Tag Archives: 3rd through 5th

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.




The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Khan


The Hijab Boutique

I was really hoping this book would help out the sparsely populated early chapter book section.  And it should, at just 52 pages with beautiful full page pencil style drawings, it just somehow seemed confused instead.  The content is much more young adult in story line, but because of the short length, the characters seem flat and underdeveloped.  My fourth grader read it in less than a half an hour. Yet, I don’t think a 1st or 2nd grader would get much out of the book.  I don’t know what kind of editing process the Islamic Foundation puts its books through, but back when I was a teacher, I would have told the student they have a wonderful, wonderful rough draft with so much potential, they just need to flesh it out and add more detail so the reader connects with the characters. The back of the  book suggests the book for ages 10 and up and content wise that is fine, but it also has a list price of $7.95 and for something that can be read in less than a half an hour, it seems a little steep. If it didn’t have so much potential, perhaps I wouldn’t be so bothered, I just feel like if she stretched it out to being 200 pages, it could be so powerful.

Farah is a fifth grader at an all girls art school.  She has a best friend, who’s mom is a soap opera star, but some popular girls still make  her nervous.  When her Social Studies teacher assigns the girls to bring in something representing her mother, she can’t find anything to share about her mother that she doesn’t think is boring.  Farah’s father passed away two years prior and with money tight, Farah’s mom is opening up a Hijab Boutique.  No real details are given about her family life with her father or the impact his death had on her, which is unfortunate.  The story discusses why the mom started wearing hijab and why it is important, but makes it seem like Farah knows so little about her mother.  Again a hole that if explored would make the book that much more interesting. Not to mention that it could prod young girls to talk to their own mothers about such things.  To no one’s surprise Farah brings in some hijabs to represent her mother and Alhumdulillah the book ends on a positive note with little fanfare, catharsis or drama.

Farah and her mom are practicing Muslims who are an active part of their western community.  It would seem Farah is the only Muslim in her school and it doesn’t seem to be an issue.  They are all upper class and a bit snobbish, but there are no flags.  If your library has the book, reading it is by no means a waste of time.  I don’t know that you’d read it more than once if you purchased it, but 4th through 6th graders might enjoy the short read, and be inspired by fashionably fabulous hijabs while furthering their understanding about why Muslimah’s are required to cover.



Burning Boats by Zaynab Dawood

Burning Boats by Zaynab Dawood

burning boats

This book came highly recommended from a friend that read it aloud to her Kindergartener and I ordered a class set based on her raving review.  After trying to get into the book on three separate occasions I concluded that yet again I should have waited and read the book myself before ordering it.  So I handed it over to my avid reading eight-year-old who read it in a day and said it was pretty good, asked a few questions, and continued on her way confused as to why I couldn’t finish it.  So, I started it again determined to get through it and with Ramadan quickly approaching I thought I could motivate myself to do so.  However, I could not, and it sat on the shelf for the entire month with a book mark only a few chapters in.  At the prodding of my guilty conscious to return the book to my friend, I continued reading from where I left off, rather than starting over, again, and found that by dismissing completely who any of the characters are and how they are related, the story does get off the ground and I was able to finish it.  That being said, I think the story might have appeal if read aloud one chapter at a time. To read it in one setting did not help the story that can’t seem to decide it if wants to be character driven or action driven.  The sheer number of characters is completely over the top, there are at least 20 characters mentioned by name and the book is only 137 pages.  And honestly I never bonded with any of them.  There is action in the book, but the details seem misplaced.  The author details characters all saying salam and walaikumasalam to one another and giving moral reproaches based on Quran and Sunah, but I never felt I understood why the main characters were leaving, why the villain was so bad, or how (spoiler alert) a pivotal character in the book died. I guess by never connecting to the characters or feeling an emotional tie, positive or reproachful, the book didn’t live up to it’s potential.  The book is recommended for ages 12 and up, but I think younger children could read it and even younger could listen to it being read to them without any major concerns.  With guidance the book is by no means a waste of time, but if you recommend it to a child and they struggle to get into it, you might just have to let them find something else to read.


A small fishing village is being harassed by a corrupt businessman’s attempts to take over the entire industry in Tobay.  The principal of the school and a few close friends are trying to stop him, but have decide they cannot and thus are planning to move elsewhere.  The children are forbidden to go to the harbor as boats are being burned and crimes committed to persuade the local fisherman to abandon their solo endeavors.  With few places to play, the loss of the harbor affects the children greatly as well.  A tropical storm complicates matters as it tears through the village destroying the poor inhabitants meager dwellings as well as the damaging the school and the mosque.  With friends taking in homeless neighbors and the main family planning to leave the children plan one last game that turns dangerous when all the boats in the harbor are set a blaze.


There are some definite good qualities in the book, despite the holes.  It opened up a good discussion between my daughter and I about preparing a body for ghusl and Janaza.  It does show that people can change and that when people are sincerely apologetic and are striving to correct their behaviors, those around them should offer forgiveness in not just their words, but in their actions as well.  It also shows that good kids can make bad choices, and that the consequences can also be very real.  Similarly it shows that adults also don’t always know what to do, and that they can be forced to reconsider as well.


There is violence in the book and death.  Nothing too graphic, but one might have to explain to younger, more sheltered reader,  that just because someone has a Muslim name doesn’t mean they are practicing Islam and are good people.


There aren’t any online tools, but I would suggest having the readers keep a character journal.  Every time a new name appears, write down who they are, (and who they are related to), so later they can look back on it if they become confused.

Because of the “holes” in the story I would probably ask the students to give their thoughts as to what happened or why the characters decided to do what they did and then turn it back on them and ask them what they would do.

Why was Ibrahim leaving? Would you have left? What made Nasser change? Would you have forgiven him? How do you think Ayesha died? Etc.

Rashid and the Haupmann Diamond by Hassan Radwan


haupmann diamond

This is the second and seemingly last book in the Rashid series, which is unfortunate, because like its predecessor Rashid and the Missing Bodythe book is a quick fun read aimed at 3rd through 5th graders with Muslim characters solving a mystery.  At just 110 pages the book reunites friends Rashid, Gary, and Chris, three boys of different religious backgrounds with plenty of respect and understanding to inspire readers of all ages.


Rashid and his friends hear screaming in the middle of the night and rush outside to see robbers in their neighbor’s house. Once the police come and no evidence of a break in can be found, the boys do their own investigating to see what is going on.  Pieces of information start to come together from the elderly neighbor and her stories of her father, mysterious contacts online, old WWII veterans at retirement homes, and good old fashioned library research, to lead the boys on an adventure to find a lost diamond.  Never a dull moment as the boys are chased by the burglars, family issues at home bring Rashid’s sister and baby into the story, some bullies at school and more.


The book is incredibly fast paced, it hops around from one story-line to the next.  While this format seemed more cohesive in the first book, it was a little jarring for me in this one.  I didn’t mind the side stories at school, or even the soccer matches, but the story of the sister, Huda and her marital problems with her husband Ahmed seemed a bit out of place.  I see what the author’s intent was, but in such a short book aimed at elementary aged boys, it seemed  a heavy story-line to interweave into an adventure story.  The deeper understanding of mixing cultures and expectations I am positive would be lost on all young adult readers.  Once again, the author however, does do a great job of telling a story where the character’s Islam adds to the character, and doesn’t distract from the adventure on hand.  Rashid uses islamic terms, the family prays together, they go to the masjid and laugh with the imam and congregation, they talk about proper ways to correct people and the value of intentions, overall, I’d say they convey a “normal” Muslim family.


No flags, the book is clean and inspiring, alhumduillah


There isn’t a lot out there about the book or the author, nor is the book in the Accelerated Reader database.  I think with its linear story, keeping track of the clues and throwing in some highlights of Islamic manners and morals, however, would make a discussion on the book easy and natural enough for all to enjoy.

My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin, Illustrated by Barbara Kiwak



The other book I discussed during my Story Time theme of bullying was, My Name is Bilal, by Asma Mobin-Uddin,  The book is an AR 3.5 so I summarized parts when reading it aloud, but at bedtime one-on-one my five-year-old was able to grasp what the characters were going through and how best to handle “mean” people.

The premise of this 32 page, fairly content heavy picture book, is a new family starting at a new school.  The main character Bilal does not stand up to some boys teasing and pulling off his sister’s hijab, and then chooses to tell people his name is Bill instead of Bilal so that no one knows he is Muslim.  Fortunately, Bilal has a Muslim teacher who doesn’t jump in to “save” Bilal, but instead shares with him a book about Bilal Ibn-Rabah, the slave who was tortured by the people of Mecca in their attempts to get him to renounce Allah (swt) and Islam.  Young Bilal, finds strength in this story to stand up to the bullies as well as compassion in giving them a second chance.  He even finds there are more Muslim’s around him and being true to yourself is something even those different than you can understand and respect.

Yes, the book is to neat and tidy and it all works out in the end.  But, I think it is a good introduction to being proud of who you are and not backing down.  I like that the kids essentially handle things on their own and that no one is painted singularly as “good” or “bad,” both Bilal and the other kids are flawed and figuring things out. When I read this during Story Time we talked about it from the “bullies” point of view of what a better way to handle someone or something that you don’t understand would be, a scarf in this case, and how asking questions is always more respectful than teasing. We also talked about being the different one in a new environment and how to be prepared if someone does give you a hard time.  The characters in the book are older presumably than 4th or 5th grade allowing this to be a gateway into discussing bullying a bit abstractly, inshaAllah not once it has already begun.

The illustrations are colorful and realistic, not detracting from the seriousness of  the subject matter.  Overall the book serves a purpose and tells a good story.  Plus, the reader learns a little about Bilal and how the early Muslim’s struggled and encourages them to seek out what their own names mean and represent.

The Breadwinner By Deborah Ellis



The Breadwinner is the first book in Deborah Ellis’ four book series about 11 year-old-Parvana, her friends, and her family in Taliban controlled Afghanistan.  The remarkable thing about this book is that it is a compelling story, that has moments of intensity and reality, yet never falters from being on about a 4th grade reading and comprehension level.  The AR level is 4.5 and as a teacher I taught the book as a novel study to 4th graders, and now as a librarian I presented the book for my Jr. Book Club.  In both cases, after completion, the children are arguing and fighting for the next books in the series, Parvana’s Journey, and then Mud City, and finally My Name is Parvana.  It is not a tempting book on the shelf necessarily, but once you start, it is hard to put down.


The book gives readers a glimpse of how the Taliban changed the day-to-day lives of the Afghani people.  Young Parvana starts out helping her father, a  former History teacher, earn a meager living by reading and writing for the illiterate in the marketplace, and selling odds-and-ends that the family is willing to do without in order to survive.  As a young girl she is allowed to accompany her father into the marketplace, her older sister and mother, however, have not left their home in a year and a half.  When Parvana’s father is dragged off to prison, the family is in need of a provider, a breadwinner, and with some of her deceased brother’s clothes, a haircut and some courage, young Parvana becomes Kaseem.  She carries on her father’s work, digs up bones to earn more, and sells items from a tray to keep her family afloat.  In the process she meets an old classmate, Shauzia, who is also disguised as a boy, an old gym teacher, Mrs. Weera, determined to fight back through disseminating journals and magazines, and other characters that bring the horrors and hope of the Afghan people to life.


I like that it doesn’t get too political, which would bog down the story and turn off young readers, and while it presents unfair imprisonment, stadium style punishments, death and pain, it does so in a way that evokes empathy not fear.  It even at times finds a way to stay light-hearted and offer up hope as the reader sees the resilience and determination of these people.

“I’ve been thinking about starting up a little school here,” Mrs. Weera said to Parvana’s surprise.  “A secret school, for a small number of girls, a few hours a week.  you must attend.  Parvana will let you know when.””What about the Taliban?” “The Taliban will not be invited.”


The book is intense at some moments, such as when the father is taken by the police, the girl’s nearly see prisoners having their hands chopped off, and the characters discuss landmines.  But it is on a child’s level, too much description is not offered and for most 3rd graders and up, I think the book is a great dialogue starter about what some people have to endure in the world.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION: (There are a lot of resources for this book)

Author’s website and study guide:   http://deborahellis.com/teacher-resources/

Unit study:  http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-The-Breadwinner-Unit-Guide-for-Students-365169

Lesson plan:  http://coolkidlit-4-socialstudies.pbworks.com/w/page/27715927/The%20Breadwinner%20Lesson%20Plan

The Friendship Matchmaker Goes Undercover



I’m posting yet another Randa Abdel-Fattah book that my mom stumbled upon and sent me 10 copies to do for our Book Club. I didn’t love the book, but it is clean and brings up the issue of bullying, friendship and honesty.  So, I’ve decided to do a 3rd- 5th grade Jr. Book Club and use it as a starting point to discuss this critical social realms that they are facing.  The book is a 4.4 Accelerated Reader level and has no Muslim characters or themes.


This book is the second in the series, and, thankfully, having not read the first book, The Friendship Matchmaker, didn’t hinder my understanding.  Told from the perspective of Lara Zany, a former friendship matchmaker of Potts Middle School, the reader gets to know the major characters at the school and their problems.  Lara now has a best friend and has retired from the matchmaking business, but old habits are hard to kick, and as a new student from Somali out plays the school bully in soccer, Lara is forced to go undercover to help her classmates.


The book doesn’t stand out in the genre, but it is fun because I think 3rd through 5th graders deal with everything in the book, every day.  The book shows restraint where a lot of books over do it.  The characters show growth, they aren’t disrespectful and they aren’t all painted with a simplistic brush stroke.  The bully has redeeming qualities and no one is perfect or hopeless.


The book is clean in regards to violence, relationships, and language.  The only concern I have is there are two major instances where the characters lie, and there are no consequences.  The smaller breaches of honesty the characters in some way or another must own up to, but there are two scenarios: a forged field trip signature, and an untruthful excuse given for being late to class, that rubbed me the wrong way.  Before allowing students to check it out for the purposes of Book Club, I sent a note to the parents with these two concerns and left it to them to encourage or discourage their student’s from checking it out.  My goal is to discuss why the author included these in the book, and realistic alternatives that would promote honesty, but still allow for a happy ending.

Magid Fasts for Ramadan by Mary Matthews illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Magid Fasts for Ramadan by Mary Matthews illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Magid Fasts for Ramadan

The intent of this 48 page chapter book is good, however, a few things rubbed me the wrong way about how Ramadan and Islam are presented.

Nearly eight-year-old Magid wants to fast on the first day of Ramadan, but everyone says he is much to young.  He decides to deceive everyone and fast anyway.  I’m actually okay with this main story line, as I could genuinely see a child wanting to do it so much they would lie about it.  The author even has the family sit down after the truth comes out and discuss how honesty is important and this is not how Ramadan should be celebrated.  Lesson learned for Magid and the reader, right? Nope, the author kind of blows it and takes it to the other extreme.

Magid’s sister Aisha is twelve and is “forced” to fast so she isn’t the only girl not fasting at her all girl’s school in Egypt.  What a sad reason to fast, The whole reason Magid wants to fast is to be a “truly obedient Muslim” which sounds great on the surface, but it get’s repeated so often that Magid at one point is judging a classmate who isn’t fasting and isn’t always at Jummah (Friday) prayers.  The parents decide at the end to let Aisha fast until school is out, hence shortening the day for appearance purposes, and Magid can fast til lunch.   He is told he can fast full days when the days are shorter.  Again a really odd reason to wait when fasting has been prescribed for us, to make it an issue of convenience.

So aside from the very negative view of Ramadan and the kids rejoicing at the end that they don’t “have” to fast, the lying, the disobeying your mother, and the judgmental laden diction of being truly obedient, the book does cover a lot of ground well.  The book shows the characters doing wudu and praying, it shows them trying to be kind to one another, it talks about how the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan and it does have a plot.

The water color illustrations are nice, and I also like how it showed a bit of Egyptian culture with the lanterns, singing, and food.  Interestingly the author says it is harder for Muslim’s in America to fast, but elsewhere says that Aisha has to watch the girls at school not fasting, eat lunch.

I really wouldn’t recommend this book, for the intended audience of 3rd through fifth graders I think it would do more harm than good in promoting Islamic values in Muslim children and in showing non-Muslims what Ramadan means to Muslims.

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.