Tag Archives: canada

Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin

Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin


I get teased a lot by my Lit Sisters for enjoying Hana Khan Carries On so much, so I’m writing this review to convince them why I think this is Uzma Jalaluddin’s best book yet, and why they should preorder here and dive in ASAP! First note that is an adult read, it is not targeted to teens, the protagonist for the majority of the book is nearly 30 years old. It is a romance, it is not a hundred percent halal, but it is definitely halal-ish, and if you feel like you reach a point where it absolutely isn’t, please keep reading (you might be surprised).  The book for being what I thought would be an empty calorie rom-com guilty pleasure snack, tells the story of Nada in spiraling layers that keep the reader hooked.  Just when you think it is predictable and tropey, the next layer peels back a twist and depth that kept me ignoring my kids and glued to the pages for two days straight.  I furiously scribbled notes writing down “haram” deal breakers and most by the end where crossed off, so no this is not Islamic fiction, but there is no internalized Islamophobia, there is no liberal agenda, the author knows the lines and is abiding by them and occasionally breaking them in a fictional entertainment world for Muslim and non Muslim readers alike.  I hate to compare, but in many ways it reads like an adult S.K. Ali book.  There is social commentary on Islamic communities from a place of love and practice from the inside, there are relatable characters, there is humor, there is love, laughter, and warmth. On occasion there is skirting of the halal/haram line a bit here and there, and sure males and females are a little too friendly at times, but it isn’t the oppressive parents and identity crisis, it is joy. Muslim reality and stress, with true mirroring joy as well.

So why am I reviewing this book here? Simple so you can enjoy it.  So often I feel like reviewers particularly, but casual readers as well, become nervous while reading, that the book is going to take a turn and become haram or preachy that we can’t just get lost in the story.  So my gift to you, is that if you enjoy rom-coms and don’t usually go for “Muslamic” ones because of apprehension, you can dive in and enjoy this.  You can laugh when they ask for a doctor at an Islamic convention, you can roll your eyes when hijabi’s bring extra scarves to throw on the stage of the band (there is a guitar player, but mostly daf and vocals), you can be upset at the slight physical touching (keep reading), and you can nod along with the commentary on divorce, misogyny, wheelchair access, and mental health, but you can also just cheer for the protagonist to find her way to happiness and love too.

SYNOPSIS: (Will be brief because other wise there will be too many spoilers, and because of how the book is told, you don’t want spoilers, trust me, you want to enjoy)

The book opens with Nada trying to hide from both her mom who wants discuss her future and her best friend Haleema who is determined to have a girls weekend with her bestie at the Deen & Duniya Islamic conference in Toronto.  Cornered she finds herself at the conference organized by Haleema’s soon to be inlaws and face to face with a variety of characters from her past including past victims of her bullying, past love interest, past business partners, past camp roommates, college friends, startup mentors, and others- it is a very popular and large conference

Yep, that is all you are getting.


Again, to avoid spoilers I’m going to simply point out a few plot concerns I had with the book, because it is who I am, and I need to get them off my chest.

In some of the flashback scenes Nada’s voice reads the same as it does in the present.  Her articulation of Baz’s potential as a daf player at 11 years old is very mature and insightful and not realistic at all that she can opine on his skill and the role his hand size have on his mastery at that moment of the instrument.  She would probably just think, yeah he is good, or wow, he isn’t bad.

I found it odd that Marya’s husband had opinions on Nada’s makeup, it seemed a bit forward.  Also they were in line, then they left, the pacing of the scene was a little off, I read an arc, but I’m hoping it is cleaned up a bit, because it is an important scene.

Haleema is Nada’s college friend, but toward the end in college flashbacks she really disappears, and it was noticeable, because the reader is constantly told Haleema and Nada were good college friends, but never shown.  So in those scenes to not have her there, without note, is suspect.  Nada really isn’t a good friend to here either, at any stage of life save the conclusion, I’m not sure why Haleema does so much for her honestly.

There is a wedding scene without a wali, and there should be a comment as to why the wedding is performed without the religiously mandated staple or how they are getting around it.  It reads off for a book that gets so many details correct.  I am hoping that the final has it corrected! PLEASE!!!!!!

Also for a different wedding Sufyan is noted to have got an invite to help serve chai, but he is the groom’s cousin’s son, introduced earlier as a nephew, before the cultural chain of relation is given, so why wouldn’t he be at the wedding?


Music, female and male close friendships, sneaking around, bullying, talk of sex, sex, kissing, talk of pregnancy, lying, stealing, theft, there might be a curse word or two, sorry, not sure.  For an adult book it is clean, these days for a YA book it would be considered remarkably clean.


I wouldn’t suggest it for a school library or high school book club, but I wouldn’t put up much of a fight if it was on the shelf or schedule.

Crescent Moon Friends by Wadia Samadi & Mo Duffy Cobb illustrated by Lisa Lypowy

Crescent Moon Friends by Wadia Samadi & Mo Duffy Cobb illustrated by Lisa Lypowy


This 32 page book does not read like a new release, it looks like something you would have found in the early 2000s when the recent war in Afghanistan started and books about refugees from the region were popping up.  Admittedly back then, I probably would have been more forgiving that the smiling illustrations showed Islam in action and two characters from different cultures coming together through dialogue, respect, acceptance, and fun, but for reasons I’ll articulate, this book reads very superficial, dismissive and erroneous at times.  I am not Canadian or Afghani, I am a neighbor to both as a Pakistani American, and the book is OWN voice, so if I am just being overly picky, or sensitive, and am wrong, I am happy to acknowledge it, but before you push back, please read the entire review.

The description of the book says:

Crescent Moon Friends introduces the reader to two best friends Amelia and Aisha. While the pair is from Canada and Afghanistan, the girls reconcile their differences through exploration of the values they share. This book initiates a family conversation about Islam, explores tradition and language, and brings the girls closer together as a result. It is our hope that the book will be used as a teaching tool to help children understand the cultural backgrounds of others, and to create a warm environment for refugees resettling in Atlantic Canada from the Middle East.

This picture book is for both non- Muslims who are living in the West, and Muslims who are living outside their home countries. The focus of the book is on tradition, not religion, it also captures the significance of Islam. This is a valuable title for library and classroom use.

So first of all, I feel like the foundation of the book is othering Islam in making it seem that this book is an introduction of Islam to non Muslim with the premise being that Islam is what, a foreign religion? Numerous Canadians are both Afghani and Muslim in 2022, before I even began the book I was already fearing the framing.  Then it identifies Afghanistan as the Middle East, which just made me really question the accuracy.  Somehow after that first paragraph, the book then tries to say that the book is not about religion, but traditions.  While part of me appreciates that distinction, the second part of the sentence saying that it wants to capture the significance of Islam really shows the poor focus of the book.

Let me pause here though and answer a question I’m sure many of you are wondering, “why review a book that is not well written, and is not widely promoted or known about.” The answer is simple, a book such as this may not sell in big numbers and be regularly seen online and in stores, but they often do find their way into libraries and classrooms.  They are often shelved to fill “diversity” or “inclusion” quotas and thus their messaging does often reach our children.  I also highlight books like this, not just to pick on this particular book, but to show that OWN voices doesn’t make something automatically correct.  If this is the author’s own experience or is a memoir, there is some leeway, but saying that Afghanistan is in the Middle East or that Salam is Dari, not Arabic, or that it is “naan tandori” instead of “tandoori naan,” just makes the book seem inauthentic.  Often publishers, editors, agents perhaps don’t want to push back and appear uncultured or racist, so they don’t question details, is the only thing I can think of as to why this trend continues to perpetuate.  Which is also why the importance of having a piece sensitivity read cannot be overlooked, even when the author is writing about their own religion or culture. Yes, I too am only one person saying I have issues, but beta and sensitivity readers such as @muslimbookreviewers are four people and we discuss based on what we know and between the four of us there are a lot of singular specialties and a lot of  overlapping expertise that really help books get it right. Sorry for my rant, back to the book at hand…

The book starts with the white Canadian girl camping with her family and wondering what the upcoming school year will bring.  The text says. “she loved to look at the crescent moon.”  Already the writing is clearly weak, who loves to look at a particular phase of the moon, does she not like the waxing gibbous or whole moon? The next spread introduces Aisha, she is standing in the foreground with a mosque behind her and the text says she loves the moon too.  “There was a crescent moon on top of the mosque where her family went to pray.” Aisha has her hair loosely covered, and immediately we are connecting Aisha to her faith and to Amelia through their love of the crescent moon.  Interestingly, Aisha who would presumably love the crescent as it symbols holidays and month changes in the lunar calendar is presented as liking the moon because of it decoration aesthetic. It is where her family went to pray, sure it reminds her of home, but chances are she didn’t often go to the masjid as culturally most women don’t, so I’m not sure that this spread really has any accuracy or value, it just sounds good…if that.

The next spread is the first day of 6th grade with the teacher introducing a new friend to the class.  If it is the first day of school, aren’t they all new to the class? Aisha recalls that she left Afghanistan because there was a war in her country and school wasn’t safe, if she is twelve or thirteen, I’m not sure what caused the change in real life for the war timeline being referenced.  On a more relatable note it mentions that she missed swinging in her grandfather’s garden with cousins as well.

The next page showing the girls being silly with pencils to look like a bunny and walrus is sweet.  It shows language isn’t necessary, that silliness is universal and it is cute.  The girls then show how they share things unique to their culture with one another.  Aisha teaches her how to say Salam, hello in Dari, how to dance the Attan, about Eid, the most important Muslim holiday, and about a game with stones called anjaaq panjaaq.  But this is wrong, Salam is Arabic, Eid is Arabic for festival or holiday so what Eid is the book referring to? Also why not tell how to play the game, or how to do the dance or how Eid is celebrated? If the book is to build cultural (or religious) bridges, thus far I’ve only learned how to stick pencils in my mouth to look like a walrus or behind my head to look like a rabbit.

It is then Amelia’s turn to share Canadian culture and the book picks: ghosts, goblins, Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.  I find this a bit offensive on Canadians’ behalf, really their holidays are what make them who they are?  Later we will learn that Amelia is not religious, yet the symbols for religious holidays of Easter and Christmas are what are being presented.  Additionally, the holidays mentioned are not even unique to Canada: Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, are the same in America at the very least.

The next spread shows their moms becoming friends and the girls playing in Aisha’s mom’s scarves, hijabs, shoes and make-up.  I find the joy sweet, but I wonder if the book as stated in the details by the author/publisher is to help refugees- is this a bit misleading- that they are settled and have an abundance of clothing accurate?  Often refugees need assistance, will a book like this send the wrong message about helping those fleeing war get established, by not just avoiding talking about need, but celebrating surplus?

Aisha is then shown helping Amelia with math and when Aisha needs help with a Halloween costume, Amelia is there.  The book really is doubling down on the importance of Halloween to Canadian culture, which again feels off.  But also most Muslims don’t celebrate pagan holidays, so I’m not sure I like the positioning that it is cultural to celebrate and that to be Canadian one must engage in the rituals.  Whether you see it as pagan or just assimilation, either way it doesn’t sit right for a book aimed at finding common ground between diverse individuals.  Math is neutral and universal, why not have Amelia help Aisha with something also less controversial?


The next spread shows Aisha missing Afghanistan, and Amelia being a supportive friend and wanting to visit Afghanistan too.  Unfortunately, once again the weak writing has her sounding like an adult missing the laughter in the air and hope and flowers, not a kid talking.  When Amelia joins in, naan tandori is mentioned, which is backward, if it is the same as in Urdu it should be tandoori naan.  She also wishes they could wear colorful Afghani clothes and dance the Attan, which are two acts not limited to Afghanistan.  They can put on traditionally clothing and dance in Canada.

The story then takes a huge pivot and shows Aisha and her mom praying with the very vague text of her mom “described her way of life, Islam as the peace in her heart, and said turning to Allah in prayer would keep Aisha happy.”  The text seems misplaced and the messaging completely pointless, why not frame it as what Aisha believes or what her faith teaches her? It almost comes across as her mom forcing the belief on her and this being the first Aisha has heard about it.  The next page is set up the same, but shows Amelia’s faith to be kindness and compassion while they sit in nature.  I think the intent was to be positive, but when you have two people representing entire populations, all sorts of stereotypes come in to play that either have to be so general as to be accurate or more specific to the two characters at hand.  In this case I feel the takeaway is that holidays define Canadians, even religious holidays, but they are fine to participate in because Amelia is not part of organized religion.

Thus the next spread of Aisha’s family celebrating Christmas with Amelia makes sense in the story, but I find alarming because it normalizes abandoning your own religious convictions and adopting another faiths in order to fit in and assimilate.  Imagine a teacher reading this book to a first grade class and little Muslim children who demand that Christmas and Easter stay out of public schools are hearing messaging normalizing the holidays for people of all faiths.  Imagine a recent immigrant or refugee further feeling pressured to adopt these practices because they want to be seen as “good citizens” or be accepted by the larger community.  The contrast of Aisha’s family celebrating Christmas is Amelia helping make star and moon shaped cookies for Eid.

The story comes back to the girls love of the moon, one as a dreamer, the other as a scientist.  It tells of other firsts Aisha experiences and Amelia learning about Aisha and her faith.  I’m not sure what a genie lamp has to do with Islam, but it is in the illustration with a hamsa hand, a book, a tasbih, and a crescent with a minaret coming out.

Aisha then starts to wear hijab and Amelia learns how to wear one too. No details about what or why hijab is worn or given, and in the illustrations it doesn’t completely cover anyone’s hair. The girls ski together and drink hot chocolate and living in Canada allows Aisha “to be the girl she was meant to be.”  I’m not sure what that means, but that seems to be the resolution to the book before it circle backs to the mom and concludes.

I think on the very surface the book is a nice idea, but the conflation of what it means to be Canadian with observance of holidays and the lacking details of what it means to be Muslim Afghani make the book miss so much and ultimately do more harm than good if shared.

Grandpa Ali and Friends Volume 1 By Yasin Osman

Grandpa Ali and Friends Volume 1 By Yasin Osman

grandpa Ali

This 46 page comic strip compilation follows the intergenerational Somali-Canadian members of a family. With crossword puzzles, word searches, advice, and graphs sprinkled in-the book at times was laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming, ironic, and honestly, there were things that I didn’t quite understand-and those perhaps were my favorite parts.  The book features Muslims and immigrants and life in the west, and those I could relate to, but I am not Somali, and there aren’t a lot of Somali books available, so I loved the opportunity to see the culture and humor and themes that a book written authentically chose to highlight.  The book is not a graphic novel, the characters and their situations are not a cohesive narrative, so if I didn’t understand a particular joke, it didn’t linger or carry over.  By the time the book was done a sense of love, community, and joy left me waiting for the next installment and a desire to read more voices that are not easily found in Muslamic YA literature.

The humor is at times culture and experience specific, and I feel honored almost to witness a book for a particular group by a member of that group and thus don’t feel a need to “review” the book in my typical fashion.  I simply wish to highlight that it exists, share some inside pictures, and hopefully send some support its way. You can purchase it on Amazon.

Happy Reading y’all.

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain

The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan by Salma Hussain


I really don’t know how to review this book. Is it funny and engaging, yes at times, but I am a 41 year old, and I can attribute it (hopefully/possibly) to satire, hubris, character voice, and commentary, except it isn’t written for me, it is written for 10-14 year olds.   There is no way would I put this in the hands of a fourth grader, let alone a high schooler.  The book starts on New Year’s eve with a “Muslim” family drinking alcohol, later the 11 year old drinks to get brave enough to meet up with her boyfriend (he wanted to wait until after Ramadan), after a bad haircut she starts wearing hijab and later takes it off, her period starts and she is baffled at which hole it comes out of, she is no longer allowed to be alone in a room with a boy because that is how babies are made, but it is ok to go to a school dance and kiss them, women are rather useless, old people (31 year olds and up)  should know their place and act their age, dark skin is bad, chests need to be big, slut is both something you are and something you can do,  Aisha (RA)’s age of marriage is criticized as is Khadeeja (RA)’s, no one is as good at her, Ramadan is annoying because she has to hide when she eats in public for a whole month, Friday prayers even though they rush through them limit their fun time, the Tablighi Jamaat have to be lied to and hidden from, her mom is pregnant months after coming out of her bedroom smiling, her father claims he will only ever enter a mosque horizontally, you can see the list goes on and on.  Yet at the same time, there are true moments of strength, such as when she fights back against the creepy sexual assault vibes from “uncle annoying” and then protects her sister when her parents dismiss it, when she sticks up to a bully to protect her gay friend in Canada, the dad getting caught one day praying salat, the love of family felt despite her perceived privilege while visiting Pakistan, her constant reference to Allah swt as she asks Him and tries to understand the world around her, and her terrible, terrible poetry.  The diary style is both brilliant in trying to show the world through Mona’s eyes, and irritating as NONE of the aforementioned concerns are given any context, explanation, reflection, anything.  The thoughts pour out of her head, onto the paper, and the reader is left to figure out if this is how things are, is this her naïve view, is she commenting on society, is the author, is this fact, is it satire, is it someone with an axe to grind on culture and religion, is it showing the ridiculousness of so many stereotypes? And to be honest, I have no idea.  Which is why I can’t say that the book is good or bad, I think it is well written, my problem with it is, I don’t know who it is written for.  I think it would be very damaging to young children, the vulgarity, misogyny, racism, arrogance, will hurt both those that see parts of themselves in Mona and those that read it and assume too much about what Mona represents.


Mona is an 11 year old girl, and this is her diary.  She is arrogant and opinionated, but she grows and mellows as her view of the world moves from privilege in Dubai to immigrant in Canada with a bit of an awakening in Pakistan in between.  It is her view of her life, her place in the world, and the greater society around her.  It is an easy read on the surface of her living through the war without getting any days off of school, friends, maturation, first loves, hoping for a bigger chest, pulling a fire alarm to get time with a boyfriend, feminism, and the annoyance of being better than everyone else in everything she does.  There are side characters that flit in and out and family members that shape her, but the point of view is uniquely hers in all matters regarding leaving the Middle East as a Pakistani living there, spending time with her mother and father’s families in Pakistan and the rift her parents’ love marriage caused on their acceptance of her, their move to Canada to start a more peaceful life that ends up being grueling and difficult and through it all threads of Islam, fitting in, and growing up.  It is a snapshot of so much that the reader is left to connect the pieces, assign them value, and understand the larger message, if one exists.


I still don’t know if I like it or dislike it.  I dislike it for kids.  I like it for adults as a light over the top snarky read, but I think my opening paragraph is sufficient and the 296 page book doesn’t need my concerns and praises rehashed here.


Misogyny, anti Islam, sexism, racism, ageism, lying, vulgarity, cursing, crude talk, lying, disrespect, lack of religious respect, kissing, sexual assault (attempt), deceit, pulling a fire alarm, physical fighting/assault, family trauma, arrogance, pettiness, stereotypes, bullying, sexual innuendos,


I have suggested a few ADULT friends read the book so we can chat, but no kiddos, no teens, no early twenties, old ladies (31 plus according to the main character)!

Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan

Wrong Side of the Court by H.N. Khan


I don’t know what it is about male protagonist sports novels, but they often seem to be overly crass and crude.  Perhaps that is the real life environment that inspires such writings, or perhaps it is just male voiced YA books, but in this one in particular it seemed to stand out because the storytelling by-and-large is really enjoyable, it just has a lot of flags, A LOT.  Beside the language, sexual innuendos, drug use, violence and romance, it also has a few religious and cultural concerns that are possibly just specific to the niche that I review for, but did have me shaking my head out of confusion and sighing in disappointment. To its credit there is a decent amount of Islam featured, some male friendships that are quite heartwarming, and some emotional depth that presents really well.  The 312 page book is marketed to readers 12 and up, but there is no way I would encourage the book for anyone that young, Muslim or not.  For Muslim youth specifically I would say 17 plus.


The book is told from the perspective of fifteen year old Fawad who lives in Regent Park with his mom and sister.  He dreams of being the first Pakistani NBA player and the linear story bounces in time at the start and he sometimes even speaks to the reader, but the story is all his.  Regent park is a poor part of town pressed right up against a wealthy part of Toronto and the neighborhood is rough.  Fawad is a good kid: he doesn’t go out much after dark since his father died, he helps his mom, doesn’t run with a gang, he gets good grades, loves basketball, and doesn’t have a girlfriend, not yet anyway.  The story starts with him reliving the final minutes of a summer league basketball game where he opted to pass out of fear of the ever looming threat of Omar, rather than take the shot himself.  Omar ends up missing and they lose, oh yeah and Omar is the imam’s son.  Under the protection of Abshir, Fawad’s friend Yousuf’s older brother: Omar, Yousuf, and Arif have someone looking out for them on the streets.  Arif has some help from the Bengali crew, and Yousuf is Somali, but there are not enough Pakistani’s to make a stand or demand respect when out and about.  When Abshir gets murdered, Yousuf retreats into himself his music and smoking joints, Arif keeps his playboy ways to take his mind off things when he isn’t reciting Quran beautifully in classes at the masjid, and Fawad makes the high school basketball team and finds a girlfriend. Things with Omar physically escalate as well, while things at home have his mom putting in to action plans for Fawad to marry his cousin in Pakistan.


I really like that Islam and culture are presented powerfully with OWN voice strength and detail.  Things are not defined or over explained and if you don’t know what haram or Ramadan or an imam are, figure it out.  I rarely find myself wishing the ending of books were different.  You hear a lot about that in movies, that they didn’t screen well or something, and so the ending was changed, and that is how I feel about this book.  *SPOILERS* Fawad and Omar should not have resolved their issues so easily, it was more than a respect thing, there was blood and hospitalizations.  We never even knew why they had issues in the first place. Arif and Nermin should not have hooked up. The whole book she comes across as the strong Muslim hijabi that blurs the lines by side hugging her guy friends, but not being ok with it, then she shows up to a dance, and then hooks up with Arif, didn’t like that at all.  I get the mixed signals of Fawad having a girlfriend from his mom, and while he seems to be connected to the mosque it never shares that he understands Islam more than just I have to do this and I can’t do this, but I didn’t like him going back to Ashley and wanted him to choose his own self-worth and respect over accepting her apology and going back to her.  I do not understand why Fawad waited so long to tell his mother about Nusrat. It was nothing that would upset his mom, I don’t get why he dragged it out.  I do love that the cousins were friends or friendly, but were fronting to their parents, but it was unnecessarily dragged out, and the more it got dragged out, the more complicated and intertwined it got with Fawad having a girlfriend.

I did not get the mom and sister relationship at all.  The mom seems to have just given up on her, but they seem to spend a lot of time together, so that was a disconnect for me.  At first I kind of liked the twist on the stereotype that the boy was not allowed freedoms to go out, but the sister was, but it kind of unraveled in the logic department.  I am desi, (half anyway) and the stereotype is that the boys are earning before they get married.  So to be arranging Fawad’s wedding at age 15 is bonkers.  To be arranging anybody’s wedding at that age is, but it is so contrary to custom, that I couldn’t even ignore it and move on, it was constantly blocking the story from being smooth.  The mom’s rationale is that she wants a daughter-in-law to take care of her.  Again kind of bogus, but maybe there is some truth there, unfortunately there is the big gaping hole that she, the mom, doesn’t take care of her in-laws, so why the difference of expectation.  Suffice it to say the mom and sister are both road bumps in the story for me.

I was impressed at how much basketball play-by-play was in the book and how it didn’t get boring.  I love that there were plenty of male role models in the community and that the three boys really looked out for each other, supported each other, were connected to each other’s families, etc..  I didn’t like the abusive religious imam trope.  I’m glad that Omar’s dad wasn’t blind to his son, but to be abusive was uncalled for.

I don’t know why Nermin is called, “Arabic,” at one point, that is clearly erroneous and I wish that the condom talk and sexual innuendos were greatly reduced.  There isn’t a lot of resolution regarding who killed Abshir, if Fawad caused any permanent damage by playing, or what the future holds for any of the characters and their relationships, but it was a quick read and held my intention and I did quite enjoy the writing.

Lying, violence, murder, physical assault, kissing, making out, talk of arousal, talk of condoms and sex and getting physical.  Drugs and alcohol and addiction.  Child abuse, theft, stealing, threats.


There is no way I could teach this to middle school or high school in an Islamic school.

Journey of the Midnight Sun by Shazia Afzal illustrated by Aliya Ghare

Journey of the Midnight Sun by Shazia Afzal illustrated by Aliya Ghare

What an absolute joy to learn about something real for the first time in a children’s picture book meant for ages 3-5.  I am baffled that this story wasn’t celebrated and shared by not just Muslim’s everywhere, but Canadians as well.  It is a sweet instance of real life being harder to believe than fiction.  It warms your heart and reminds you that there are so many good people doing selfless things for the benefit of others, every single day, subhanAllah.  As for the 32 page book itself, story inspiration aside- I kind of wish it had more details of the real story in it.  The factual blurb on the back cover was a bit more awe inspiring than the totality of the book.  I think it is because it is meant for such little ones, but I don’t know for sure.  I hope that there will be more books for various ages, about this mosque’s incredible 2010 journey. 

There is a small community in Inuvik, in Northern Canada.  The growing Muslim community has outgrown their one room space and it is more expensive to build a masjid there, than to deliver a pre built masjid from Winnipeg. 

With the help of some non profit and local groups, a masjid is built and sent north, hopefully able to reach its final destination before the river freezes.  The journey is fraught with obstacles: roads are too narrow, bridges not ready, low utility wires. weather concerns, construction, the masjid tipping over, but alas it arrives, alhumdulillah.

The entire community welcomes the new masjid, and the Muslim’s have a new space to pray and gather.

I like that there are maps and indicators of the distance.  And while I like the interfaith aspect in Inuvik being presented, it seems incredibly specific in a very vague book for small children. Why is the imam identified separately, the whole paragraph is just awkward.   Additionally, there is no explanation for why a minaret was needed or if it is critical to a mosque.  Some information other than the children wanted one, would help avoid confusion seeing as this mainstream published book is not targeting only Muslims who would know the function of a minaret, and that they aren’t required structures.

Some links about the event that inspired the story:



Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

hana khanTechnically this book is adult fiction because the protagonist is 24 years old, but the halal rom-com is so sweet and considering the YA options that exist in the same genre, I think high school juniors and senior would do better to dive in to this light, enjoyable, albeit predictable, read over so many of the other options out there.  I read the 368 page book in two days, I was hooked and impressed with the strength of all the female characters, the step away from all the stereotypical tropes and the smooth writing style.  The book is for everyone and while packaged as a light read, there are some themes of immigration, family, choice, and OWN voice realizations that are presented and explored in a thoughtful and impactful manner.


Hana Khan’s mother owns and operates Three Sisters Biriyani Poutine in Toronto, there are not three sisters, biriyani poutine is not on the menu and business is bad, really bad.  The 15 year old restaurant that Hana named when she was nine is struggling even though it is the only halal option in the close-knit, diverse, golden crescent community.  When news hits that a new upscale halal restaurant is opening a few doors down, Hana chooses to ignore that the business was struggling and instead blames the new proprietors.  They are wealthy, corporate and insufferable.  Well, the dad is anyway, the son Aydin, he isn’t so easily defined.

Hana balances shifts at the restaurant, her internship at Radio Toronto and her own anonymous brown girl podcast.  Hana, real name Hanaan, comes from a supportive and close family.  Her dad was injured in a serious car accident, her older sister is pregnant, and her cousin from India along with a cousin-aunt have just arrived under suspicious circumstances.

As the new restaurant gets closer to opening, Hana finds herself stooping to all new lows to sabotage their success.  Encouraged by an anonymous podcast listener who she has been chatting with for quite a while, and inspired by her rebel cousin-aunt, Hana is determined to secure a permanent job in radio, save her family restaurant, and destroy the competition.  But, an attack downtown draws attention to growing Islamophobia and forces Aydin and Hana to work together.

In a fictional story where everyone knows everyone both in India and Toronto, crazy family members are endearing and loyal, it is no surprise that the main characters are more connected than they think.  As Hana finds her strength to carry on amidst change, she also figures out what direction to focus her energy, her talents, and voice.


I absolutely love the writing.  I was invested in many of the characters, not just the protagonist, and absolutely cheered as she gave a nod to so many assumptions so that she could move past them: forced marriage, hijab, acceptable professions, inclusion, etc.. The family is all about choice and not getting hung up on stereotypes show the power that OWN voices have in telling stories that resonate with everyone.  The book is full of religion, from waking up for fajr, to listening to the khutbah at jumah, going to the masjid to find peace, and believing in destiny.  It is not a preachy book by any means, but the characters are Muslim inside and out.  The traditional family does not pressure Hana to get married, her sister’s marriage was a love one.  She is often alone with her male cousin or brother in law, or best friend Yusuf.  She knows who she is and her family trusts her.

I love the food, the insight of immigrants and family.  I was particularly moved by her articulation of being told by outsiders what it means to be Muslim in Canada, or an immigrant and then not being listened to when pushed back upon. Her challenging a teacher on what the fourth pillar of Islam is and not being heard, resonated profoundly.

Within the first 100 pages or so the reader figures out who everyone is and how they are connected, save one surprise, but it is like watching a favorite movie, you keep going because it is fun, and enjoyable and the point isn’t to figure it out, but to enjoy the ride.


There are relationship threads, but nothing more detailed than a hand touch after a funeral.  Her best friend Yusuf marries their best friend Lily an Agnostic, knowing that both families are against it.  There is music and racist talk and vandalism.


The high school book club usually tries to include a halal romance novel for the loyal participants that clamor for it in the group and I plan to suggest this one to them.  For as light and straightforward as the book is, there is a lot to discuss when the surface is peeled back.  There would be lot to explore from her podcast, internship experience, and her hate crime experience, that the romance part will be seen as simply a vessel to more profound issues to explore.

A Girl Called Genghis Khan: How Maria Toorpakai Wazir Pretended to Be a Boy, Defied the Taliban, and Became a World Famous Squash Player by Michelle Lord illustrated by Shehzil Malik

A Girl Called Genghis Khan: How Maria Toorpakai Wazir Pretended to Be a Boy, Defied the Taliban, and Became a World Famous Squash Player by Michelle Lord illustrated by Shehzil Malik


This children’s biography of Maria Toorpakai Wazir, Pakistan’s world famous squash player, is simplified and suitable for children 2nd grade and up.  At 42 pages with bright illustrations older kids will understand a little bit more about the cultural norms that were being oppressive and the strength and risks Maria took to play a sport she loved and defy the Taliban while disguising herself as a boy. Younger children will probably only get her determination and perseverance, which is impressive in its own right.


In 1990, Maria was born in the mountains of the Tribal Areas in Pakistan.  Conservative society and strict gender roles amplified by the control of the Taliban in 2001.  Maria’s parents supported rights for their sons and daughters, and allowed Maria to cut her hair, dress like a boy, and play sports.


Her father called her Ghenghis Khan after the great warrior and when the family moved to the city of Peshawar he even introduced her as his son to people.  As Ghenghis, Maria was always picking fights and encouraged instead to play sports to channel her wildness.


She fell in love with the game of squash, and when she went to join the Squash Club she had to submit her birth certificate which revealed that she was a girl.  The director let her join the club, as the only girl among 400 boys.  But now her secret was out.


She was bullied and her family ridiculed, but she kept playing and kept winning.  The President of Pakistan awarded her honors for her outstanding achievements, but that infuriated the Taliban and they threatened her family.


As a result Maria had to hide, and would practice at night, in secret, and for 3 years she played against the wall in her bedroom.  Appealing to squash clubs around the world for help, she finally heard from Jonathon Power in Canada, willing to help her get away from the Taliban and be able to play.


She left behind everything she knew at 20 years old to train in Toronto.  She still represented Pakistan in tournaments.  She studied, she prayed, she succeeded.  She now is back in Pakistan establishing health clinics, sports clubs, and schools for girls and boys.

The story is inspirational, and well told, it shows how culture limited her, not religion, and that in a larger city, culture was a little less conservative.  Muslim and non Muslim children will be inspired by her efforts, her willingness to look like a boy and her determination to excel.  Muslim kids will enjoy that it shows her praying, but might be surprised to see her in shorts and tank tops.  The book would be a great conversation starter about women’s rights and how it isn’t just in Pakistan that women struggle to have equal opportunity and respect.  It also might many children’s first exposure to the sport of squash.


There is an afterward at the end with more information.  A list of additional reading about other inspirational women, a selected bibliography and a highlight timeline of female firsts in sports.


Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan illustrated by Anna Bron

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan illustrated by Anna Bron


This 40 page picture book meant for 4-7 year old children is full of diversity, community and love.  The only thing missing, is a recipe for the dish, foul shami, that Salma recruits everyone at the refugee Welcome Center to help her make to cheer up her mom. Possible flag is there is a gay couple featured in the text and illustrations.


Salma and her mom are refugees from Syria living in Vancouver, and desperately missing Salma’s dad who still has not been able to join them.  When Salma shares her sadness with Nancy at the Welcome Center, she is encouraged to draw her good memories.  And then Salma has the idea to cook a dish from home for her mom. The other kids at the center mention foods they miss, Ayman from Egypt, Riya from India, Evan from Venezuela.   Then the translator, Jad, from Jordan helps her find a recipe online.


Convincing herself that she can do this, Salma  draws a picture for each of the ingredients since she doesn’t know the names in English.  She then heads to the market with Ayesha from Somalia, an older girl that helps her cross the street, and get the needed groceries.


Back at the Welcome Center to cook. Malek and Amir, a gay couple from Lebanon help her chop the vegetables and kiss away each others onion tears.  The spices make Salma sneeze, but she can’t find the sumac.

syria 5

Granny Donya from Iran has the missing spice and reassures Salma that she can do this.  That is until the olive oil bottle slips and falls and shatters.  With no more money and feeling discouraged, it takes Nancy and everyone else to convince Salma not to give up as the dish is made with love and Mama will love it.


Everything is set up to surprise Mama with the dish, but once mama comes home and the door bell rings, it is Salma who is surprised with all her friends coming over to bring her olive oil.

Mama laughs and tells Salma her smile is home, and Salma dreams of riding her bike around the Vancouver seawall laughing with her friends and Mama.


I love the sense of community that it takes to make the dish and that she finds love and support from so many.  I also like her determination to make her mother smile along with her willingness to accept help when she needs it.

I’m assuming the family is Muslim, the mom appears to remove a scarf when she returns home, Ayesha and Granny Donya also wear hijab.



Secret Recipe Box by Helal Musleh illustrated by Nalan Alaca

Secret Recipe Box by Helal Musleh illustrated by Nalan Alaca


The publisher suggests this book for ages 4 and up, but I think it’s a bit long (30 pages) and detailed for that age group, and first grade and up will benefit more from this heartfelt story.


Maha is excited her Teta is moving from Palestine to live with her, her brother Sami, and parents in Canada.  Maha dreams of being a chef on a famous cooking show, and her Tata and her secret recipes will be a great way to practice.


Her little brother Sami is always in the way though.  Whether it is wanting to hold a sign Maha has made, or is wanting to cook with her, she is annoyed by him at every turn.


As Maha listens to Teta’s stories and learns about her life in Palestine, she starts to change in her approach to Sami and realizes that family has to take care of each other.


After a day of cooking together, Maha, Sami, and Teta have made too much food and decide to go and share it with those in need at the soup kitchen.


The book addresses kindness, changing, compassion, immigration, taking care of one another, multi generational lessons and love, stories, life lessons, and some highlights of Palestinian culture, food, clothing, and tradition.


The book is warm and well done, with the exception of a few of the pictures which seem a bit off to me.  Overall, it is a sweet story that presents with a lot of lessons, but doesn’t force them upon the reader.  The character growth is gentle and subtle and will resonate with readers.


The characters mention Halal food, and the grandma wears hijab even in the house, where the mother is shown wearing it at the airport, but not in the home.  The book would work for Muslim and non Muslim readers.