Tag Archives: early chapter books

Ali and the Gladiators by Farheen Khan illustrated by Evgeniya Erokhina (Ali Series Book #1)

Standard
Ali and the Gladiators by Farheen Khan illustrated by Evgeniya Erokhina (Ali Series Book #1)

This new early chapter book series from Ruqaya’s Bookshelf comes as a boxed set (Books 1-5), so I wasn’t sure if I should review all of them as a collection, or just the first book.  I don’t typically review additional books in a series, but these books can be read out of order and stand alone just fine.  Ultimately, I’m just going to review the first book, but know the entire series is silly, clean and engaging for ages 7 and up (2nd grade will love these), they will connect with boys, girls, Muslims, non Muslims, and get readers of all ages smiling, if not laughing, at Ali’s outrageous adventures and choices.  Ali is presumably Muslim, the author is Muslim, the publisher is Muslim, but there is nothing religious at all in the text.  Even the one about Eid is very culture framed, not “I’m Muslim and this is what we do and why,” so to speak.  In Ali and the Gladiator there is a friend named Abdullah, his parents are referred to as Mama and Baba, they eat at Moe’s Shawarma Shop, and eat daal and roti at home, so there are hints of culture and religion that will further mirror a Muslim reader’s experience, but the focus is on the hilarious situations that Ali finds himself getting in to and out of with good friends, kindness, enthusiasm, and bravery.  All the books are about 60 pages long with short chapters, detailed pencil style drawings every few pages, inviting text, and an activity at the end.

TODAY (3/25/22) IS THE LAST DAY TO PREORDER AT THE SPECIAL PRICE, and THE BEAUTIFUL BOXED COLLECTION RELEASES APRIL 1st, JUST IN TIME FOR RAMADAN!

SYNOPSIS:

Ali really wants to impress his teacher, Mr. O’Reilly and a big project on Rome will be a great opportunity to do so, but he isn’t anxious to get started.  He has his April Party to prepare for, his friends to hang out with, and plus he knows he works best under pressure.  When he finally realizes he should get started, all the books on Rome are checked out, save a small book on the floor, yes Ali is on the floor in the library.  The book is about how to become a gladiator and that gives Ali an idea.  As his imagination works out the details he is off to his favorite store, the hardware store.  He has weapons to make and actors to train, and beasts to tame.  The assignment is supposed to be written, but Ali is extra and he does not want to be boring.  When he raises his hand to go first in the presentation, Mr. O’Reilly is confused, no one is presenting, they are just handing in their reports, but when gladiators and a “ferocious” cat enter the room, it is clear that Ali has his own way of doing most everything.

img_8157

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is fun and well written.  The characters grow and the writing and descriptions smooth, the illustrations add detail and the books are perfectly silly for their intended audience.  So many books for this demographic resort to brattiness or potty humor, and I love that these are outrageous shenanigans, but they don’t cross into being obnoxious

I do wish there was more Islam in the books, or really any.  It doesn’t need to be Islam centered of preachy, but to add a bit of depth to the characters and flesh out their backgrounds would have been nice.  The desi foods are included, why not mention halal or toss in some inshaAllahs or that Ali gets to work on his weapons after fajr.

I absolutely love the presentation of all five books in a hard glossy case.  They look lovely on a shelf and would make wonderful gifts for Eid, or any time really.

img_8156

FLAGS:

none

img_8155

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I hope to have these in our school library, and encourage the 2nd and 3rd grade teacher to look in to having them on their classroom shelves.  Kids will be tempted to pick them up off the shelf, they will thumb through them and be drawn in, inshaAllah once they read one, they will read the whole series, and if that isn’t praise for a book series, I don’t know what is. Happy Reading!

Our Granddad by Maryam Ahmed illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

Standard
Our Granddad by Maryam Ahmed illustrated by Kulthum Burgess

grandad.gif

This 29 page (four chapter) middle elementary book about understanding sickness, old age, and a bit of death, makes some good points about sabr and dua and Allah testing us with illness.  The story, however, is really dry and never becomes more than just a vehicle for conveying the author’s message of how Islam views elders and the challenges often brought upon as they age.

SYNOPSIS:

Hafsah, age 8, and her 11 year old brother Hasan are meeting after school so that they can join their parent’s in the long drive to Devon to check on their sick grandfather.  The drive is apparently really long, but being that we don’t know where the kids live or how long the drive is, we just know it is a long, painful, miserable drive.  The family is silent with worry about the grandfather on the trip, but no indicators as to what his diagnosis or symptoms are is given, just that he is ill and as the night and drive progress, the children worry he is dying.  Hasan, in the darkness of the car, sheds some tears about losing his fun granddad, but no details about the adventures they go on, or why he is fun are shared.  Their mom encourages them to continue to make dua and tells them that maybe the illness is a blessing, but the children don’t understand what she means by that.

When they arrive, the children are told it is too late bother their granddad and to wait til morning to see him.  The next day the doctor tells them he had an asthma attack and is on new medicines that are helping.  Seems like there should be more to the illness, as asthma once the attack is over can be controlled, and no other mention of heart problems or pneumonia or other diseases are indicated.  Hafsah and Hasan finally get to see him and are surprised he is awake and talking and they learn that sometimes Allah tests us by giving us hardships and that their duas and prayers were helping.  He shares the hadith, “No Muslim is afflicted with an ordeal, be it an illness or something else, without Allah thereby causing his sins to drop away just as a tree sheds its leaves.” Unfortunately, the hadith is not footnoted or attributed, but the characters and readers understand the lesson and find peace in knowing that every hardship is an opportunity not a punishment.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the concept of the book, just not the execution of the principles it instructionally conveys.  Kids need books that explain some of the big concepts that they can’t necessarily understand or even ask about, such is why do we get sick, what is going to happen to our grandparents etc.  The book really just needed more showing and less telling.  It details how the kids chase each other home from school, but doesn’t tell of the adventures that granddad and Hasan go on, it just tells us that they miss having these adventures.  There is no character development, and there is definitely space for the reader to feel for the grandpa and the concern of the kids, but it is glossed over in words not in anecdotal sharing.

The book is British, and some of the words and phrases might be confusing to American kids, such as the description of the grandfather being poorly used repetitively.

The book is presented well with clear font and spacing on glossy pages bound in a hard illustrated cover.  There are small detailed life-like pictures throughout the story that show the kids and family.  The females are in hijab and the family is clearly Muslim.

 

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This is probably a decent book to have in an Islamic School library, it would function as a reference book more than a novel or book kids would naturally pick up.  If doing a theme on aging or sickness, or tests from Allah, this book would fit in nicely in adding to a discussion, but outside of that, I can’t see that kids will even remember the book or what it is about.