Tag Archives: classroom

Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke


I know this AR 2.1, 156 page graphic novel probably doesn’t deserve a review, but for as important as OWN voice books are, books with Muslim characters thrown in the mix are important for representation too.  Yes sometimes we are the star and we definitely need to tell our own stories, but we are also friends, and side-kicks and supporters too.  In this case we are a purple duck with a headscarf named Aziza, that thinks she is smarter than the other 4th graders in Mr. Wolf’s class, but fits right in with the quirkiness of the anthrmorphized cast too.  There is nothing mentioned about the scarf or about Aziza’s faith, there is also a boy named Abdi in the class that is a cat and could also be Muslim, but really, in this silly book which is the start of a series, I was just so giddy to see a Muslim included and grateful for the representation.



It is the first day of 4th grade and Mr. Wolf is nervous.  Margot is new too, but the other kids seem to know each other already.  Aziza, Abdi, Randy, Sampson, Henry, Penny, Bobby, Lola, Oliver, Stewart, Miguel, Noah, Molly, Lizzy, Oscar, and Johnny are all different animals and all unique.  The book is really just a handful of the characters trying to survive the first day of school.  Whether it be confronting another teacher about stealing your stapler, making a friend on the bus, having rats steal your lunch, falling asleep in a box because your new baby brother kept you up on all night, or trying to figure out why you have to show your work when on a math assessment.  The book will resonate with kids 2-4th grade and make them giggle at the silliness of it all.



I love that the teacher is more nervous than the kids about the first day of school and that they all seem to be doing the best they can.  Aziza is earily irritated by her classmates who don’t seem to want to do their work, but she is no more annoying than the other students and all seem to have diverse backgrounds and issues at hand.  The author was an educator and the book reads true to any one who has littles or has been in a school environment, making it all the more charming.  There are four books thus far in the series and my kids say Aziza features prominantly in the second book too.  I have had this book in my house for a while now, and for some reason just now paid attention to the cover today when begrudgingly scolding my kids about leaving books out everywhere.  I asked if the duck had on a hijab and two of my boys without budging to put away said book, replied, “yeah it is Aziza.” As if seeing a muhajaba duck is the norm, who knows maybe it is.  So, I sat down to read the book with enthusiasm and 20 minutes later, thought how great it is to be included. Representation does shape perception, and non Muslim kids may not think anything of it, or my own kids who are flooded with Islamic fiction books, but I can only imagine how ecstatic I would have been as a kid to be included as the norm without fanfare or explanation given.



They talk about if farts are better or ice cream in the creation of a venn diagram.



Wouldn’t do it for a book club, but would definitely have it in a class library and school library.  Fun book, seemingly fun series, and easy reading for all levels.


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

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

cover layla

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.


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. 


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.


Here is my pro and con list about the book:


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.


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?


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.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

all are welcome

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.  


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.  


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.


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. 


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.


Mr. Gamal’s Gratitude Glasses by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Nuria Tomas Mayolas

Mr. Gamal’s Gratitude Glasses by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Nuria Tomas Mayolas


Asmaa Hussein over at Ruqaya’s Bookshelf has put out two new books, and this gem of a book is one of them.  Mr. Gamal’s class is angry, about lots of little things getting out at dodge ball, the wrong color grapes, having to wait their turn, and it is making for restless, grumpy students.  On a trip to the dollar store, the teacher is struck by inspiration when he sees some oversized pink lensed glasses.  With a pair for each student, the kids have a week  to try out there “gratitude glasses” and report back on their success.

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In 36 pages readers ages 5-8 will get to know some of the stresses felt by kids they can relate to, and ways to find “good things, even in tough situations.”  They will also learn that the real secret isn’t the glasses, but their own brains discovering “new ways to think about stuff!”

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While the kids learn a lesson, Mr. Gamal does too, and so do the readers, alhumdulillah.

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The book would be great fun to read in a group accompanied by glasses to hand out and test Mr. Gamal’s idea with.  I also think it is great to have on the bookshelf to remind kids that they need to find the positive and break out of their slump.

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The kids all have “islamic” names and a few wear hijab (some do not), but there is nothing religious in the book.  It would work well in any environment and does a good job of showing diverse characters.  The pictures are adequate, I don’t love them, but they compliment the story and set the tone fairly well.  The book is a great size for story time (8.5 x 11) and with a thick cover and shiny pages, should hold up to repetitive use.