Tag Archives: early elementary

Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan illustrated by Wastana Haikal

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Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan illustrated by Wastana Haikal

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This early chapter book packs a lot of personality, growth, and fun into 127 pages.  The writing quality is engaging and the characters relatable.  If you have read the Zayd Saleem books you will recognize the family in this new stand alone series.  Either way though, from the surprising Naano to the fun Mamoo, the neighborhood children and the desire to maintain her reign as Queen of the neighborhood, the book may be meant for 7-10 year olds, but based on the kids in my house, anyone that picked it up, read the entire book before putting it back down.  The grandma covers her head, it mentions she reads Quran, there is a Salaam or two, an InshaAllah, and desi cultural foods mentioned.  The focus is not on religion or culture, but the layer adds depth to the characters, and normalizes names and practices in a universal plot.

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SYNOPSIS:

Zara’s neighborhood has a lot of kids in it, and Zara has the reputation of being the leader who rules with grace and fairness.  It is a position she takes very seriously.  When Mr. Chapman moves out and a new family moves in, Zara fears losing her place.  The new girl Naomi has a lot of ideas and everyone seems to like them.  Zara has a grand idea to set a Guinness World Record, but with her little brother Zayd messing her up, nothing is going as planned for the summer.

As she finds her self alone a lot and not having much fun, she decides to change things up.  She works to be less bossy, less controlling, more willing to to share her crown.  With a lot of heart, internal growth, recognizing her strengths and weaknesses, the neighborhood kids just might have a record-breaking summer.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story wasn’t just surface level, it acknowledged some emotions and stresses and introspection, that I was pleasantly surprised to see played out in an early chapter book.  I really just enjoy the family, they read relatable and fun. The Nanoo’s surprise ability to hula hoop and her pettiness over a cooking competition genuinely made me smile.  The neighborhood kids and the politics of the different aged children having to find ways to compromise reminds me a lot of my summers as a kid, and the nostalgia was sweet.  I like the Islamic touchstones, I would have loved if they had to go in at sunset to pray or something of the like, but I was glad that at least that Nanoo reads Quran and an inshaAllah in the text made me feel seen.

FLAGS:

Music, dancing, frustration, jealousy

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book should definitely be on every library and class shelf.  It releases tomorrow on Amazon, but Crescent Moon Store already has it.

Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

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Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

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My initial thoughts of this 32 page Islamic fiction, fable-style book, is that it needed to be tested on children, lots and lots of children.  It should have been read aloud to catch all the grammar, syntax, and diction errors, and young readers and listeners should have been asked what they learned or understood from the story, BEFORE, being published.  The message is sweet, the illustrations cute, but it feels unrefined and reads underdeveloped: pictures and concepts are not enough to carry a book if the writing is poor.

I have looked forward to obtaining the book since its launch, so as soon as it was available from a US stockist (@crescentmoonstore), I didn’t even hesitate to purchase it.  I knew the book was available for free online as a read aloud on YouTube, but because I truly love supporting Muslim authors and publishers, I wanted to wait until I had a physical copy in my hand.  These opinions are my own, all my reviews are.  I mean no malicious will to anyone, I’ve spent my money on something, and once I’ve done so, I am completely justified to have an opinion.  You don’t have to like it, or agree with it, but it isn’t personal.  I’ve given reasonings for my opinions, and I stand by them.

Jamal the Giant isn’t necessarily mean, but he is careless, young, and selfish.  He scares the animals in the woods, destroys their homes, ruins farmers’ crops, and steals from the village.  One night, he wants to steal some juice and in the process overhears the community members discussing how different he is from his kind parents, and that he must be forced to leave.  He tries to mend his ways before he is driven from his home, but to no avail.  Unsure how to fix things, it is the advice of a tiny mouse that sets his reform in motion and conveys the message from the Quran, surah 11 ayat 114, “Good deeds cancel out bad deeds.  This is a reminder for the mindful.” He learns he must apologize, make amends and be kind.

The message is accurate, but I have some concerns at how it is conveyed.  Why was the responsibility on the giant to learn how to behave.  Yes if he knew better, he should do better, but it is made clear that he is the last of his kind and his parents died when he was really young.  If the villagers aren’t going to try and teach him, who is?  It isn’t necessarily victim blaming, but if you don’t know better, and have no one to teach you, you definitely are a victim of neglect in some ways.  To have them going from enabling him out of a promise to his parents to threatening to kick him out from his home, is a little abrupt.

Story-wise there are some points that gave me pause.  Why is there an owl flying off in the daytime, sure there are some diurnal owls, but most kids are taught owls are nocturnal, why not change it to a woodland bird that is active in the day, don’t confuse kids.  It doesn’t specify a timeframe that the story takes place in, but it feels like a fable with talking animals a giant and a clear message.  There is a baker, a farmer, an imam, a greengrocery, it is all very quaint, but then the imam is holding a cell-phone, wait what? I do appreciate that the farmer is female though, and that some of the women cover and some do not, it seems representative.

I’m curious who taught the giant to read, and how come he writes his “s” backwards, there seems to be a bit of disjointedness to the upbringing of the giant, his age, even in giant terms.  A lot it seems the author assumes the reader knows about giants or their stereotypes perhaps, because the book doesn’t address them, and the result isn’t a fun moral story, but one that seems to miss things.

The little mouse teaching the big giant, carries some Lion and the Mouse-Aesop fable vibes, but really it is the proof-reading of the book that is disappointing.  When you read it aloud, commas are abundantly missing (even in the online reading pauses are placed where commas are not written).  Why is the B in Baker capitalized, and if it is the Baker’s house, as in last name is Baker, then an apostrophe is missing.  Many of the lines are just awkward and halting, even if not particularly erroneous.  The diction is questionable at times, Jamal “always” thinks about that day at the lake, woah, doesn’t reflect on it, but it haunts him “always.”  Jamal “‘really’ didn’t have to steal,” seems to imply he was justified in stealing a little, this should be a black and white issue in a children’s book, no?

There are questions at the end of the book, and a whole page of information about the author and illustrator as well.  In a case like this I don’t know if the publisher didn’t do justice to the author’s work, or if the author should have refined it more, before coming to the publisher, but it is unfortunate because clearly a lot of effort went in to the illustrations and promoting of the book.

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.

Environmental Sunnahs: Emulating the Prophet One Earth-Friendly Act at a Time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

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Environmental Sunnahs: Emulating the Prophet One Earth-Friendly Act at a Time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

This beautiful book explores how intertwined Islam and caring for the earth are in a kid appropriate manner.  The rhyming lines and fun illustrations are accompanied at the end by very detailed sourcing, references, and tips.  All non fiction or fictionalized fact books should be sourced this well, it really has set the bar, and left most books in the dust.  My only real critique of the book is that I wish it was larger.  The pictures and dancing text need more space to be poured over and enjoyed. The 8×8 size doesn’t do the 36 page book justice.  The inside text should also be a more uniform/consistent in size.  At times the rhyme is off and feels forced, but because there are facts on each page the story isn’t read consecutively.  You break the rhyme scheme to ponder over the “Did you know?” sections, so the beat and cadence isn’t super important.  Overall, a well-done book to share and discuss with children ages 5 and up, and a great reference, resource, and memorable teaching tool to bring us all closer to the prophetic mannerisms we strive to emulate.

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The book starts off with a message by naturalist, Director of the Art and Wilderness Institute and author of “How to Draw 60 Native CA Plants and Animals, a Field Guide (and my former childhood penpal) Sama Wareh.  It then jumps in to exploring the miracle of nature on land and under the sea. It shows desert landscapes, and mountainous ones, jungles, and farms, valleys and cities.

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The book talks about water: Zam Zam and wudu and where clean water comes from.  How little water we should use according to hadith and how to respect all living things. It talks about Prophet Sulaiman (as) showing kindness to even an ant. And how planting a tree is charity. It shares information about reusable goods, limiting waste, and understanding eco systems.

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The book concludes with easy to read Hadith references, Quranic references, a glossary, and action items.

Turning Back to Allah: Sulaiman’s Caving Calamity by Aliya Vaughan illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Turning Back to Allah: Sulaiman’s Caving Calamity by Aliya Vaughan illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

turning back to Allah

Good early elementary books can be tricky: the voice needs to read authentic, the lessons not preachy, and the scenarios relatable, all while not talking down to the reader or talking above their comprehension.  As fabulous middle grade books seem to be popping up at record speed, I find myself reading the same old books with my fourth child who is six.  Alhumdulillah, this book was nominated in the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021 competition and I was able to purchase and receive it quickly from Noura at Crescent Moon Store.  My son can read it, although because of the British terminology, he did better when I read it to him, none-the-less, he could explain it, he genuinely understood and related to the main character, and was emotionally connected to the outcome of the story.  The 49 page, color illustrated story is perfect for independent readers first or second grade and up.  The book also contains comprehension questions, etiquettes for du’a, a list of times and places when du’as are answered, and evidence for the story from hadith.  Additionally there are ayats from the Quran at the beginning and end of this well sourced book, alhumdulillah.

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SYNOPSIS:

Sulaiman is getting ready for an overnight scout trip in some caves.  He is nervous having been stuck in his apartment elevators the summer before and being lost at a park with his family.  His stress has him being mean to his little sister, and his dad tries to mediate, but you can sense that their normal bickering is heightened because this is going to be hard for Sulaiman.  The scouts meet up to board their mini bus and Sulaiman is acting weird, he wants to sit by the window, he wants to read signs, finally he tells Jacob about his worries and the two boys agree to stick together like glue while they are in the caves.  Foreshadowing is set, and when Sulaiman’s batteries roll away and he stops to retrieve them he gets separated from the group and he will have to rely on his faith in Allah swt to feel less alone and brave what is to come.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that when Sulaiman is arguing with his sister he doesn’t have hadith quoted at him.  Sure it is ideal, but really, as parents we just want the bickering to stop most times and our kids to be nice.  It is often easier to instill morals and lessons in calm times, not in the middle of an emotional kerfuffle.  At the same time, when he is scared, he falls back on the lessons he has been taught from the Quran and sunnah.  I love how it reads realistic.  We want our kids to turn to Allah swt for all things, but sometimes to teach that we encourage them to seek Allah swt in times of happiness and times of hardship.  Sulaiman is scared, really scared, and he turns to Allah swt, and it is heartfelt and emotional.

I’m embarrassed to say, but I was a little confused by the being lost in a park prior story thread.  It either needed more detail, or maybe just more context, but I thought it was the same park they are heading to with scouts, then realized it was a completely separate park and incident, so I would like a bit more framing of that story line.  Also the stress of being stranded in the elevator, doesn’t directly connect to the rest of the story, perhaps bringing up some claustrophobia fears would have helped tie it all together.  As it is, it just seems that Sulaiman seems to be tested a lot and rather traumatically.

The illustrations being in full color and full page are a welcome surprise in the book.  However, there is one two-page illustration that shows the kids laughing before boarding the minibus, but it isn’t derived directly from the text, and I initially thought Sulaiman was being laughed at for his fears.  I went back, and it doesn’t seem that is the case, but I wonder if I was the only one confused by that illustration.

All-in-all the book physically is appealing to children with the open font, colorful pictures, size, and length.  The story is relevant, and the islamic tie-ins powerful, alhumdulillah.

FLAGS:

Some teasing, possible bullying among siblings.  Some scary moments mentioned and explored: being stuck in an elevator, lost in a park, left alone in a cave.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a fun read aloud in a second grade class.

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

room for everyone

I started to read this book to myself, abruptly stopped, gathered my children around, and began again aloud.  This 40 page early elementary picture book isn’t just counting up and down with silly scenarios and outrageous details, it is familiarity with a culture often not represented with universal humor, appeal, and anticipation. This rhyming book begs to be shared: one-on-one, at story time, or in a classroom.  There is so much joy and connection that I’m ready to felt-board the story, march into my kid’s school and demand an audience.  I found mine at the library, but I think I am going to order it because it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf to be read again and again.

Musa and Dada get in a daladala and are off to the crystal blue waters of Zanzibar.  But it is hotter than peppers out and the kind driver is offering everyone a ride.  First is the old man with his seatless bike, then it is two little goats and their herder, next is vendors with their three baskets of fruits.  Each time Musa cries and protests that there is not room for anyone else, let alone their stuff.  Yet when everyone wiggles and scoots and smooshes, there seems to be room for everyone.  This continues until there are ten scuba divers joining the smelly fish and stinky chickens, umbrellas and milk pails.

Alhumdulillah, they reach the beach.  Then one by one they all get out at Nungwi beach.  Giggles and wiggles and Musa and Dada are off the minibus and swimming in the cool waters. Alhumdulillah indeed.  The book concludes with a glossary and an author’s note.

“Find me on Twinkl’s list of best children’s books of 2021!” 

The World is Your Masjid written and illustrated by Kate Rafiq illustrated by

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The World is Your Masjid written and illustrated by Kate Rafiq illustrated by

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This 30 page preschool to early elementary aged book is a simple rhyming book that reaffirms all the places we can pray and touches on those that we shouldn’t.  The engaging illustrations and relatable scenarios make the book a great choice for bedtime stories and small group readings.  

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The book starts out with a hadith, “The entire earth is a masjid (place for prayer), except the graveyard and the washroom” (Tirmidhi-317) and points out that one must pray five times a day. Screen Shot 2021-11-17 at 11.37.00 AM

It establishes that if you pray it a mosque you can follow the imam, but not to worry if you cannot, because you can pray (nearly) anywhere: a field in the rain, school, a train, a garden, a shed, even when sick you can pray in your bed.

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It then also turns to places you shouldn’t and can’t pray and sources a hadith about not praying where there are faces and statues that might distract you (Bukhari 374). The bathroom and graveyard are also included.  

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As an after thought, and for added laughs it reminds little readers to not pray in dangerous spots as well.

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Overall, I enjoyed the book and can see it pairing with In My Mosque to help create the foundation of a storytime theme about prayer and mosques.  The fact that it takes it a step further and doesn’t just list all the places serious and crazy that you can pray, elevates the book from being mediocre to being memorable and I appreciate that.  I also appreciate the Islamic sourcing, truly something that is required to show accuracy even in the “simplest” of all books.

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Little Seeds of Promise by Sana Rafi illustrated by Renia Metallinou

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Little Seeds of Promise by Sana Rafi illustrated by Renia Metallinou

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This sweet, well-done 48 page picture book for early elementary aged readers shows the fear associated with being in a new place, the love of an elder family member, and the courage it takes to make new friends.  The story focuses on a young Pakistani girl who has recently moved to a new country and how she tries to remember the wisdom of her Nani to blossom in her new home.  The culture rich story is universal and lyrical, with hints of making duaa, greetings of salam, and the soothing sounds of the athan that make memories of home so foreign to her in her new residence. Young readers will empathize with Maya, and see the symbolism in the seeds she is anxious to plant and cultivate.

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Maya finds her new home unfriendly and cold, she feels different with her food, and clothes, and way she speaks.  Home to her is dancing in the warm mansoon rains, saying As-salamu ‘alykum, and waking up to the sweet athan.  Nani was also there, her old home.  Sweet Nani with her hundred wrinkles, smelling like flowers.  When Maya left, Nani gave her a gift.  Little seeds of promise, so that they and she might bloom where planted.  But Maya doesn’t know where to plant them, she carries them with her everywhere she goes, but like a secret, she keeps them close.

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Channeling her Nani’s tenderness, she knows that she has to plant them if one day she wants to be surrounded by flowers.  Maya loves flowers, dancing around them, praying among them.  Maya finds a patch of earth.  She longs for rain, she hopes for warmth. She makes way for the rays of the sun.  The text talks of flowers, the illustrations show both the plant and the growing friendships.  For days nothing happens, with the seeds or the classmates.  But Maya remembers that seeds have a long journey from the ground up.

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Maya nurtures her seed, just the one she dared plant, with love and kindness.  She too feels ready to burst.  Can she be brave enough to plant all the seeds, can she share them, and her self in her new world? Can their be warmth here, like there was over there? Can this too be home?

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I love the symbolism and juxtaposition of the seeds growth with her own.  The character arc and the transition of home being one place to being the other, is very well done, older readers will feel an aha moment when they grasp it and younger kids will enjoy both the surface story and the dialogue you can have with them about blossoming where planted.

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Religion is not a strong thread, but Islam is present in her memories of her maternal grandmother and all the warmth and love that those memories contain.  I love that the classmates were never mean, they just didn’t know her either.  I wish there was a bit more diversity of skin tone and mobility in the classroom illustrations and the friend circle she is hoping to join.  Overall, a beautiful OWN voice picture book that will be enjoyed for multiple bedtime, small group, and classroom readings.

Esa & Sol’s Adventures: The Hunt for the Saphaea by Asma Maryam Ali, illustrated by Eman Salem

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Esa & Sol’s Adventures: The Hunt for the Saphaea by Asma Maryam Ali, illustrated by Eman Salem

It is a bit tricky to review a choose-your-own-adventure style book, as each story twists and turns and leaves the reader with a different ending and thus, a different impression. I tried to explore every story line in a book that I had little expectation of, it is an intentionally splintered story after all, but even at that, this fell really short. The core of the story: a Muslim and Jewish boy in Cordoba, Spain in 1080 exploring real facts in a fictionalized story about hunting down a missing astrolabe, really had a lot of potential, unfortunately the tiny size (maybe 3.5 x 5.5 inches) and only being 76 pages, the frightening cover, and the misprinted footnote glossy right at the start, set the tone for a weak forgettable book, and by the time you get to the actual story and plot, you really have very little substance to change your mind.

SYNOPSIS:
Two nine-year-old boys start off the story chasing after their donkey who has run off and sent their oranges spilling over all around the square. They should clean up the chaos, but they remember that they are supposed to meet Zarkali, the greatest astronomer in all of Spain, as he finally has a job for them after months of waiting. His latest work is a brilliant astrolabe, but when they get to his workshop he isn’t there. When he finally arrives with his assistant Aleho they are frantic as the astrolabe, the Saphea, is missing. The boys were to be asked to help transport it, as they would blend in unnoticed, but now that it is missing what should they do? Should they search for it? Investigate if it was stolen? Accept their punishment for the mess with the oranges and their donkey? Let the first choice of many begin the adventure.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the author’s knowledge about Muslim Spain and how she tries to introduce it to children perhaps unaware of the rich history. The inside illustrations are wonderful, the cover truly misleads readers, and naturally I wish the book was larger in size and longer in length. The foundation of the story, the getting to know the characters and their world, needs to be longer. The story should be established before you have to make decisions. It is historical fiction, but needs the world building attention that a fantasy book would require, and this book just doesn’t have it. As a result the choices and endings, are all over the place, not just twists in the stories, but huge changes. Some of the paths no longer focus on the astrolabe that is missing, and seem to offer both threads of something far more sinister at play and choices that keep the boys lives mundane. The book counts on the reader re-reading the tale and making different choices, otherwise your interaction with the book could truly be over in nine pages, nine tiny pages at that. And like I said above regarding the cover and size, they don’t entice one to pick it up and read, then if your adventure is only a few pages long, and you already notice the repeated definition on pages 4 and 6 (before any choices are offered), chances are you won’t revisit the book, learn about real people, marvel at scientific discoveries, travel the region, appreciate interfaith harmony, and get swept up in a historically fictionalized tale that puts you in the drivers seat.

FLAGS:

Fine for middle grades and up.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I highly doubt the book would even be looked at on a classroom library shelf, I have been trying for days to get my own children to read the book: they love to read, they love history, they love books with options, but they have yet to open the front cover.