are making fun of Nusaiba’s mom, but it isn’t for her hijab.  Nusaiba and her mom set the boys straight and giggle in the process, as Nusaiba realizes she can be anything she dreams.


The book is 44 pages and probably about a second grade mid year reading level.  The pictures are big and bold and beautiful making it a great option for story time to ages 4 and up.  The pictures do an amazing job complementing the story and going back through to look at them after the “twist” at the end was even more delightful.  The illustrator draws you into Nusaiba’s world and you really do cheer her on when she stands up for herself. The book easily lends itself to discussion, and there is also a question guide at the end, incase you get stumped. It reads more like a school assignment, but it could obviously be re-worded to engage a child at bedtime or in a read-a-loud environment.  The font is a nice size, however, I found it distracting. On some pages it is white on others black, on some it has a shadow and on others it does not.  I’m certain most people would not notice, but for some reason it was jarring to me.  Alhumdulillah, alhumdulillah, if that is the only negative in a book, I think everyone who reads it will be glad to have a copy of their own to read again and again and again and again and….


King For A Day by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Christiane Krome



Its time for Basant, the Lahore, Pakistan kite flying festival, and Malik and his siblings are ready.  Ready to launch Falcon into the sky, ready to set other kites free, and ready to put the bully next door in his place.  While some kids have huge kites, and some have many, Malik has just Falcon, a speedy little kite that Malik prays can get the job done.

King for a day inside

Once again Rukhsana Khan does a remarkable job of taking a universal theme, adding some culture, and finding artists to empower minorities without making it an issue, all in a 32 page children’s book.  Written on an AR level of third grade ninth month, readers see characters handling a bully by beating him “on the court” so to speak, a character having confidence in his abilities, yet still asking Allah swt for help, and a boy in a wheel chair celebrating a fun spring time festival with his family.

king 1

The illustrations are rich with texture and angles, which contrasts the font and text presentation.  Little kids probably won’t be tempted to pick this book up, but as a read-a-loud first and second graders will enjoy the story and the kite flying action.  Third and fourth graders will enjoy reading the book independently, and find themselves cheering for Malik, appreciating his kindness, and wanting to pick up a kite and head out themselves.  The author includes a note at the back which provides more information about Basant and how it is celebrated.  Although it takes place in Pakistan and is a festival not celebrated in America, there isn’t a “foreign” feeling to the book, as kids can relate to bullies, wanting to be the best and the satisfaction of succeeding and feeling like a “king for a day.”


Nadia’s Hands by Karen English illustrated by Jonathon Weiner


nadia's hands.jpegNadia’s aunt is getting married and she gets to be the flower girl in the Pakistani-American wedding.  She also will get mehndi put on her hands for the big event.  Her cousins warn her that she might mess up and even in the midst of her excitement she begins to worry what the kids at school will say when they see her hands on Monday.  As her aunt prepares the mehndi and the application process begins, various uncles peek in on her and her aunt gifts her a beautiful ring.  The mehndi has to sit on the skin for a while to set and as Nadia practices sabr, patience, I couldn’t help but think something seemed off in the story.  I’ve been at, in, and around a lot of Pakistani and Pakistani-American weddings, and this story didn’t seem to reflect the tone of such occasions.  The book doesn’t reflect the hustle and bustle and near chaos, it doesn’t sound like the tinkle of jewelry and laughter as the women sit around chatting and getting mehndi put on together, the pots on the stove are referenced but not described so that the reader can smell the sauces thickening and hear the pans crashing and taste the deep rich flavors.  It is lonely.  Nadia is lonely and filled with anxiety about Monday.  Durring the wedding she is walking down the aisle and suddenly freezes when she looks down and doesn’t recognize her hands.  Her cousins seem to show unsupportive “I-told-you-so” expressions as she searches for some comforting encouragement to continue on.  When she finishes her flower girl duties, her grandma asks if she understands why looking at her hands makes her feel like she is “looking at my past and future at the same time.” Nadia doesn’t understand and the author doesn’t explain.  At the end she is ready to embrace that her hands are in fact hers and that she will show her friends on Monday.  But the reader has no idea how it goes, or what exactly the significance of her painted hands are.  The book fails to give any insight or excitement for a culture bursting with tradition at a time of marriage.

 nadia's hands inside

There is a glossary at the beginning for the few Urdu words sprinkled in the book.  There is no further explanation however, of  mehndi, or weddings, of the brides clothes etc.  The illustrations are adequate, but because the text doesn’t offer much warmth or vibrance, they seem a little drab, and raise more questions about what some of the traditional items depicted are.  The book is a standard 32 page picture book and is written on an AR 3.8 level, which I think is a little high.  Granted my children are familiar with mehndi, but my first grader read it to me with little assistance.  There isn’t any mention of Islam and could probably be argued that the story reflects any wedding from the subcontinent background performed in the west.  The bride has a duputta on her head in the picture, but that is neither here nor there, and no one in the audience appears religiously covered.  I would assume they are Muslim because of the minor characters’ names: Omar, Saleha, Amina, Abdul Raheem.  Also, the word Sabr, an Arabic word, suggests that they are Muslim.  Plus they eat kabobs which the glossary defines as mincemeat, so probably not Hindu.  Overall the book is not, “bad” or “wrong,” I just wish there were more to it.


Elephant in the Dark: Based on a poem by Rumi retold by Mina Javaherbin illustrated by Eugene Yelchin


Elephant in the Dark

Rumi’s poem The Blind Men and the Elephant has been retold and transformed over time to emphasize many lessons: getting the whole story, defining truth, not being nosey, understanding points of view amongst others.  The basic story is that each person touches a part of the elephant in the dark and cannot fathom each other’s perspectives or what an elephant is, thus they take to bickering and proving that they and they alone are right.Elephant in the Dark inside

A big fan of the Karen Beckstein early reader version, that involves 6 blind men and is presented on a 2.6 level I was skeptical of this 32 page AR level 3.0 version.  The bright pictures and large picture format quickly won me over.  This book works so well for story time as the kids all know what an elephant looks like, they can all understand how the people are getting confused and all can see how their arguing isn’t helping.  All without much adult prompting.  The kids get so annoyed by the villagers not respecting Ahmad’s personal property and not listening to one another that when the illustrator has the children being the smart ones and enjoying the elephant at the end, the reader/listeners are giggling and feel like they are “in” on the truth.

elephant in the dark end

one translated version:

Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
A water-pipe kind of creature.
Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving
back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.
I find it still, like a column on a temple.
Another touches the curved back.
A leathery throne. Another the cleverest,
feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.
He is proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
and understands the whole that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark
are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together, we could see it.

Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by R. Gregory Christie



Set in Pakistan, Saba has to cross the courtyard to get to the bathhouse.  Fearful of the chickens that seem to have it in for her, she braves the distance in a dashing sprint and slams the door to relish in the safety of a chicken free patch of space.  However, today as she searches for courage to face the chickens after her shower she spots a snake near the door.  She is afraid, and wants to scream for her grandma, her Nani, but worries that the snake will bite anyone that comes through the door.  Realizing she must face this fear and solve the problem on her own, not only empowers her, but puts the chickens in to perspective.

This 32 page picture book written on an AR 2.6 level is a good book when discussing overcoming fear.  It reads aloud well, as the short sentences from Saba’s perspective convey her trembling fear, her determined resolve, and her elation and freedom after she faces the snake.  The illustrations on first glance, and even after the first reading seemed off.  They didn’t seem to compliment the story smoothly, however, after revisiting this book, I think I have grown to appreciate the exaggerated features of the girls face, and the simplistic blurred images of her surroundings.  I think it shows her focus and skewed view when faced with such a fear.

The Author’s website & teaching guide

The Lost Ring: An Eid Story by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Kulthum Burgess


The Lost Ring.jpg

This is a good little story about Eid ul-Adha for 2nd through 4th graders.  It is not AR and at 29 pages it balances information about Islam and Eid with a simple little story that keeps the target demographic interested.  It isn’t great, but for a book that would probably be a level reader equivalent of a three, it suffices in being a bit of a mystery, a bit of a comedy, and bit of a lesson on why and how we celebrate Eid.

Rahma’s Grandma and cousin, Muslimah, are visiting for Eid. The girls start off the story trying on their beautiful dresses and feeling like princesses.  The girls and Grandma then get to work on making samosas for Eid.  Rahma sees her grandmother’s ring next to the bowl of dough and tries it on. The story moves fluidly and the girls take turns helping  with the folding of the samosas.  Some more adults come in and add tidbits to the story about giving gifts on Eid and getting ready for Salat and depicting a typical practicing family.

The story shifts to dad asking the kids what they remember about Eid-ul-Adha and what they know about Eid-ul-Fitr, the Festival of Sacrifice. On the day of Arafat the children fast, visit the hospital and take gifts to people in the community and the neighbors.  After Salat-ul-Maghrib dad reviews some of the sunnah acts for Eid as well.  It doesn’t get too preachy, or overly detailed, it is more highlights and brief summary revisions.

Eid day is fun and exciting, but when night falls and the family prepares for people to come over, Grandma can’t find her ring.  The kids want to be detectives, but Rahma suddenly realizes that the ring must be IN one of the samosas. So the children decide to eat them all to check. When the ring doesn’t turn up, Rahma and her cousins recite Ayat-ul Kursi, ask Allah for help and decide to tell Grandma the truth.  Just then Mum yells and the ring is found in her samosa, the truth is revealed and they all enjoy a good laugh and resolve to “always remember this as the Samosa Eid.”

The Lost Ring inside

There is a lot of text on the page, and a fair amount of “foreign” words that I think the book is probably meant for Muslim children, or those familiar with the basics of Eid.  There is a Glossary in the back, but it still might be a bit too much for non Muslim children to grasp without someone to answer their questions. The illustrations have the elder females with hijab and the girls uncovered when not praying.  The small pictures are detailed and complimentary, but the younger readers will wish they were a bit more engaging.  Overall, a good book to have in a classroom, and a great one to check out from the library to encourage young readers, or just to enjoy before Eid-ul-Adha.

Muslim All-Stars Helping the Polonskys by Khaleel Muhammad


Muslim All Stars

A mishmash of young teen characters come together to form the Muslim All-Stars, the first book in a new series that will hopefully stick with the same set of characters doing good deeds in their community.    With only 67 pages and colorful illustrations of a variety of sizes scattered through out, the book is enticing, but not memorable.  I never bonded with any of the characters, and really couldn’t even list them all or identify them in the pictures.  Hopefully the series will continue and their individual personalities will take shape.   There are a few plot holes: how did Leila have a note from her parents if she just read the advert, how did none of the kids know each other or recognize each other if they all went to the same school, why would something done outside of school warrant recognition in school? And some random unresolved ideas: the Polonsky’s harbored a burglar or was it a rumor, why did Mr. Polonsky call Leila three times just to tell her to go?  Despite it all however, it is overall a fun book for both girls and boys in grades 2 through 4.


Mr. Polonsky’s wife is coming home after having surgery and their home is a mess. Overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning it, he gets the brilliant idea of hiring kids to do it, for cheap.  A handful of kids, all Muslim, show up to do the work.  But even overcoming Mr. Polonsky’s rotten attitude, the mountains of rubbish, the menagerie of critters that have taken up residence in the home, and a crazy washing machine, is not enough to prove themselves in the face of Mrs. Polonsky’s anger when she gets home.


I love that within the Muslim group there are kids of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and abilities; one kid is a convert, one is Pakistani, one is good with machines, one has Aspergers, one seems to get in trouble a lot.  They all answer the advert for different reasons, but after some convincing of sorts, they all agree to help the Polonskys because it is the right thing to do.  MashaAllah the girls wear hijab, they break for salat as a group, verify the food is halal, and generally just work well together.


Clean alhumdulillah


There is nothing online.  It is a book that if you recommend it to a child you simply would want to follow up with them by asking about what they thought about how the kids were treated, what they would do if Mr. Polonsky treated them that way, if they were surprised by the ending etc..

The book is written in British English and American kids shouldn’t have trouble understanding what is going on, but might need some help figuring out some of the words, such as rubbish, bin liners, skip, etc..

Time to Pray by Maha Addasi, Arabic translation by Nuha Albitar, illustrated by Ned Gannon


Time to Pray by Maha Addasi

On the surface this book presents itself to be fabulous: the large size, the dual language, the length (32 pages), and concept.  But alas, sadly, I was a little let down with the story, the characters, even the pictures.  The details about the characters are vague, the reader doesn’t know where the story takes place, where the girls parents or the rest of her family are (until the end), why she doesn’t know how to pray, and the climax isn’t really much of a surprise.  After reading this post from the author I appreciate that she left the location vague, to as not be burdened by one specific country, and I can see the origins of why the call to prayer from her own childhood is what the story focuses on.  I can also imagine the wealth of information and details that she had to sort through to decide what is needed to carry the story and what would ultimately repel a young reader.  All that in to consideration however, still didn’t connect me to the story of young Yasmin and her Grandma. Not to mention I didn’t have all the author’s justifications or rationale before reading it.


The pages have both English and Arabic text and is written for older children. Despite the initial appearance of being a children’s picture book, it has an AR level of 4.2 and has some Arabic words in the text, an Author’s Note in the back and detail of Prayer Times in the back, as well.


The pictures I want to say are beautiful, but for some reason I didn’t love them.  I am no art critic and they are detailed and large and I should probably ask a child, but here is one for you to decide your thoughts about them on your own.


Additionally I’m not sure if she is washing her foot her, as part of Wudu, the obligatory cleansing before prayer, which in this case, would be portrayed erroneously, or if she is drying her foot, either way Grandma looks sad to me and not content or excited to prostrate to her creator.

All is not lost though in this book about a girl learning about prayer with her grandma and being surprised by a prayer outfit. prayer rug, and Athan clock when she gets home and finds while unpacking.  But some of the best parts are subtle and might not be gleamed by unassisted readers.  For example how Grandma dresses at home versus when she is out, that because Yasmin is young she is not reprimanded for not praying, or how patient and loving the Grandma is in a slower paced environment.  Overall, the book is unique in that it gives an introduction to Muslim’s prayers to both Muslim and non Muslim readers alike, but for such potential I felt it fell short of being fabulous.

Moon Watchers Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle By Reza Jalali Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien


moon watchers


This book is similar to Night of the Moon By Hena Khan as it focuses on a young girl experiencing the month of Ramadan and Eid, through the waxing and waning of the moon.  This is an AR book 3.5 and the text is driven by dialogue between nine-year-old Shirin and her Persian American family.

Too young to fast Shirin is feeling left out of the blessed month of Ramadan, her older brother Ali and her bicker until her Grandma encourages her to do “part-time fasts.”  Facts about Islam and Ramadan are slightly peppered in to the story, primarily through vocabulary, and the characters do discuss hijab and why Shirin’s mother doesn’t wear it.  It is important to note that the tale is told from a Shia perspective that is made clear as it explains how the family prays, touching the prayer stone, and kissing it three times.  The illustration here is more peculiar as it shows Shirin praying next to her dad and her brother, mom, and grandma in the row behind.

The pictures show a happy family that most readers or listeners would probably be able to identify with, along with the sibling bickering and excitement felt with the blessed month.  Persian culture is represented in the foods and sweets they prepare as a family and the henna Shirin gets on her hands.  The family prays together, spends time together and they discuss doing good deeds, not just fasting in Ramadan.

The book is beautifully done, but I think because of the brushing aside of hijab being a cultural practice, not a religious one and the presentation of prayer, I don’t know if I would give the book without discussion to a third grader in a Sunni school to read independently.  As for story time, I might simply omit those few sentences, but I’m not sure, it would depend on my audience.

If your children are aware of the differences between Sunni and Shia or you are Shia, this book is wonderful.  If your children would be greatly confused or get hung up on a few lines in a 32 page book, then it would be better to hold off.


Rashad’s Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr by Lisa Bullard Ilustrated by Holli Conger


rashads ramadan

This is a non fiction picture book that tells a very basic story about Ramadan through Rashad’s young voice, with informative sidebars giving facts and details about Islam, Ramadan, and Eid. Broken into four chapters the book is very concise at just 24 pages, highlighting the key aspects of Ramadan: Where’s the Moon, Thinking About Allah, Thinking About Others, and  A Big Celebration.


With an AR level of 2.7 this book is perfect to read along with your child, Muslim or non, letting them read the story, and you adding the information and answering any questions they may have about Ramadan.  There is a glossary in the back, as well as a page of “Resource Information” to learn more.  It may seem a bit “childish” for some, but it is a great introduction, and/or a good review of the basics for toddlers to third grade.

The pictures are bright and colorful, yet simple enough to not overwhelm the information being conveyed.  They definitely make you smile to see the little smiling faces and convey the excitement of the holiday.