Tag Archives: diversity

Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin

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Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin

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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.

WHY I LIKE IT:

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?

FLAGS:

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.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

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.

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

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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.

SYNOPSIS:

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.

WHY I LIKE IT:

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.

FLAGS:

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.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

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.

What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

This rhyming Islamic tale wonders what dinosaurs would do if they were Muslim and alive today.  For littlest Muslim readers this repetitive tale ponders how they would eat, pray, love their mothers, respect their neighbors, dream, and feel, by tying all those things back to how Muslims behave.  The adorable illustrations kept my 6 year old glued to the story and the simple text held my 2 year old’s attention.  A fun book with wonderful supplements at the end to engage children in activities that everyone does compared to those that just Muslims do, a Fun Fact about (Muslim) dinosaurs and mums in Islam.  As well as extra activities, valuable information, and details about donations made with the purchase of this book.

The book takes place in London and imagines if dinosaurs were alive and if they were Muslim what day-to-day life would be like.  The refrain starts out “If dinosaurs were alive today and if they were Muslims too,” before stating what they would do and having it conclude with “just like me and you.”

In a similar vein as the ever popular How do Dinosaurs series by Jane Yolen, the book teaches kids how to behave by teaching the dinosaurs.  The book is short, and the humor comes from the illustrations, primarily the facial expressions of the parents, more than from the text, but I think the wildness of Dinosaurs living today will get most little kids smiling.

The only real concern I have with the book is the text when they are in the masjid praying and it reads, “they would try their best to pray five times a day.”  I know we don’t demand our littlest ones to pray all five salat, but I don’t know if it would imply that trying to pray is sufficient even when you are older.

From start to finish I found myself smiling while reading this book aloud to my kids, even after the fourth time in a row, alhumdulillah.

Hello! A Welcoming Story by Gina K. Lewis illustrated by Maria Jose’ Campos

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Hello! A Welcoming Story by Gina K. Lewis illustrated by Maria Jose’ Campos

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This 62 page early elementary story is told from two perspectives, you flip the book to read each parallel story from two points of view, the refugee children’s and the children welcoming them.  Overall, I feel it is very well-intentioned and gets a lot right, but I found myself not feeling comfortable with some of the messaging regarding the visibly Muslim character included.

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I love that there are characters of all skin tones both welcoming the refugees and the refugees themselves. And I love the vague universalness that binds all the refugees together being expressed:  that they love their home, they had to flee, the journey was dangerous, they left everything behind, etc..

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I also love the warmth and genuine compassion that comes from the welcoming children.  They are reassuring, open, and seem to truly want to provide confidence to their new classmates.  The simple text really conveys a lot of emotion albeit very idyllic, that provides ways that readers in similar situations can also mimic when welcoming anyone new.

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On one of the two story sides a map is included showing that the refugee kids come from all over the world, the side that did not have the map I worry might confuse young readers.  They might not realize that the five children do not all come from the same country.  There should be a map on both sides, ideally.

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The illustrations that show how the welcoming kids understand the refugee stories is clever in the showing of their understanding.  The images are similar, but the different style is a great emphasis on how we process from our point of reference facts that others have lived.

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The concept of a new kid finding everything so different and not fitting in, is a great concept to explore in terms of clothing and food and language, but for some reason I didn’t like how the girl in hijab was presented.  I’m ok that she took off her hijab to fit in, and that her classmates encouraged her to be herself, and put it back on, but the text is too over reaching, to an erroneous end.

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It says on one page, “No one looked like me, but most people smiled.”  Really, NO ONE? No other Muslims exist in your new home? It then says, “I was afraid to wear my real clothes to school.  The other kids didn’t dress like me.”  In the illustration her clothes are EXACTLY THE SAME, the only thing that changes is she has a scarf on. Hijabs are a religious article of clothing, they are not unique or country specific.  And what does real clothing even mean?

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I also didn’t like the text reading, “This is my journey’s end.”  That seems to imply that you leave the horrors behind, you build bridges, this is your home now, and that is it.  This is a children’s book, the message should be that there is so much more to you and to your life, and you will find welcoming people and be the one welcoming in the future.  I don’t like that it seems to carry the weight of finality to a person’s story.  People, all of us, are more than just a label.

Daring Dreamers Club: Piper Cooks Up a Plan by Erin Sodenburg illustrated by Anoosha Syed

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Daring Dreamers Club: Piper Cooks Up a Plan by Erin Sodenburg illustrated by Anoosha Syed

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This is book two in the series, I couldn’t get the first book from the library, and I wasn’t willing to wait for the one that focuses on Muslim character, Zahra’s story to be published, it could be a few years.  At 224 pages this middle grades book is fairly formulaic with five diverse girls becoming friends, each book featuring one girl’s story with the others serving as supporting characters, and with the tie-in to Disney Princesses, I really didn’t expect much. Imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying the characters and their lessons and struggles, sigh.  The book is sweet, the characters like-able, and the author really doesn’t try and force all the characters into every scene.  The book focuses on Piper and the other girls add to her story where it helps, they don’t all have equal time and it doesn’t get confusing because of it.  You can even read the books out of order.  Zahra wears hijab and her Islam is mentioned in a journal entry where she discusses the five pillars, the importance of charity, and getting dirty looks.  There is nothing preachy, but none of the other character’s are defined by their faith and I truly don’t know if I’m bothered by the singling out of Islam being her identity or flattered by it.

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SYNOPSIS:

Five girls are grouped together at school in an advisory class to help prepare them for middle school: Milla, Piper, Ruby, Mariana, and Zahra.  Their advisor loves Disney Princesses and in their weekly journal entries has them write about their assigned Princesses as they explore their similarities and how they would tackle challenges, face fears, and the like.  The girls are diverse in family dynamics, race, religion, ability, etc.  Milla is African American with two moms and food allergies.  Zahra is good at art, Muslim, and likes to sew.  Ruby is a twin, her parents are divorced and she is great at sports.  Mariana is hispanic, and is an amazing swimmer.  Piper is Jewish, has dyslexia and loves to cook.  In the book she is struggling with school, while she excels in her food science creations.  She gets accepted to appear in a kids cooking show competition, but will need the help of her Daring Dreamer friends to prepare for the challenges about to be thrown at her during the competition, and to help her from falling behind in school.

Each girl has their journal entry presented in the book which helps to understand more about the different girls, as well as a little bit of introspection to the events happening in the larger story.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like that the characters are really supportive, and the lessons aren’t so on the nose.  Piper isn’t just told that she doesn’t have to win the competition to have value, you feel it long before she accepts it herself.  Her personality really comes through and it isn’t for attention or for sympathy, she helps a competitor, there is no giant round of applause or moral reflection, she just helps.  I love that even though the story is Piper’s and her dream, there are larger issues woven in and felt, not necessarily preached. Piper is the middle child and feels she has to prove herself, she remarks on how being pulled out of class in early elementary school to get help has made it hard for her to ask for academic help now, the role of confidence and how charity and giving back is important, even while her own family’s financial situation isn’t clear.  I like the role of Piper’s siblings, they are quirky, but loving, and they work through their annoyances to help each other.  It is heartwarming.

I have my own mixed feelings about Disney Princesses, as a child of the 80’s, the 90’s brought all the glory of Jasmine, and Ariel, and Belle, and Mulan, and my friends and I definitely identified with different characters.  I may or may not have tied my hijab up many a days and claimed that I was Mulan in high school, but somehow with my own daughter I didn’t really bring the Princesses in to her day-to-day existence, I don’t think she has even seen all the movies, we read books (we didn’t even have a tv when she was little), she’s 14 now.  It had become too commercialized, I worried about the messaging more.  This book reminded me of what my friends and I as older “kids” channeled the Disney Princesses to be.  It wasn’t all about pink and sparkles, it was battling the bad guy, hanging on to your dreams, and persevering when things were tough.  This book channels those thoughts, it isn’t in your face Disney, it is more muted, and I appreciate that.  It is a solid middle grade read and I think an enjoyable one at that.

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FLAGS:

In this particular installment, there are no crushes, no holidays, no music, one character has two moms, but in this book, I don’t know that a casual reader would pick up on it. It says “Moms” once, it might be a bigger deal in the story that focuses on Milla, but I haven’t read it to comment.  There is lying and Piper tries to justify it, but I think it is clear and has its own resolution.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

It is much too young for a middle school book club, but I think because it is such an easy engaging read, that in a home, or classroom, the book would be appealing to 3rd graders and up.

The author’s website: https://www.erinsoderberg.com/daring-dreamers-club.html

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There was an Old Auntie who Swallowed a Samosa by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Milton Bazerque

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There was an Old Auntie who Swallowed a Samosa by Asmaa Hussein illustrated by Milton Bazerque

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I feel like such a broken record of late (and in the future), of my reviews of books published by Ruqaya’s Bookshelf; the stories are WONDERFUL, but I really struggle with the titles.  I truly thought this was a cultural/religious version of the classic, I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.  But it isn’t.  It is an original clever, laugh-out-loud hysterical story for preschool to early elementary.  And one that parents and caregivers will not dread reading over and over again with the well done rhyme, expressive illustrations, a silly conclusion, religious framework, and universal appeal.  The book is on point, the title and cover illustration, sadly for me are not, and don’t, in my opinion, do the story justice.

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Auntie Sophie is making samosas with some peppers she grew herself.  Under the close company of her kitty, we learn how the Scotch bonnets were grown and cared for.  The doorbell rings and Auntie Eynara has arrived with her beautiful cake to take to the masjid for iftaar.  

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Auntie Sophie  hurries and fries her samosas and the ladies head up the hill to the only mosque in town.  Everyone breaks their fasts with a date, but Auntie Sophia dives in to her samosas.  When the imam’s mic crackles, she swallows the samosa whole and something is terribly wrong.  Her belly is on fire and jelly nor garlic knots nor mint lemonade not rice can cool it down.

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Just when she thinks she is ready to pray, it starts up again, and having eaten everyone’s dinner, Auntie Sophia is getting very tired. As she rolls out the door and down the hill to her house, she figures out what happened to her delicious samosa filling, and calls to have pizza and halal hot wings delivered to the mosque.  She also pledges to grow flowers next year instead!

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Kids will love the book as it is outrageous, while at the same time being so relatable.  The mosque, iftar, eating something spicy, the book is a favorite at our house for both the two and six year old and the horizontal 8.5 x11 orientation, keep eyes glued to the pages, while the rhyming lines move the story along.  I enjoy being able to talk about the peppers and different foods and smell of garlic with my kids after the 17th reading or so, and I love the diversity of the characters at the mosque. 

Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Shirin Adl

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Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Shirin Adl

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This 32 page lyrical 9 x 11 hardback book with playful illustrations is a celebration on the similarities of all Muslim weddings and the cultural distinctions that make them unique.  Four countries are highlighted: Pakistan, Morocco, Somalia, and Great Britain, and I really wish there were more.  The book is written on an early elementary level, but would make a great wedding present, or even a text to be shared at interfaith gatherings that focus on traditions and women’s rights.  It is joyous and informative complete with a glossary and info blurb at the end.

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The book starts out with verse 30:21, Chapter ar-Rum in the Holy Qur’an and then jumps in to jubilations of mabrook, congratulations.  It establishes what countries will be explored and that Muslims get married sharing religious rites, but different celebrations.

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In Pakistan there’s a henna party and the groom rides in on a horse.  The brides are adorned with bangles of gold and guests enjoy biriyani and rasmalai.

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In Morocco the entire neighborhood helps prepare couscous and roasted lamb with olives and pickled lemons.  At the waleemah the bride is carried in on a chair, and changes outfits seven times.

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In Somalia, buraanbur is danced and blessings are sung to the mother of the bride.

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In England the ginger bearded imam marries the groom to his hijab wearing bride in white.  There are people of all faiths and backgrounds there to celebrate and wish them well.

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But before all of that, there are meetings with families, prayers, important conversations, agreement to the marriage contract, the woman is given a mahr and guidance is sought.

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The Muslims: Book 1: The Test by Ahmad Philips

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The Muslims: Book 1: The Test by Ahmad Philips

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This is the first anime comic book in an eight book series aimed at early elementary readers.  Often books have lessons, this however, simply presents as an illustrated moral.  There is a situation that contains the lesson that one should always try their best for the sake of Allah swt and that is about it.  The knowledge isn’t tested a few additional times or in different situations, it is just 22 pages to illustrate the concept of doing things for the right reason, in this case studying after a failed test.  There isn’t anything wrong with the bright colorful book, the brother sister duo read authentic as they try and recall Islamic teachings, and get each other in trouble by accident, the diverse family is supportive and understanding, it just seems that it would apply to a specific lesson in a home or classroom and then sit on a shelf unasked for and not very memorable.

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The book starts with seven year old Hani trying his best on a multiple choice test that he didn’t study for.  He battles the personified Quiz Monster to no avail and on the way home from school confesses all to his little sister, Huda.  She reassures him that Allah swt doesn’t give us more than we can handle and agrees to not tell their parents.  Hani plans to tell them himself, inshaAllah.

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When they get home though, she slips, and spills the news to their mom.  Their dad comes home soon after and everyone knows.  The parents he imagines will turn into evil monsters themselves, but rather they laugh and remind him that he should have the intention of pleasing Allah swt in all things, so that he will assuredly never fail.  That if he makes that his goal, then he will inshaAllah find success.  Hani decides that he isn’t going to be careless in his studying and keeps focused.  He has a nightmare that he studies the wrong material, but alhumdulillah it is just a dream and he is ready, inshaAllah.

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The Islamic lesson and the situational allegory isn’t super clear, and I feel some discussion will need to take place to connect all the dots and convey the lesson in a way to be succinct and memorable.  Had he maybe made dua or intention before he studied, then the message would have been put in to practice, not just something the father talked to him about.  It is admirable that Hani was honest, that he didn’t try and hide is score, which I wish would have been praised.  Additionally, a little resolution between the siblings to show all was forgiven would have been nice.  The mom wears hijab even in the home, and there is a glossary at the end as well.

Salaam: Mindfulness for Muslims by Humera Malik illustrated by Najwa Awatiff

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Salaam: Mindfulness for Muslims by Humera Malik illustrated by Najwa Awatiff

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I had planned to wait until the physical book comes out on the 15th to offer up my thoughts, but the Kindle version has released and I want to help put it on everyone’s radar.  My own kids went back to school today and emotions and feelings are all over the place: excitement, nerves, anxiety, worry.  Changes in general cause heightened feelings, throw in Covid cases on the rise, puberty, friends, more open discussions about mental health, etc., and kids need tools to be successful.  Alhumdulillah, the Qur’an and Sunnah offer guidance, reassurance, and direction, and this book helps organize and present coping tools for ages seven to adult.  Thirteen emotions over 85 pages follow a pattern of a title page, a “Remember” page with an ayat from the Qur’an (except in one case it is a hadith), then an affirmation to be said that is either a verse, a dua, or dhikr, followed by an adorably illustrated spread of simple activities to do and try in a checklist manner.  Not only will young Muslims find reassurance and direction in the text provided, but inshaAllah, they will also be comforted knowing that what they are experiencing is very human and that Allah swt and Prophet Muhammad saw have provided insight and acknowledgement of such emotions.

The 13 emotions highlighted are: afraid, angry, disappointed, grief, jealous, lonely, overwhelmed, sad, shy, sorry, upset worried, grateful.  There is an author note to parents at the beginning that mentions that the book is meant to be read “cover to cover in peaceful times and to be dipped into to find specific advice” when needed, and I couldn’t agree more.  There is also a note for the readers normalizing big emotions and reassuring them that Allah swt does not want them to despair.

The diverse character illustrations are absolutely heartwarming and I hope that they will be made in to pictures or charts to be purchased so they can be hung.  They are really well done, and the visual mapping will help kids retain and put the tips in to practice.  I’m not sure what the sizing will be in the physical paper back book, but I hope it is large enough for them to be properly enjoyed.

 

 

Gokul Village and the Magic Fountain by Jeni Chapman and Bal Das illustrated by Charlene Chua

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Gokul Village and the Magic Fountain by Jeni Chapman and Bal Das illustrated by Charlene Chua

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This 32 page book for preschool to second graders, 3-7, is very formulaic and reads like an episode of Handy Manny, or Dora the Explorer, or Paw Patrol.  Each of the six characters has a skill and represents a different culture, when they work together magic happens and they learn something in the process.  There is a girl with hijab and even a mayor that has to be convinced and the kids are successful and save the day.  Sure there is nothing wrong with it, but it is a bit cheesy, on the nose, and largely forgettable.  The book claims that the six kids are going to learn and celebrate other New Years festivals, as they travel to New York, China, and India for Diwali, except, nothing is really learned or even experienced at any of the festivals or the one that they are hosting in their own village.  The book is the first in a series, and I don’t plan to purchase the next one to see if it improves on showing, rather than telling, but if I could find it in a library, I would definitely read it and enjoy the bright illustrations of diverse kids.

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The book starts off showing a sad broken fountain that isn’t loved or used except by six kids every day who gather there to play.  Zoya to paint, Christopher to build, Riya to play her flute, Dalai to ride his bicycle, Noelle to fly her drone, and Jacob to share the treats he baked.  They like to pretend that the waters of the fountain are connected to all the water around the world and that they can go on adventures.

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When the kids learn that the New Year’s party is canceled because the fountain can’t be repaired in time the kids decide to take action.  Time-out, I know, I usually give the entire summary then highlight the holes, but the book claims no one uses the fountain, now it is in the city center and needs repairs for a party, it seemed that it was old and crumbling, but last year it was fine? And if the kids could have always fixed it, why didn’t they? Any way Riya assigns everyone jobs to fix the fountain, AND THEN they go get the mayor and let her know they are going to fix it and she agrees saying if they can get it done in time the New Year’s Celebration wouldn’t be canceled.  The order seems off to me, they start fixing it, then work it out with the mayor and then have it all fixed in two days and the mayor clears it.  The illustrations show it pretty much fixed when the mayor arrives the first time, not sure what took two more days, and how it was ok for kids to fix a fountain prior to getting permission.

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With the festival back on, the fountain looks happy and the kids suddenly have enhanced skills: notes from the flute turn in to birds, Zoya can paint in the air, Dailai’s bracelet is glowing, tools are growing and multiplying, and the drone, iDea, speaks.  She tells the children to read the inscription on the heart of the fountain.  Somehow the kids know to each touch a glowing orb and sing a song verse together.  It reminded me of Dragon Tales.

The fountain whisks the kids to New York where they see a “jostling, jolly,” crowd celebrating.  Then they are off to watch “millions of people clap and sway together, hoping for happiness and good fortune for all,” at a Chinese celebration.  That is literally all it says, it doesn’t say that Chinese New Year would be at a different time because of the lunar calendar or anything, and then they are off to celebrate Diwali, in India, which also wouldn’t be at the same time as western New Years, and all they learn about it is that it is a celebration of light over darkness.  I’d guess readers wouldn’t even realize that it often coincides with the Hindu lunar calendar’s new year celebrations.

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The kids come back, name the fountain the Friendship Fountain, use some of the decorations they saw to decorate for their own new year’s party, and then they clean up after the party.  There is no showing how their village celebrated, there are no other villagers attending or helping or participating, it just says they agreed it was “the best party ever.”

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Perhaps  I am cynical because the book is $17, but even if the book was free, it really is lacking some depth.  If you are going to highlight some cultures, then highlight some cultures, don’t just name drop and move on. I love that the characters are diverse, but I hope in future book, their own cultures and beliefs are shared not just visually represented.  The formula works for little readers, but if even a talking hammer and screw driver in Handy Manny can have their own personalities, sadly these six kids missed a chance to show themselves and foster inclusive representation and teamwork in a celebratory manner.

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