Tag Archives: Children’s Islamic Fiction

Better Than a Thousand Months: An American Muslim Family Celebration by Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey

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Better Than a Thousand Months: An American Muslim Family Celebration by Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey

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To be honest, I didn’t get the book.  I mean I understand that it was derived from stories the author told his children, and I’m guessing it was written to show similarities between Muslims and Christians, but I don’t understand how the 168 pages with lots of photographs and text from the Qur’an got published as a book.  That is not to say it isn’t without merit, it just leaves a lot to be desired.  The teacher in me really, really, really, wanted to pull out a purple pen and start editing.  I checked twice to see if I had an advanced copy or uncorrected proof, I even Googled the book to see what I was missing.  It doesn’t work for me as a completed book.  To me, however, it is a wonderful outline that is desperately wanting to be fleshed out.

SYNOPSIS:

A man in San Fransisco is sitting on the train when there is an earth quake, thus delaying his trip home.  As he dozes off he imagines interactions with his children that share his knowledge of Islam with them, and thus the reader.  The first interaction is with him and his young daughter discussing Christmas, and how Muslims view Jesus and the power of Allah the creator of all.  They jump in the “time machine” truck and drive through the hills of San Francisco reflecting on the concept of patience.  As Ramadan comes and the narrator dreams we get bits of how Muslims in America celebrate Ramadan, and some of the tenants of faith.  When he is awake we get some story about his family, how he came to Islam and his Grandma passing away.  But nothing is explained or even connected.  I have no idea how many children he has, what the story is with the step children and the confusion from having two daughters with the same name.  The story goes back and forth with his dreams being more “real” then his awake time, and both kind of moving in the same direction of explaining how Islam is practiced as a family in America (praying together, waking up for suhoor), the questions that arise from the children (how to pray at school, why Ramadan decorations don’t decorate the city), and how we are all more alike than different (same Prophets, similar stories).  The final dream sequence is sweet with the father and daughter showing, not just talking, about giving and charity, that I really want to send the author back to finish writing the book.  There are so many tangents that would give it depth that are stated in a few sentence paragraph that could so easily be developed in to whole chapters.  Unfortunately, as is, the reader is just left disjointed and confused.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really like the premise, I like the literary flip of telling the story in the dream.  The ideas are just not presented smoothly.  I don’t think that a tween would get it, and the choppiness of the ideas bouncing around from short paragraph to short paragraph would dissuade even the most seasoned middle school reader.  The book has some good tidbits, but they are lost in the short glimpses of story and long passages of meaning of the translations from the Quran.  The Arabic Calligraphy is nice, but it isn’t stop in your tracks beautiful, and the font of the English translations are difficult to read.

FLAGS:

None, the book is clean.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I tried to get my daughter to read it, but she was so lost and even asked if it was a collection of stories or a chapter book, that I couldn’t force her to finish.  If you can get through it, one could discuss how to “fix” some of the struggles the book has, thus emphasizing what the reader liked and imagining the back story for all the questions that arise but are ultimately not answered.

Colours of Islam by Dawud Wharnsby

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Colours of Islam

This beautiful book is a compilation of the lyrics from Dawud Wharnsby’s well known collection of songs found on the Colours of Islam CD released nearly 20 years ago.  The book states for ages 5+ and is a large and very colorful 35 pages.  The hardback binding, the inclusion of the CD, and the knowledge that royalties go to a trust fund supporting educational initiatives for children, make it a great gift item.  It looks lovely on the shelf and the children will eagerly thumb through it, once.  After that, I’m not entirely sure what to do with the book.  colours of islam2

The pictures are very busy for the most part, and very detailed.  The text on the page is pretty intimidating in its line length and volume.  The songs are lovely, I’ve knows them by heart since I was a child, but I don’t know that they lend themselves directly to poetry for children.  If a child knows the songs, or is following along with the CD then yes, older children will benefit from the book.  A five-year-old or possibly a 7-year-old will not.  I can see the poems/songs supplementing a language arts lesson in a classroom, and in a library the book looks wonderful displayed.  But, as hard as it is for me to not gushingly praise a Dawud Wharnsby product, I don’t know that the book would really ever be read cover to cover and/or more than once.

colours of islam1colours of islam

 

Max Celebrates Ramadan by Adria F. Worsham illustrated b y Mernie Gallagher-Cole

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Max Celebrates Ramadan

Max is a character in a series of leveled readers that explores familiar topics to build reading confidence (Max Goes to the Doctor, Max Goes to School, etc.), and introduces new ideas as the reader’s skills build (Max Celebrates Cinco de Mayo, Max Learns Sign Language, etc.).  I love that Ramadan was included and this 24 page AR 2.0 book is spot on, in what a new reader can handle without getting frustrated or bored in terms of content, and ability.

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Max goes to his friend Omar’s house to celebrate Ramadan.  He learns a little about the month, what the Quran is and about Eid al Fitr too.  The foreign words are explained in the text and there is no explanation of belief or doctrine.  There are just simplified, age appropriate, descriptions of what a Muslim does and what you might see during Ramadan.  Very level appropriate for Muslim and non Muslim children.  Omar’s family is inviting and kind, and the illustrations show them to probably be of Indian decent as the mother and other females are wearing saris.  None of the women cover, but the males all wear kufis.max1

The book doesn’t stand out in any way, but most leveled readers, in my opinion, don’t.  If you have young readers check and see if your library has the book, the kids will enjoy it.  It works ok in small groups, but not for story time so well, as it is rather repetitive in a dry, not predictive way.  If you are a kindergarten through 3rd grade teacher, I think this book would be a great addition to your book shelf, as well as the others in the series as a way to learn about other people in an independent way.  My son going in to first grade read it by himself fluently and enjoyed the pictures.  Someone new to the concept of Ramadan, i think, would also be able to grasp the concepts without much outside help.

 

 

 

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi illustrated by Lea Lyon

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Lailah's Lunchbox

Another standout in a crowded field of Ramadan picture books, mashaAllah, Lailah’s Lunchbox works well even outside of Ramadan for Muslim and Muslim children alike.  In 32 pages, the reader gets to know Lailah and understand how hard it has been for her to move to America from Abu Dhabi, make new friends, how nerovus she is to be identified as different, as well as how excited she is that her mother has finally agreed to let her fast this Ramadan.

Lailah is excited to wake up and have sehri with her family before heading to her new school, fasting for the first time.  Her mother has written a note for her teacher, but on the bus, Lailah reads the note and suddenly worries if her teacher will even know what Ramadan is ,and decides not to give it to her teacher.  Lunchtime arrives, and when the teacher asks Lailah if she forgot her lunch, her voice fails her, and her classmates offer to share their lunch with her.  Lailah decides to leave the cafeteria and finds herself in the library spilling all her worries and stresses and fears to a kind librarian.  (Yes the librarian is the hero, and really no one should be surprised, right!?) With the librarian’s urging and Lailah’s determination, she writes a note to the teacher explaining that she is Muslim, and fasting, and even includes a poem.  She leaves the note on her teacher’s desk at the end of the day.  The following day, the teacher has written her back and the reader, along with Lailah, know that having courage and staying true to one’s self can often be scary, but also wonderful too.

lilah inside

While the story is billed a Ramadan Story, it really just is the back drop for a lot of really good messages.  I think 2nd and 3rd graders to early middle schoolers could really benefit from the book.  It is semi autobiographical and I think the authenticity of the emotion woven in, makes the book very relatable and powerful.  I plan to discuss it with my daughter going in to 5th grade, who is also a bit shy on occasion: the way Lailah worked out the problem, the way she found someone to trust and talk to that was patient with her, to point out to her that the kids in her class were very kind and that most of her fear and anxiety was with herself, not them.  I also really like the message that she was so excited to fast, and how her nerves took that excitement away, but having the courage to face her fear, brought back her happiness and enthusiasm.

The end of the book has an Author’s note, telling how the story came about and a bit more about Ramadan. It also tells the definition of Sehri and Iftar, the only two “foreign” words in the book.  I found it interesting that the word Sehri, an Urdu word, was used instead of Suhoor, if they are coming from Abu Dhabi, but perhaps the author is of subcontinent heritage.  The illustrations are colorful and realistic, complementing the story and tying in the range of emotions and events Lailah is experiencing.

I was pleasantly surprised at the book, and even more excited to see that it is available in the public library system.  Here is the link to the author’s blog I hope she plans to write more, as her style and message resonate with Muslim American kids, and their parents, alhumdulillah.

 

It’s Ramadan Curious George by Hena Khan illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young

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It' Ramadan Curious George

This highly anticipated book came with a lot of expectations and hope for many of us born and raised in America.  Alhumdulillah, Hena Khan did a great job and everyone’s favorite monkey learns and enjoys Ramadan and Eid.

The 14 page rhyming board book is festive and inviting as the tabbed ends head different aspects of Ramadan and Eid  The first tab is George helping his friend Kareem and his family get ready for Ramadan while explaining to the reader how Kareem is going to try and fast all day.  The pictures show Kareem’s mom in hijab and dad helping in the kitchen.  A banner they are hanging says Ramadan Mubarak, but there is no mention of religion or Muslims or Islam.

Curious GeorgeThe next tab has George helping Kareem get up for a predawn meal, keeping his mind off food and keeping him busy.  Not the normal mischievous George in this book, but rather a very helpful one.

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The next tab talks about dates and breaking the fast and the sounds of prayer, but  again no specific mention of religion or belief.  The pictures show men and women of different skin colors, veiled and un veiled, visiting together.  The next tab is all about food, in all of its diverse glory.  The next tab has Kareem inviting George to the mosque to make food baskets for those in need.  George gets a little silly, and inspires the imam to add a clothing drive next year.  The final tabs are spotting the moon and celebrating Eid.  Gifts are given to George and the man in the yellow hat. Kareem and George are sad the month is over, but George enjoyed celebrating his first Ramadan with his friend.

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Overall the book is great for Muslim kids, non Muslim kids, and also notably for non Muslim kids with Muslim friends.  The book does not label and discuss belief or even spirituality, but rather shows how Muslims celebrate Ramadan and Eid in its most basic way, and shows that it is a part of American culture.  For as excited as my family (and myself) were to see Curious George enjoying Ramadan and doing things we do, I can see many of my neighbors and kid’s friends also identifying that they know what George is doing too because of their Muslim friends, and getting excited.  The book works for all ages, to be read independently or aloud.

MashaAllah, don’t judge it by its size, it accomplishes a lot in just a few pages, a lot like a curious little monkey!

Ilyas & Duck and the Fantastic Festival of Eid-al-Fitr by Omar S. Khawaja illustrated by Leo Antolini

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Ilyas & Duck and the Fantastic Festival of Eid-al-Fitr by Omar S. Khawaja illustrated by Leo Antolini

Ilyas & Duck and the Fantastic Festival of Eid-al-Fitr

 

In the world of Islamic fiction, there are a lot of Eid books out there for children, but this one is definitely more fun than most, especially for the younger crowd.  The presentation of a big, bright, hardback book is aimed at 3 to 6 year olds, and reads well out loud, however, the book is very, very inviting, and older kids with happily pick it up and thumb through the 32 pages of rhyming lines as well.

The book starts with Ilyas watching the sky to see if Ramadan is over and if Eid is here.  Duck in all his silliness doesn’t know what Eid is and rushes out to get decorations to celebrate.  he returns with a Christmas tree and ornaments.  Ilyas non judgmentally explains that those are for our Chrisitian neighbors for their holiday.  Duck then runs out again and returns with a menorah and dreidel and once again Ilyas explains that those are for our Jewish friends celebrating Hanukkah.  Ilyas and Duck then fly away in their hot air balloon to the Masjid to learn about Eid.

Ilyas and Duck2Ilayas and duck

The book works for Muslim children to understand what others celebrate and works for non Muslims to see what we celebrate.  It is all done in a matter of fact way of celebration, not of doctrine.  It is built on the idea that, “There is an Eid for every nation ant his is our Eid.”ilyas and duck eid

Much like the first Ilyas and Duck book, this one is great to have around and read again and again!

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi illustrated by Ned Gannon

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the white nights of ramadan

I love learning about people’s Ramadan traditions, and am slightly embarrassed to admit that I never knew about this Gulf tradition of Girgian.  My kids and I enjoyed reading this book during the middle of Ramadan, when the moon is full and bright, and thus known as the white nights of Ramadan.  Written on an AR 3.6 level the story does a good job of blending the concepts of Ramadan, Girgian, Islam in a 32 page fiction story format for Muslim and non-Muslim children alike.  There is an Author’s note and Glossary in the back as well.

A young girl, Noor, excitedly waits and prepares for Girgian.  She explains the activites to her two younger brothers, Sam and Dan, how they will walk the streets with lanterns (fanouses) and get treats from neighbors for three nights.  But before night falls, they first have a lot to do to prepare, and with the help of their parents and grandparents, the children make and wrap the candy, decorate bags to keep the candy in, and get dressed in fancy traditional clothes.  In the process the book also explains Ramadan, and shows Noor praying and reading Quran.  Arabic and islamic words are tossed in and well explained: iftar, fanous, suhoor, dishdashas, musaher, etc.. Noor in all the excitement shares a tender moment with her grandma where they discuss how fun Ramadan is, but that the “true meaning of Ramadan is spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate.” A religious scholar may add more to what Ramadan is, but for a children’s book, the message is beautiful and perfect.  The story concludes with Noor and her grandfather taking a basket of food to the mosque to give to the poor.

The book has a slow melancholy type feel to it and the pictures definitely help set that tone.  They are detailed and well done, but maybe not overly inviting to younger readers.

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white nights of ramadan

The book made me want to learn more about the tradition, and talk to people that may have celebrated it to see how it has evolved over time.  My kids liked the idea of having a musaher, a drummer walking the streets waking people up for suhoor.  As a mom of four, I can see why something fun in the middle of the month, especially when the days are so long, is a great way to re-energize the children about the fun and blessings of Ramadan.

Muslim All-Stars Helping the Polonskys by Khaleel Muhammad

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Muslim All Stars

A mishmash of young teen characters come together to form the Muslim All-Stars, the first book in a new series that will hopefully stick with the same set of characters doing good deeds in their community.    With only 67 pages and colorful illustrations of a variety of sizes scattered through out, the book is enticing, but not memorable.  I never bonded with any of the characters, and really couldn’t even list them all or identify them in the pictures.  Hopefully the series will continue and their individual personalities will take shape.   There are a few plot holes: how did Leila have a note from her parents if she just read the advert, how did none of the kids know each other or recognize each other if they all went to the same school, why would something done outside of school warrant recognition in school? And some random unresolved ideas: the Polonsky’s harbored a burglar or was it a rumor, why did Mr. Polonsky call Leila three times just to tell her to go?  Despite it all however, it is overall a fun book for both girls and boys in grades 2 through 4.

SYNOPSIS:

Mr. Polonsky’s wife is coming home after having surgery and their home is a mess. Overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning it, he gets the brilliant idea of hiring kids to do it, for cheap.  A handful of kids, all Muslim, show up to do the work.  But even overcoming Mr. Polonsky’s rotten attitude, the mountains of rubbish, the menagerie of critters that have taken up residence in the home, and a crazy washing machine, is not enough to prove themselves in the face of Mrs. Polonsky’s anger when she gets home.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that within the Muslim group there are kids of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and abilities; one kid is a convert, one is Pakistani, one is good with machines, one has Aspergers, one seems to get in trouble a lot.  They all answer the advert for different reasons, but after some convincing of sorts, they all agree to help the Polonskys because it is the right thing to do.  MashaAllah the girls wear hijab, they break for salat as a group, verify the food is halal, and generally just work well together.

FLAGS:

Clean alhumdulillah

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

There is nothing online.  It is a book that if you recommend it to a child you simply would want to follow up with them by asking about what they thought about how the kids were treated, what they would do if Mr. Polonsky treated them that way, if they were surprised by the ending etc..

The book is written in British English and American kids shouldn’t have trouble understanding what is going on, but might need some help figuring out some of the words, such as rubbish, bin liners, skip, etc..

The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Khan

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The Hijab Boutique

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

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

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

 

 

Adam in Lost and Found by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

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Adam in Lost and Found by Zanib Mian illustrated by Maria M. Goncalves

Adam in Lost and Found

This book resembles kindergarten and 1st grade leveled readers in both appearance (shape and size) and appeal.  It very easily could have been a picture book, with its sparse words and simple linear story, but by making it a smaller size, with a variety of playful fonts, it really excites beginning readers who pick it up and are thrilled to see Muslim characters in an Islamic book on their level.  The book is 32 pages and has nice large age appropriate pictures that work very well, even when reading the book aloud to small groups.

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The  story explores the concept of “finders keepers losers weepers” in a fulfilling way.  Adam, a young boy on a train with his family, finds a toy train and desperately wants to keep it.  His father kindly explains to him the two options before him and lets him choose.  Adam, Alhumdulillah,  chooses to give the train to the lost and found man and earn Allah’s reward.  Later, Adam realizes after much searching and help from his family, that when he found the train, he left his toy airplane.  The moral is cemented in the readers, as they too hope, with Adam, that whomever found his plane, also did the right thing and gave it to the lost and found. By coming full circle the message is conveyed, and a happy ending is had by all.

The book takes place in Britain and is book two in the Adam series.adam 2