Tag Archives: birthday

Salat in Secret by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Hatem Aly

Salat in Secret by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Hatem Aly


It is quite remarkable in the course of 40 pages that so many themes, layers, emotions, windows, mirrors, and relevance can radiate with ease and entertainment for children four and up.  The authenticity of the text and illustrations create tangible feels in this book, that months after reading it for the first time, I am still moved to tears, both inspired by joy and as a cathartic release of being seen.  The true mastery is that even if you are not Muslim and cannot relate to the nervousness of praying publicly, you understand Muhammad’s hesitancy and feel for him as he battles not just finding a place, but watching onlookers reactions to his father, police proximity, and being brave enough to push yourself even when you are scared.  Usually when asked what my favorite book is, I stumble to narrow it down to just one, but truly this book has raised the bar of not just traditional publishing representation, but Islamic/Muslim literature across the board.  It is a gift to read, to share, to enjoy, and a blessing that such an unapologetic book is available so widely for our children to connect with, and our non Muslim friends to see us through.  Please spend time with this book and make it available to your children, your students, your community, it really is that good, alhumdulillah.


It is Muhammad’s birthday and he is seven, “Old enough to pray five times a day,” his father gifts him a prayer rug, and  Muhammad is ecstatic.  He makes wudu that night and offers salat with full attention.  He says the Sunday school words and shares his most wished for wishes to Allah swt, not even letting little sister, Maryama distract him.

After Fajr the next morning, he is determined to find a secret place at school to pray Dhuhr. Daddy doesn’t need secret places, if prayer time comes he pulls his ice cream truck over and prays on the sidewalk, “never delay salat.”  At school, Muhammad heads to Mrs. Baker to ask for a place to pray, but his confidence waivers and he returns to his seat.


Anxiety about where to pray has him looking for spots throughout the morning, but when recess comes he finds he can’t take the prayer rug out from under his jacket.  He lingers when everyone returns to class and rushes through the words and motions in the coat closet.

That evening he is with his daddy in the ice cream truck and the sunshine and smiles pour out of the two.  When the sun sets it is Maghrib time and Daddy heads to the sidewalk to pray, reassuring Muhammad that he can pray at home.  Muhammad watches his dad and various events spur him to make his decision.


I love love love the way salat is approached with love and excitement and that the dad embodies safety and joy and does not pressure or force Muhammad.  The relationship is beautiful and allows for worship to be seen as both personal, as well as obligatory and merciful.  The duo also show a great parent child dynamic that warms the heart.


I like that there really isn’t any “hate” given to anyone praying, it is hinted at, people do not understood, but the focus is not on the outside bystanders- it is what Muhammad thinks and feels.  I’m fairly certain every Muslim who has prayed in public has encountered a wide variety of responses, and this book keeps the gray to reflect and spark conversation.  It is often met with ignorance, with hate, with aggression, but it is also met with respect, apathy, and curiosity which the text and illustrations allow for.


There is so much love and joy in the book as well as identity, that I don’t mind one bit that my littles ask me to read it over and over.  It is perfect for groups, one-on-one, and I cannot wait to share it in a story time, there is also an incredibly informative and heartfelt Author’s Note at the end.  If you haven’t preordered it yet, the book releases on June 6, 2023, please pre order it and signal the support for this book and future books that center authentic Muslim joy, Black Muslim representation, and OWN voice author and illustrator accuracy.  Request it at your library, put it on hold at your library, check it out, read it.  If you cannot preorder it, still purchase it when you can, inshaAllah it will be a beloved book in your home as well.

Grounded: A Novel by Aisha Saeed, Huda Al-Marashi, Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow and S.K. Ali

Grounded: A Novel by Aisha Saeed, Huda Al-Marashi, Jamilah Thompkins Bigelow and S.K. Ali

Over the years I’ve read to a lot of kids, with a lot of kids, discussed books in classrooms, and in book clubs, so when reviewing I often share what kids think or what I imagine kids will think, and I usually acknowledge when I’m being overly critical as a reviewer, but this book I will tell you, I did not read through the intended middle grade lens, I read it as a 42 year old seasoned reader.  I know this because I cried during the entire second half, and the book is not sad.  It is fast paced, joyful and adventure filled.  I cried at the ownership of identity, the pureness of friendship, the acceptance of the flaws and strengths of those closest to us, the love of family and that this book is written by four incredible Muslim women authors for Muslim kids to be seen and for non Muslims to see Muslim kids in action in a fantastic, non preachy, authentic, powerful engaging story.  In short I loved it.  I love that the voices are different, but polished and seamless in conveying a fictional story with universal themes through a variety of Muslim characters without talking down or over explaining anything. From the maps to the crossover character Hanna from S.K. Ali books, the poetry from they young lyricist to the representation and discussions of Muslims not being a monolith, and the sprinkling of a Hadith or Quranic ayat here and there (I wish there was more), the book tugged at my heart strings.  For kids third grade and up, some of those themes might resonate, or it might just be a book about a lost cat in an airport and a hodgepodge group of strangers, turning friends, stranded in an airport searching for her while dodging security and exasperated parents.


The end of the MONA  (Muslims of North America) Conference has lots of families at the fictional Zora Neale Hurston heading home.  Tired parents and restless kids lead Feek’s little sister Ruqi to go missing and Feek to blame.  As he searches for his little sister he meets Hanna, a girl looking for a lost cat, not her lost cat, just one she has heard about from her animal activist group that is missing at the airport.  As they search for Ruqi, Sami gets dragged along even though he’d rather be mentally keeping his anxiety in check as he prepares for the Karate competition he is heading to.  Luckily Nora, Congresswoman Najjar’s daughter, finds Ruqi and the five strangers are brought together.  When all flights are grounded because of weather, the group goes in search of the missing cat, Snickerdoodle, finding leads, security, secret corridors, self confidence, friendship, and skills along the way.


I knew the book would be good with the authors’ names on the cover and their ability to tell a good story, but I was still blown away by how real the characters were fleshed out and their “problems” articulated.  The emotional connection to each character facing their insecurities and supporting one another’s’ vulnerabilities was reflective and insightful. I love the diverse inclusion of showing Muslims that don’t speak Arabic or don’t know if they are Muslim enough, of Black Muslims and Black culture, of being an only children and struggling with siblings, understanding parental expectation and finding your voice to speak up to those you love.  The surface story is paced well and entertaining and sufficient, but the details and the story beneath the surface, really is powerful.

Again with the reviewer lens- I did wish in the middle there was a tiny bit more inclusion of a Bismillah when following a lead or an AstugfirAllah when breaking a rule or a quick prayer when running from authorities, the beginning and end was Islamically rooted, but as an Islamic School Librarian, I must admit I’d like a few more mentions during the “adventure” parts.


The kids are dishonest, they break rules (possibly laws), they lie, and do some damage, they sneak and kind of talk back to their parents, nothing is normalized or accepted though and they are called to account.  There is a birthday that is celebrated with everyone singing, and possible triggers of talking about a deceased parent. The kids are 12/13 and younger, and brought together by circumstance, but by the end the girls and boys have developed close friendships.


Even though the book is meant for middle grades, I think younger middle school readers would enjoy the book and find plenty to discuss as they see themselves and others in the characters, imagine what they would do in such a situation, and get swept up in the ride.