Tag Archives: acceptance

Barakah Beats by Maleeha Siddiqui

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Barakah Beats by Maleeha Siddiqui

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I have been waiting for this book for a really long time: a girl leaves an Islamic school for a public middle school and is not just unapologetic, but proud of who she is and of her religion, all while navigating such a huge life change and the day-to-day stresses of school, family, friends, and life. This is it right, the middle grade 288 page book that holds up the mirror to our own experience as a typical Muslim family in the west, that so many of us have been waiting for? Except, sigh, for me it was just ok. Don’t get me wrong, if you are new to seeing mainstream (Scholastic) Muslim protagonists shining and making their salat on time, this book is revolutionary and amazing. But, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I guess I wanted more than a tweak on Aminah’s Voice. I wanted to relate. I’m not a hafiza, nor do I know many 12 year olds that are. I enjoy boy bands, but have never been asked to join one. Sure the details and her decision to follow Islam the way she understands it is a great message, but it doesn’t clearly appear til nearly the end of the book, and until I got there my brain was constantly finding holes in the narrative, to the point I got out a notebook and started taking notes. There is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t read the book, and I know I am clearly in the minority here, so brace yourself this is a long review. If you see this at your child’s book fair and you think it looks cute, grab it, it is. I am cynical and jaded and I’m owning it, so perhaps we can agree to disagree, I’m just sad that I didn’t absolutely love it, so hold on, because I’m going to get it all out so that I can move on, inshaAllah.

SYNOPSIS:

The book opens with Nimra at her Ameen, a celebration to acknowledge her completion of not just reading the entire Quran, but of memorizing it. Her best friend Jenna, her non Muslim neighbor, is there and as everything is explained to her, the readers learn about Surah Yaseen, becoming a hafiza, and the schooling differences that Nimra and Jenna have had. That night when Jenna is sleeping over and the girls are watching Marvel’s Infiniti War, Nimra’s parents inform Nimra that she will be starting public school and that the two girls will finally be together. The news is big, but Jenna shrugs it off, and Nimra senses that something is off between them. When school starts, Jenna is surprised that Nimra is planning to wear her hijab to school, and this is before they have even left in the morning. The rest of the day: comments by Jenna’s friends, purposefully being excluded at lunch by Jenna, and being overwhelmed with a big school and so many teachers, makes Nimra miss her small three person Islamic school. Additionally she loves art, and is always tucked away in a corner with a sketch pad, her parents, however, have made her take Spanish instead of art class, and the frustration is painful. When she asks the principal for a quiet place to pray, another girl Khadijah pipes up that she can pray in the band room where she does. Khadija and her immediately hit it off, but she has already prayed, so Nimra sets off on her own to find the room. As she is about to start, some music starts, so to tune it out and focus on her salat, she recites aloud. When she exits, three boys are in awe at her vocal abilities: Bilal, Waleed, and Matthew, three Muslim boys. Better known as the middle school celebrity boy band, Barakah Beats, the boys beg her to join them. Nimra says she’ll think about it, but as the days show her and Jenna drifting further apart, being in the band might just be the way to get Jenna to pay attention. Unfortunately, Nimra’s family doesn’t believe Islam allows for musical instruments. She acknowledges that it is controversial, but that her family doesn’t play any instruments, attend concerts, or get up and dance. She figures she can join the band, just long enough to get Jenna’s friendship back on track and then dump the band without having to tell her parents. There is just one giant hiccup, they are planning to perform at a refugee fundraiser, oh and she really likes hanging out with the boys and Bilal’s sister Khadijah.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Had I read this book five maybe seven years ago, I’d be gushing, swooning, but when the author says in the forward that she is showing a girl proudly owning her religion, and essentially daring to be her authentic self, I expect something almost radical, revolutionary even. We are all settling in to seeing our Muslim selves in fiction and acknowledging that we are not a monolith, that we are diverse and flawed and valuable, but this premise felt different somehow, and I really wanted to connect with Nimra and her family, so when I didn’t, it hurt. It isn’t just a main character Muslim POV, or an OWN voice book, it is portrayed as being authentic to those of us that love our faith and don’t feel like we need to tone it down to be American. We are second or third generation American Muslim, we know our deen and this is our country, there is no going back to a homeland or assimilating. The book is about her being true to her self, but I don’t know that I know what she wants or what she believes, aside from her parents. The book addresses intergenerational conflict of power and expectation between her parents and grandparents, but other than for Spanish vs Art class, it seems to skim by the music issue, the main issue of the book. The book expects readers to acknowledge the maturity and voice of a 12 year old girl, but that same expectation isn’t given to the readers of nearly the same age. It glosses over any articulate arguments for why musical instruments are or are not allowed. It mentions that some people feel it is ok if the lyrics are not bad, some say it isn’t ok, that there are disagreements, that there are controversies, but it never explicitly answers, why? And readers are going to notice. I found it incredibly odd, that the music controversy is at the heart of this book, but the safe alternative is art and drawing. Drawing faces is a HUGE point of differing opinions among Muslims, perhaps as big, if not bigger than music. Nimra is always sketching and it mentions that she often is drawing super heroes: people, with faces, and possibly (magic) powers! The whole book she is in the band, and she regrets that she is using it to get back at her friend, but there isn’t a whole lot of internal debate if she thinks music is haram like her parents or it is ok, she just stays in the band, and plots how she will leave it so her parents don’t find out. SPOILER: I like that she ultimately makes the decision that is best for her and leaves the band after fulfilling her commitment, but we never see that, that is what her heart is telling her. There is no self exploration or critical thinking, it is just justifying why she is doing it, and then not doing it.

In terms of character development, only Nimra is really explored, the side characters are all pretty flat. Jenna gets some depth, but not much. I mean, how does Nimra’s best friend and neighbor who comes over every day after school not know that she has been working on memorizing the Quran? Not know how to dress at a religious themed celebration, a halter dress, really? Jenna is never shown to be a good friend, or even a nice person, the tone around her is negative from the start. We are told she is a good friend, but we never see it. The conversation about Nimra wearing hijab to school is like two lines, but is made to be a much bigger issue in Nimra’s head as she feels things haven’t been right since then. But, I’m not buying it. The girls go to movies, they go shopping, and she wears hijab, so why would school be so different? All of Jenna’s friends know about Nimra, so she can’t really be that embarrassed by Nimra’s scarf if they go out when she is wearing it and none of the other classmates seem surprised. I also felt off with the portrayal of the character because we so fervently believe that often the best dawah or even method to break down stereotypes and bigotry is to get to know some one personally. Jenna knows all of Nimra’s family and has for nearly her whole life, and she is so hateful and clueless to everything Islam? It is a stretch, the family prays, fasts, dresses Islamically, cares for her, feeds her cultural food, yet she is oblivious to it all. I get that her hate or lack of interest is probably reflective of how a lot of our neighbors are, but there aren’t many non Muslims in this book, and that portrayal is going to linger heavily for young readers.

Nimra is likeable enough on the surface, but the more you think about her, she isn’t really any different than those she is hurt by. She is mad when Julie assumes she doesn’t speak English, but she assumes Matthew isn’t Muslim because he is white. She checks her self in other ways, but this one seems to slip by. Other inconsistencies I noticed are when the first day of school teachers are really mean to her, but then it is never mentioned again. I wanted to know did they keep at it, did she prove them wrong? It was built up and then just abandoned. At her old school there were two other girls doing hifz, but when she meets up with one at Saturday school it seems they both are no longer at the school either. Did they graduate? Did they abandon it? Her Quran teacher comes to see her perform a song, perhaps a little understanding about her point of view in addition to the other Muslim’s in the band would have helped explain the why music is controversial in Islam. Also, does and would ADAMS allow music at an event? I’m genuinely curious. I even tried to Google it. Most masjids probably wouldn’t, but maybe a community center would. Readers are going to be so confused why Nimra is so stressed when the religious teacher and the place of worship are fine with it.

The friends as boys thing is sweet, but a little surprising, having three boys come over to hang out and watch a movie, high fiving them, sure it isn’t shocking, but its a bit inconsistent given the narrative. Plus, Nimra trying to help hook Waleed and Julie up? For as much as the book doesn’t want to sell itself out, little acts like this without a little hesitation or comment or introspection, kind of make it seem like its trying to normalize non Islamic acts as being ok.

I love the pop culture Marvel references, The Greatest Showman songs and the shoutout to Amal Unbound. I even loved the Deen Squad remixes getting acknowledged, but it made me wonder if all the songs of Barakah Beats are Islamic themed. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it would be interesting to know since the entire school adores the band, even asking for autographs at one point.

FLAGS:

Nothing a third grader and up couldn’t handle: music, art, lying, bullying, talking about crushes.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think I’d pass on the book as a middle school book club option, as it really is a middle grades read, and the thematic issues brought up for discussion are better found elsewhere. If I had an in person classroom, however, I would have the book on my shelf, it is a quick short read, that I think might encourage a discussion on music to take place, or at least allow readers to see a proud Muslim doing well in different environments.

I am Brown by Ashok Banker illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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I am Brown by Ashok Banker illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

This 40 page celebration of diversity within the label “brown” is a sweet and powerful book that shows how the color of our skin is beautiful and perfect while at the same time making it clear that who we are and what we can be is not defined by our appearance.  The book shows adorably illustrated brown children finding strength in different cultures, clothing, religions, languages and dreams, which will hopefully empower children everywhere (and of all colors) to take labels that may have negative connotations and turn them in to positive affirmations of identity and strength.  There isn’t a story with a plot, but with the regular inclusion of a girl with a scarf on, and the mention of a mosque, I thought to highlight it.  The book is perfect for preschool and up.  

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The book starts with a little girl identifying herself as brown, beautiful and being perfect.  It then stretches to her being love, friendship and happiness.

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From there it branches out to a whole cast of kids identifying the variety of things they can be, from a writer to an electrician to a prime minister. the same kids then do and make and work on things before identifying where they come from and what languages they speak.  

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The kids all have different hair on their heads and faces and even no hair at all. They live in different dwellings, they like to do different things. 

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Brown people are not a monolith, the kids show that they eat different foods in different ways, that they wear different clothes.

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People with brown skin are roommates and teachers and friends and classmates.  Some go to temple or church, others a mosque or shrine, some not at all. 

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The book ends with a close up of three smiling faces proclaiming, “I am brown.  I am amazing.  I am You.”

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I’m sure people will argue that if you switch out white for brown the book would be deemed racist, and you are correct it would be.  But as a group that is marginalized as “other” and often the darker brown you are with in the brown subset moves you “value” and “worth” down, makes a book celebrating the strength and beauty of “brown” so necessary and heart warming.  I personally am the lightest “brown” imaginable being only half Pakistani.  So, believe me I have privilege in the desi community, but I don’t find this book offensive at all.  I’ve read this book at least a dozen times and my impressions alternate between beaming with pride and tears that so many beautiful people feel less than because of skin color and yes, anger too,  that people are MADE to feel less than.   May we all be more inclusive, more loving, and more open to the diversity of the human being. Ameen.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

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Thorn by Intisar Khanani

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I finished this book, all 512 pages, and before closing it at 12:44 am, I picked up my phone and sent the author a thank you message on instagram.  Yes, it was that good and that fun, and so well written and so encompassing that I don’t feel like I read a book, I feel like I got to know a friend.  There is abuse, and death and sexual assault, but I think thirteen and up can handle and appreciate the crimes and the severity of them, as they are not taken lightly.  The book has magic and royalty, but is so much more about choice and justice and making life meaningful, that Thorn will stay with you as you imagine her life, long after you turn the last page.  ***I did not know it was a retelling of Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm prior to reading the book, and only read it after writing this review, so forgive me for being so swept away by Falada and Kestrin and loathsome to Corbe’ and Valka, if it so irks you that I am.***

SYNOPSIS:

Princess Alyrra is set to marry Prince Kestrin in a neighboring country.  Unloved and unwanted by her own mother and abused by her brother, none of the royal family can figure out why the King of Menaiya would be coming to see her and appraise the match.  One possibility is because the royal Menaiyan family tends to disappear at alarming rates, and Alyrra might just be a princess that no one will miss.  When a Menaiyan mage comes to warn her and is pushed aside by a magic Lady, Alyrra may be leaving an abusive brother, but getting herself a much bigger nightmare to manage.

Alyrra is known for her honesty.  She stood up for a servant against a Lord’s daughter and prospective wife for her brother, and since then, the royals despise her and the servants adore her.  She spends her time with the holsters and cooks and they keep her aware of her cruel brother’s locations.  When the visiting entourage comes, they see her tormentor and give her a security detail, as well as see how she is beloved by the staff.

Once the match is arranged she is off to Menaiya with Valka, the girl she revealed to be a thief.  Along the way, the Lady presents herself again and switches Valka and Alyrra’s bodies, to give Valka another chance to be queen and to use the real Valka as a tool to destroy the royal family.  The only person in the traveling group aware of the switch, and that can see through it, is Falada a white talking horse, that only speaks to the real Alyrra and refuses to be ridden.

When the girls arrive at the palace, the pretend princess dismisses Alyrra, who has decided to rename herself Thoreena, Thorn.  She asks the king if there are any available positions and thus becomes the Goose Girl.

Thorn is still summoned to the castle to write letters home for the imposter and the prince and former security quad find something off with a former lady of the court finding such contentment in manual labor.  As she settles in to life with the other employees she finds laughter and companionship and only Falada prods her to reclaim her position as princess and save Prince Kestrin from the Lady.

When Falada is killed, and street justice is called on to avenge the brutal rape and killing of a friend, Thorn must decide to enjoy her quiet life or step up and be the change the people and royals of Menaiya need.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it isn’t a sappy love story, it really could have been, but Thorn is calling the shots and she is enough without anyone or with everyone.  I love that she is secure in any role and that her sense of loyalty and obligation comes from within.  The writing is seamless, so often things are repeated and forced upon in a first person present tense story, but this read easily and held my interest.  I love the titles and some of the sprinkling of made up words, it gave depth and richness, as well as the struggle that Thorn had to go through to speak the language.  I loved that she had to work to acquire the skills to communicate and that it was a part of the story, it didn’t just happen, nor did it get swept aside.

Thorn is religious, but no idea what religion or what it means, she seeks going to the temple for peace and clarity, and we know she takes off her shoes, but that is about it.  The author is Muslim and the book is superb.  I had my daughter read it before I read it, and she in turn made me read it, even watching her younger siblings so I could sneak away.

FLAGS:

Death, murder, public execution, hanging, sexual assault, rape, abuse, violence.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I am thinking to do it as a book club book if and when we return to school.  It would depend a bit on the group, but I think older middle school could handle it toward the end of the year.  There is a lot to discuss, a lot that readers could understand differently regarding the Lady, when her secret identity was blown, the value of love and choice, that I am confident that the conversation would be rich and enlightening.

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

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The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

saidaThis absolutely gorgeous lyrical book will sweep you up and hold you tight as you imagine a world where more people take the time to get to know one another through the power and beauty of language.  Over 32 pages that are exquisitely and whimsically illustrated the words dance and come to life in English and Arabic as a friendship is formed.  Perfect for preschool through 3rd graders, older children and adults alike will be softened by the kindness and example shown between two little girls.

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Told from the perspective of a little girl that meets a new girl in school named Saida and decides right away that they are going to be friends.  Unfortunately Saida speaks only Arabic, and the little girl only English.

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But it is no problem, because the little girl is going to help Saida find her words.  She is going to look everywhere to let her get rid of her tears and throw away her silence.  So that she doesn’t see questions and sadness locked up in her.

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That night at home, the little girl’s parents tell her about Morocco and find it on the globe.  They explain that Saida’s words don’t work here and that her words wouldn’t work in Morocco.

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Undeterred the two girls start teaching each other words in their languages.  Some stick, some float away, but the two learn and communicate and connect. They find friendship in learning each other’s words.

They recite a poem by Jacqueline Woodson and tells stories about Marrakesh. The two girls plan to travel the world together. The book concludes with both alphabets shared and the reader wishing to join the little girls on their adventures.

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I was blown away by the presentation of the book and the feeling of compassion and cultural appreciation depicted.  Such a beautiful approach to welcoming someone different in to your life.

There is nothing Islamic or religious in the book, or really even cultural, aside from language.

Eid Breakfast at Abuela’s by Mariam Saad illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

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Eid Breakfast at Abuela’s by Mariam Saad illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

breakfastThis book is the first in a series (hopefully) called Trilingual Sofia, where English is the predominant language, and Spanish and Arabic are interwoven to tell the story.  Focusing on Eid and spending the holiday in Mexico with her non Muslim grandmother, the story with bright illustrations is a celebration of diversity, acceptance, family, and Eid.

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Sofia has had a special Ramadan.  She tried fasting for the first time and now that the month is over, they are breaking their fast and then getting on a plane to Mexico to have Eid breakfast with her Abuela.

On the plane she keeps her pretzel bag to add to her scrapbook and then they get changed into their Eid clothes before they land.  Once in Mexico they go straight to the mosque to meet their friends and then to Abuela’s house.

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Abuela’s house is decorated for Eid and all the family is there.  They eat breakfast together and the kids play games and sing songs and take pictures.

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The 32 page 8.5 by 8.5 inch hardback book claims to be for toddles and preschoolers, but I think it is more for kids in early elementary with the small and ample text.  The Spanish words are highlighted in green and Sofia teaches some Arabic to her Mexican cousins.  There is a glossary of all three languages at the end.  

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The book is not meant only for Muslim children, but it doesn’t explain Ramadan or Eid, so while Muslim’s might be able to connect the dots of why she only fasted the last two hours of a day or why they went to the mosque before they went to Abuela’s, I wish the book explained it.

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I love that their are subtle connections between the three languages, like Angel Gabriel/Jibreel and the name Yusuf/Joseph.  The book is a great example of Islam outside of the Middle East and the Asian subcontinent and I truly hope there are more books in this series and more books like it to show the diversity of Islam and the commonalities we all share.

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

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The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

 

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This 36 page picture book tells a beautifully presented story that incorporates events from the author’s real life that convey a story of loving your culture, finding similarities and giving people a second chance.  Ideal for students between 2nd and 4th grade, younger children will enjoy having the story read to them, and older kids will benefit from the message as well.

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Kanzi is about to start her first day of 3rd grade in a new school.  It doesn’t specify if she has just come from Egypt, but being she seems to speak English well, knows that she’d rather have peanut butter and jelly instead of a kofta sandwich and mentions that she got a quilt when she visited her grandmother, in Egypt, she possibly is just starting a new school, not her first in America, but it is considered an immigrant story, so I’m not certain. E403D261-438B-4263-A2FB-C3F8693C9D3E

When she arrives in class and introduces herself she bravely says that she is Egyptian-American, but on the way to school she turns down the Arabic music in the car, so the reader sees that she is a little nervous about being seen as “different.”  When her hijab wearing mom brings her forgotten kofta sandwich and calls Kanzi ‘Habibti,’ classmate Molly teases her that she is being called a hobbit.

A crying Kanzi tells her teacher and Mrs. Haugen reassures her that “being bilingual is beautiful.”  That night Kanzi asks her mom to send her a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day, and before beds she writes a poem as she snuggles in her beloved quilt.

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At school Molly apologizes to her and says that it just sounded funny.  Kanzi tells Molly it is because she doesn’t speak Arabic and that her mom says that “learning different languages makes a person smarter and kinder.”  Molly dismisses the comment and smugly walks off.

Mrs. Haugen sees Kanzi’s poem about her quilt from her grandma in Egypt and asks her to bring her quilt to school. The kids love it, and Friday Kanzi’s mom shows up to help with a special project: an Arabic quilt with the kids names.

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Molly is not enthusiastic and Mrs. Haugen writes English words that come from Arabic on the board: coffee, lemon, sugar, algebra.  Telling the kids that “we can speak non-English languages and still be American.”

Kanzi and her mom write the kids names down and the children copy them.  The teacher cuts them out and makes a quilt to hang in the hall.  On Monday when everyone sees the quilt, they love the beautiful letters and colors.  Even Molly sincerely apologizes and asks Kanzi to write her mom’s name in Arabic as a gift.  The two hug and seemingly will become friends.

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Across the hall another quilt is hung with names in Japanese, as another student and teacher were inspired by Kanzi and her quilt.  The last page of the story is a letter Kanzi has written to her parents telling them how grateful she is that she has two languages and that she will speak them without guilt.

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The story is beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated on well-sized 9.5 x 10.5 pages in a hardback binding.  The mom wears hijab and it mentions it, but there is nothing religious about the text.  It is a universal story of coming to be proud of your roots and inviting those around you to learn and grow.  There is a Glossary of Arabic Words at the end and a bit about the author and illustrator.

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My kids favorite page by far was reading the names written in Arabic and they all enjoyed the story (ages 13, 10, 9, 4).  I actually had an issue when Molly apologized the first time, feeling that Kanzi’s response was a bit pretentious to what seemed like an 8 year old being told to go say she was sorry, but my older three unanimously and fervently disagreed with me, saying that she was obviously insincere and Kanzi knew it.  I’d love to hear from other readers if they felt like Molly was sufficient in saying sorry and admitting that it sounded funny and that Kanzi was arrogant in saying that people that know two languages are smarter and kinder, or if Molly was being rude and racist and Kanzi was sticking up for herself.

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Irregardless, the book is well done, enjoyable, and will get repeated reads by a large range of readers.  My children keep pulling it off the book shelf, and for that I need to thank Gayatri Sethi (@desibookaunty) who generously sent me the book the same day I checked it out from the public library.  Her generosity once again is a gift that I hope to pay forward in the future.  This book also highlights how amazing teachers can be and often are in facilitating inclusion, understanding, and respect.

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Badir and the Beaver by Shannon Stewart illustrated by Sabrina Gendron

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Badir and the Beaver by Shannon Stewart illustrated by Sabrina Gendron

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This 92 page early chapter book is a great linear story for 1st through 3rd graders.  The size, font, spacing, illustrations, chapter length, and content make it a fun read that incorporates diversity, environmental action, teamwork, information about beavers and acceptance all through the efforts of young Badir, a recent immigrant from Tunisia during the blessed month of Ramadan.

SYNOPSIS:

Badir is new to Canada and while he misses Tunisia, he is joyful and upbeat as we meet his older brother Anis, young twin siblings and classmates.  Out one night before iftar, he sees what he thinks is a giant rat swimming in a lake, but no one believes him.  When he sees it a second time, a lady at the park explains to him that it is a beaver, not a rat, and pulls out a Canadian coin to show him there is a connection between beavers and Canada.  With new knowledge about the difference between a lake and a pond, a rat and a beaver, Badir is fascinated with how beavers build homes, mate for life, and benefit the environment.  He even likens the beaver eating at sunset to his families own Ramadan schedule.

But all is not well for the beaver, as a petition is being circulated to relocate the rodent and save the trees in the park from his sharp teeth.  With new friends, a supportive teacher and classmates, Badir is determined to prevent the beaver from having to leave his home as Badir and his family had to do.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that this book is subtle in highlighting the welcoming of immigrants into a community, about having the main character be Muslim and it being Ramadan, and showing that diverse people can come together for a bigger cause and even become friends.  The main story line is naturally to save the beaver and the trees in the park, so the information and facts about beavers is appreciated and well presented.  I think most everyone of every age will learn something new about the common rodent.  But, by the main character being genuinely like-able and infectious, the reader will also realize that any negative stereotypes about Muslims or immigrants really aren’t a factor.  Badir’s family is really nice, the parents prepare food together, they feed their kids’ friends, and invite them over. The author does a good job at accurately making them seem like any other family.

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There isn’t much stress on Badir being Muslim or what that means outside of it being Ramadan, praying, and going to the mosque as a family at night.  The illustrations show the mom in hijab. The book tells a tiny bit about Tunisia, but not why they left, and definitely makes the foods they eat sound delicious.  Overall, it really does a good job of keeping the book about the beaver and finding a solution.

The book is for both non Muslims and Muslims and seems to be written by a non Muslim, and while set in Ramadan it is definitely not limited to being a “Ramadan story.”  There are small pictures on many pages and a full page picture in each of the 12 chapters.

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FLAGS:

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book should be in classrooms and school libraries.  It really is well written, informative, and fun.  I don’t do a story time for the target audience of this book, but I think it would be a candidate for my “Lunch Bunch” meetings, when I read aloud to 4th and 5th graders once a week while they eat lunch.  Even if it is slightly below a 5th grade level, I think even older kids who pick it up and read it, or listen to it being read, will find it interesting, entertaining, and worth their time.

Publisher’s page: https://www.orcabook.com/Badir-and-the-Beaver-P3992.aspx

 

 

 

 

Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen illustrated by Ronald Himler

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Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen illustrated by Ronald Himler

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It isn’t often that I feel compelled to list all the things I like about a book and all the things I don’t like about a book and count them up to see what I think about a book.  Especially when the book is only 32 pages and an AR 3.2, but this book has me on the fence.

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It is Layla’s first day of school and presumably she is shy.  That’s what the other kids say at least.  The story follows her and the class throughout a typical first grade day, there is no climax or problem, there is just her and her classmates moving from circle time, to the library, to lunch, to recess, to art, and then her joining in at circle time the next day.  

Along the way the kids comment on her scarf, the librarian brings her a book about her country with pictures of sun and sand and veiled women.  The lunch lady looks at her rice and pea pie and says it looks yummy, the kids tell her to take off her hat to play easier, other characters stick up for her and try to correct other classmates that it isn’t a hat, it is a scarf. 

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During art time, she paints her family and the women all wear hijabs, a few kids say they look funny, a few others stick up for her, she ends up crying, but the kids come together to make her feel better and to articulate that in America people can wear what they want.  Some kids talk about family members wearing yarmulkas and others about braiding their hair, but there is no reason given for why Layla wears a hijab.

I don’t think any of the kids are intentionally mean or malicious, they are curious and not given any answers by Layla or any of the adults.  As a result when the book is over, the reader similarly has no answers.  Despite that though, I think readers will get the power of kindness and with some (a lot of) discussion, understand how we can help people feel comfortable and celebrate differences.

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Here is my pro and con list about the book:

PROS:

Book about hijab is included in a mainstream series meant for 1st graders (We Love First Grade!) 

Kindness comes through.

Kids stick up for each other.

Librarian found a book about Layla’s country and read it to the kids.

Kids include Layla while playing.

Illustrations are soft and realistic.

Diversity in the classroom.

CONS:

The book is about hijab, but nothing is learned about hijab.

Lots of stereotypes: girl doesn’t speak englishF from the desert, different food. 

Focus is on differences not similarities.

1st graders aren’t required to wear hijab.

Islam isn’t mentioned, but the Jewish kid mentions his faith.

Don’t learn what her lunch is called or what country she is from.

If she doesn’t speak English how did she label everyone in her picture?

Clearly she understands English, she is just shy, so why does she mess up the song at the end?

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Luckily the book was in the public library, so I don’t feel like I bought something that I am unhappy with.  I don’t know that I would recommend it to anyone, but it is always nice to see a muhajaba in a story, and there isn’t anything “wrong” with the book, it just lacks a lot of detail unfortunately.

Love by Matt de la Pena illustrated by Loren Long

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Love by Matt de la Pena illustrated by Loren Long

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This 40-page-book may have a simple title, but most of us know, there is nothing simple about love, and this book shows love in many forms from a child’s perspective as they grow.  Sometimes picture books are basic and inspired to teach, or simply entertain.  Sometimes when picture books try to do more, the audience is confused when the pictures and amount of text on page don’t seem to align.  And sometimes, large pictures, with thoughtful poetry make the pages come to life and sing.  The book is written on an AR 3.7, so people thinking this book is for preschool aged children seem to be upset by the concepts hinted at and illustrated, but for older kids, this book has amazing power, and beauty that can show just how complex this universal feeling is.  

Love is your parent’s voice, love is burnt toast, love is the stars after your house burns down, love is in your grandpa’s wrinkles, love is staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.  But sometimes love also burns out and love is shielding you from things that might hurt you, and love separates people too. 

 

As humans, we can all relate to the same emotions, whether we give and receive love the same, the book shows the value and meaning it has to us all.  Hurray for illustrator Loren Long, because page after page, shows diversity of color, mobility, socio economics, age, and religion.  On a page where the love of the child is keeping her from seeing the TV that the family is crowded around a cross is present, and then a few pages later,bam, there is a girl in hijab looking up at the trees and listening to the love shared in their rustling. 

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I had no idea this illustration was present, and gasped aloud.  I said nothing to my daughter, finished the book, and handed it to her to read.  She turned the page and gasped aloud as well saying, “there’s a muhajaba, haha, we are in it too.”  Granted she is my daughter, so environment and genes account for something, but EVERY PAGE I think resonates with someone, and that gasp in my living room from me, from her, could come from anyone who turns a page in this book and bam suddenly feels represented, feels included, feels validated.  That my friends, is LOVE. 

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We are more alike than different.

 

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

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This is the perfect book for back to school.  It can set a beautiful tone of letting all children know that they are welcome, that they are accepted, that they are safe, that they are wanted and that they have value in your classroom.  It could also work to allay children’s fears heading in to a new environment, assuming of course that the environment is as fabulous as the one presented in the book.  

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The large, hardback 44 page book with a poster and large pullout concluding page, is fantastic for ages preschool and up, but would have value as part of any grades back to school message.  

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While the rhyming couplets are sweet and sincere, the real beauty of the book are the illustrations.  Bringing all that diversity to life in smiling kids faces, children with hijabs, and yarmulkes, patkas, baseball caps, glasses, curly hair, straight hair, every color of the rainbow, various physical abilities, all show what a day of inclusion can look like.  No one culture or background is articulated or placed higher than another and the coming together of the kids and then their parents and community is inspiring.

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I love that their is a little muhajaba on the the cover and included in the cultural acceptance of the book.  It shows her praying in one picture and then joining in and smiling with the rest of the diverse group of characters in the other pictures.  Feeling included and accepted whether in a classroom, or in a children’s book, feels good, at any age, alhumdulillah. 

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A special shout-out to all the educators and people in positions of power who go the extra mile to create a safe and accepting space, thank you.

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