Tag Archives: 7th grade and up

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix


The Grand Mosque of ParisThis beautiful, beautiful book tells of a little and sparsely known event in history.  During the holocaust The Grand Mosque of Paris served as a place of refuge for many North African Jews.  Many who passed through the vast gardens and beautiful Mosque were given fake documents of conversion, tombstones with their family names inscribed, and access to truly underground passageways (subterranean mazes), as the Muslims of Paris offered assistance to keep their Jewish brother’s and sister’s safe from the Nazi regime. Many of the stories were recently uncovered and with the passage of time, so much of the information has been lost.  As a result the book is a bit choppy, each page tells what is known about the Muslims’ assistance in some capacity, but does not flow to the next page.  So there are generalized recountings of children being hidden with other families, the efforts of the Kabyle Ressistance (Berbers from Algeria) to smuggle Jews to safety, etc.. There are also a few specific examples of Salim Halali, a young Berber Jew from Algeria, two friends one a Muslim the other a Jew seeking shelter, a Tunisian Jew who stayed at the Mosque for over two years,and a few others, but with the exception of the use of the Grand Mosque and a Doctor Ahmed Somia very little flows throughout the book.  Thus making it more of a historical account than a story.

Truly the book would not work for story time, it is geared for children (and adults) ages 12 and up,  it has an AR level of 7.1.  I would imagine it would be an amazing addition to any class studying World War II and finding the humanity offered in one of the bleakest times of our world.  It should, in my opinion, be standard required reading in Islamic School curriculum to supplement WWII study.  The hope and pride one feels when reading this book, shows how rich our faith’s are in coming together.  It would also work in understanding how history is lost, and the importance of perserving it.  There is an Afterword on page 34 that is very informative and interesting.  It is followed by a Glossary, Acknowledgements, References, Bibliography, Recommended Book and Films, and an Index.

The book also sparked my interest to know more about, not just how Muslim’s helped Jews during the Holocaust, but also how Muslims were treated in France.  The book says, “The Grand Mosque shimmered like a mirage, the white domes and the glittering mosaics of the minaret in stark contrast to the muted colors of Paris.  When the mosque was built in 1926, the North African countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia were under French rule, and many Muslims had come to Paris from those countries.  The land for the mosque was given by the French government, in exchange for a symbolic payment of one franc, to thank the half-million Muslim soldiers who had fought for France during the First World War.”

The Grand Mosque of Paris1.jpg

I have already read the book more then once, and gone back and read passages multiple times.  It is as fascinating as it is informative, and a great addition on any book shelf.


Thura’s Diary: My Life in Wartime Iraq by Thura Al-Windawi Translated by Robin Bray


Thura's Diary

It has been a while since I’ve read a wartime diary from a young woman’s perspective, but if memory serves, both Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, not only enlightened me to what living through the atrocities was like, but also emotionally established a connection of how horrific the truth of war really is; this book unfortunately, did neither.  To give it the benefit of the doubt I am now reading it as an adult, which may have changed my expectations and hardened my understanding of war, but very little in this 136 page book was memorable to me.  An AR level 6.1 the book is a quick read with some odd footnotes and definitions on each page.  I’m assuming the translator wanted to make sure the book flowed, but for some reason the bold words and obvious definitions annoyed me.  The center of the book is filled with pictures of Thura and her friends and family in both England and Iraq, which I found misleading since she never really introduces us to her friends so frequently pictured.  Overall I felt like I had more questions about what her life was like during 2003 then she answered.  I understand that it reads like a rough draft, because it is presumably her true diary, but it seems if you were going to publish it you would flesh it out a bit, explain why you ended up not going to the countryside on various occasions, explain your father’s role in the Baath party, what happened with your BBC interviews, explain why you feel that women have no rights, did you feel this way before shock and awe? What did you come to America to study? etc..


Nineteen year old Thura is in Pharmacy School when news breaks that the coalition forces are going to start bombing Iraq.  Her family is middle class, religious, but liberal, and as they prepare for the inevitable their lives become uncertain to say the least.  The oldest of three daughters Thura attempts to articulate the fear of bombs falling, the anxiousness of what will happen to their homes, friends, and families, while not necessarily being “adult” enough to be privy to all information to share insight into the rational that is now her life.  At times she seems to whine about her situation, and at other instances she has patience and maturity to appreciate that they are safe and together. The choppiness of why one day she is able to go to the journalist’s hotel, but the next day can’t leave, and her back and forth feelings about school are never explained and leave holes in her narrative.  If the intent is to explain what life in wartime Iraq was like, relying on the readers to fill in the gaps is counter productive and inaccurate.


I like that it is written by a young, modern girl, and is a conflict that in many ways is still ongoing, and providers children today with some insight beyond the headlines.  The book on the surface will allow a dialogue to take place potentially forcing students to imagine what their lives would be like in a similar situation, and how quickly the safety and security you feel can be uprooted.  She is a relate-able figure in that she is in college and she worries about her friends and family.  It is also a fairly easy read.  Non-fiction for many is dry and factual and this book reads more like a story, which I think would appeal to many students, particularly those with ties to Iraq.


The book does use strong language on a few occasions: hell and bastard.  It also mentions pornography a few times, in the context that once Saddam is overthrown pornographic magazines and films are becoming commonplace and it makes her uncomfortable.  She mentions that culturally growing up she is even “embarrassed just to hear the word ‘sex’.”

She is very anti hijab and it isn’t explained why.  She discusses religion in a more cultural way, but does discuss reading Quran on one occasion, and mentions the masjid. As a whole, it doesn’t seem to be a big part of her life, but obviously is a part of her environment.  She mentions the lack of women’s rights and her frustration with her own people preventing her from moving about uncovered after the soldiers occupy Baghdad, but not knowing why she is against hijab specifically leaves a lot of guesswork that could be taken many ways in the reader’s mind.


I don’t know if I would do this as a Book Club book.  I would probably discuss it with the Middle School Social Studies teacher and see if it could supplement a lesson or be offered as extra credit perhaps, but because there are such holes in the narrative I would be nervous to be presumptuous about what she means, or what was going on in certain places, being that it is a work of non-fiction.

A 7th grade lesson plan: http://chippewavalleyela.pbworks.com/f/Gr+7+Unit+3+Teacher+Lesson+Plan.pdf

The copy I read has questions and things to consider every few pages and an “Exchange” on the back inside cover with ideas, questions, and reflections outlined.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy



I probably should not have read this so close to the book Wanting Mor, as it too is about a girl in Afghanistan, and with a cleft lip none the less.  The similarities fortunately pretty much end there.  Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy is a fictional story that sprung from his own military service in Farah, Afghanistan and brief encounter with a girl named Zulaikha, who he and his comrades pulled money together to fund her transport for surgery.  He clearly states in his Author’s Note that he had preconceived notions on Afghanis when he deployed and how those changed as he got to know the people, he also states his disadvantage in writing the book as he is neither an Afghan or a girl.  Such honesty and care with the subject matter shines through the pages and creates a glimpse at everyday life for the characters without being overshadowed by judgement.  The first 50 pages or so of the 264 total are a bit overwhelming, but if the reader plugs through, the rest is smooth sailing and hard to put down.  It has an AR level of 4.6 although there are a few items mentioned in passing that would make me nervous to let someone that young read it.  A main story plot is the marraige of Zulaikha’s sister Zeynab and preparations include her receiving marital advise that makes her blush, and following the wedding night, a cloth with Zeynab’s blood is brought to Zulaikha’s family.  No explanation is given and many readers may just brush over it, however, if asked, it could be awkward to explain to a fourth grader.  Additionally during a conversation between Zulaikha and Zeynab, Zeynab says about some of her marriage difficulties, “Every night. . .He wants me to have a son, but I don’t know, , ,”.  Definitely something to consider when recommending this book to someone younger. 


Thirteen-year-old Afghani girl, Zulaikha, has a tough life.  Born with a cleft lip and having lost her mother to the Taliban she spends her days with her older sister Zeynab caring for her two younger brothers, prepparing food for her father and older brother, and constantly being berrated by her step-mother.  Set in a post Taliban setting, Zulaikha stumbles across a woman in town that remembers her as a child and used to teach her mother.  Drawn to Meena, Zulaikha begins fullfilling her mother’s dream by meeting secretly with Meena to learn how to read and right and understand the poetry of her homeland.  Things really start to look up as the American army rolls in and hires her father, a welder, on some of their new buildings, and offers to fund reconstructive surgery for her lip.  Arrangements are also made for her sister to marry a prominent man in the community.  However, things don’t go exactly as planned, and Zulaikha and her family must evaluate what they want and how much they mean to each other.


The story doesn’t assume anything about the characters or society, American and Afghan alike, which to me seems authentic.  It doesn’t feel as if stereotypes are perpetuated or intentionally broken down, there is simply diversity of thought, opportunity and action. The book doesn’t shy away from American arrogance (offering the Muslim character’s pork and shaking hands with those of the opposite gender), nor does it make them seem cold hearted (they are genuinely helping Zulaikha’s family), similarily the Afghan men are loving to their wives and children, but doemstic violence is also shown.  Some of the Afghan women are educated and independent others are illiterate and dependent.  I like that the characters are religious, and hopeful that Allah will provide what is best for them.  As the characters put their trust in Allah, and endure with sabr (patience), the reader too is relieved at the ending which is both cathartic and sweet.


Reference to married life, domestic violence


Depending on the audience this book could be a GREAT book club book, it would probably need parental consent for the few items mentioned regarding marital life, but I think middle school girls would gain appreciation for their own lives and opportunities after reading about Zulaikha.

The author’s website: http://www.trentreedy.com/book-witd.html

Interview with the Author and his Publisher http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/downloads/printable/49-FE2-CaseStudyWritingMulticulturalFiction.html

The book includes an introdction by Katherine Paterson (Author of Bridge to Terabithia and numerous other books), a pronunciation guide, a glossary, an author’s note, acknowledgements, information about the poetry used in the book, and recommended reading about Afghanistan.



Wanting Mor By Rukhsana Khan




Jameela has a lot of obstacles as the book opens: poverty, her mother, Mor, has just died, a cleft lip, and an angry  father that returns to drugs and alcohol.  As the book progresses however, things don’t get better in fact they get worse.  In war-torn Afghanistan Jameela and her father move from their small village to the bustling city of Kabul, recently freed from Taliban control. With only her faith in Allah and her memory of Mor, Jameela endures being a virtual slave in one home, before being whisked away for her father’s inappropriate actions with the lady of the house.  Desperate for a place to live, Jameela’s father marries a widow for her money and Jameela becomes a slave to her new stepmother.  When her stepbrother Masood, tries to teach her how to read and write her name, her stepmother convinces Jameela’s father to take her to the busy market place and leave her.  Alone, lost, and with no where to go a kind butcher tries to help her, but ultimately she ends up in an orphanage.  Prospects look up for Jameela as she finally is allowed an education, friends, and security, however, issues with her father and stepmother must be resolved and ultimately this serves to be the biggest test for Jameela.


The story in a nutshell, is heartbreaking, yet Khan never seems to diminish the hope felt for Jameela and the belief that she will find a way to have a full life.  Based on a true story, it is hard to put the book down and the 183 pages fly by quickly.  Jameela is very devout in her prayers, her modesty and her imaan, illuminating  a story where so much sadness prevails. Her faith in Allah swt brings her peace and strength and Khan successfully passes that message on to the reader.  Jameela not only has to navigate her family issues, but also the challenge of making friends, dealing with her appearance, taking control of matters regarding her education, and so much more than most student’s coming of age have to endure.  I think Jameela’s strengths and faults will inspire and serve as lessons to the readers, most likely girls who have it much, much easier.  And who after reading the book, inshaAllah, will appreciate how much harder their lives could be.  

This is the second book I’ve read and blogged about by Rukhsana Khan, the first was a children’s fiction book My Big Red Lollipop.  The two books are both well written and I enjoy her voice as an author, this book however, Wanting Mor, while only an AR Level 3.7, I would reserve for a more mature audience.  The reading is easy and fluid, the story is powerful and well told and I think would be fine in a 7th or 8th grade and up environment.  I would be nervous to recommend this book blindly to a young adult reader without context, direction, and some background.  The incident after a party, with alcohol, where Jameela’s father enters a married woman’s room, implies more than I would want a 3rd or 4th grader inquiring about.  Details aren’t given, but it causes a huge turning point in the story and is thus critical.  At one point a character is groped in the street and Jameela laughs, highly inappropriate that it happens and equally inappropriate that Jameela laughs at her friend.

Another point I would want to discuss with anyone reading the book before hand is the concept that, If you can’t be beautiful, you should at least be good.”  Mor tells it to Jameela, presumably because of her birth defect, but I think that a young girl reading the book shouldn’t take it at face value, I would want to explain the culture, the environment, and talk about such a statement on many levels.


 Implied sexual violence, drug and alcohol use


Given the right group of older students, this book would make a decent book club selections with plenty to discuss and plenty of emotion.

The author’s website page:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/books/wantingmor.html

Teacher’s guide:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/teacherguides/Wanting%20Mor%20Teacher’s%20Guide.PDF

Wanting Mor Presentation:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/teacherguides/Wanting%20Mor%20Presentation%20Guide.PDF