Tag Archives: elementary

Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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This delightful 70 page early chapter book is filled with humor, Islam, and a sweet story that ties it all together.  The book definitely has a teaching agenda, but it carries it with hilarious banter and relatable examples, all while covering a topic not often discussed in children’s books: money.  The book has a few grammar, vocabulary, and consistency concerns, but they are easy to overlook for readers 2nd grade and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Twins Zayd and Musa are very, very different.  Both boys enjoy cricket, but Zayd is more focused and enjoys homework, whereas Musa tends to daydream and often says something funny, but unintentionally.  When Musa makes the case in Science class that food, water, shelter, and money are all needed to survive, the class finds him hysterical.

Musa knows not to argue, his teacher is his elder and he knows he should have taqwa and be respectful, but he doesn’t give up on his idea either.  When the boys’ mom talks about halal money and gives them Islamic references for how money should be handled, Musa has a great idea: kids should be paid to go to school.

Once again, the whole school finds him funny, but Saeed Uncle, a neighbor who helps feed the poor at a roadside stand, doesn’t dismiss Musa’s idea and tells him, in some places kids are paid. And offers to take him and show him.

With references to sahabas who had great wealth and examples of how wealth can be used for good, Musa and Zayd learn numerous lessons, and share them with those around them, in a fun, engaging manner.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I get that the book is preachy, but in my mind, it is a story built around a teaching concept, so it doesn’t bother me.  I love the jokes and the tone.  At times the book is written quite formally, but being the author lives in Karachi, Pakistan, I assume that part of it, is just different standards.  I appreciate the Quran Circle table that lists where the Quran mentions wealth and the glossary.  I didn’t quite get all of the random facts included throughout, as some were about money, others about school, but I think kids will enjoy them none-the-less.  The illustrations are enjoyable, the text bubbles often hilarious (once again, a few I didn’t get).

I liked that it mentioned not drawing faces, and not going somewhere alone with someone you aren’t close with.  It is said in passing, but I love that those little nuggets exist in a book that is about something more, but normalizes and takes advantage of the opportunity to remind children of basic safety and Islamic concepts.

There are some awkward tense changes, and a few gaps in the story, but overall, I really enjoyed it and need to find the first one in the series.

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS TO LEAD THE DISCUSSION:
This would be a great book to use in a middle grades Islam class as a starting point to having students research the Quran and Sunnah to find information on a topic.  The humor will keep kids engaged, and the concept is an important one.  I plan to make all my kids read it, so that we can discuss as a family, and benefit from the lessons presented.

Be Patient, Abdul by Dolores Sandoval

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Be Patient, Abdul by Dolores Sandoval

I share this book from 1996 to show how far we have come in telling our own stories with accuracy and emotion, as well as to celebrate those that featured Muslims in a positive, unapologetic light when there wasn’t a standard yet established. It is easy to harp on the negative, but truly the only way forward is demanding better of ourselves and of our representation. The book is disjointed-pulling in random details to focus on, and is very text heavy, slow, and dry. It does feature a Muslim family, though, and shows both Abdul (albeit in his underclothes) and his father praying salat. The text even mentions thanking Allah (swt). I honestly have been searching for past Islamic representation or mention in mainstream juvenile fiction, it fascinates me to see where the seeds first were planted: Sport by Louise Fitzhugh (1980) has a one line mention of a character being Muslim, Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird (1991), Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (1997), Ruhksana Khan’s The Roses in My Carpets by a Muslim about Muslims(1998), The Hundredth Name (1995) by Shulamith Oppenheim.

Abdul is a seven-year-old little boy in Freetown, Sierre Leone. He sells oranges so that he can pay for school. School is not free, and selling oranges requires a lot of patience to save up enough to return to the classroom. One day he returns having not sold any, and his grandmother reminds him to be patient and to try a new market. His mother tells him to take his little sister Maryama with him. She is five and slows him down.

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In the evening Abdul’s father prays in their yard and then tells them about an upcoming parade to celebrate the anniversary of their country’s independence. Abdul’s mom will be in the parade. After more days of low and no sales, Abdul worries that school is a faraway dream. Maryama however, sells some oranges for him and he dares to hope he can sell a lot at the stadium and during the parade.

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Momma is marching in the parade, the family watches her. Abdul gets tired of waiting for her afterward and walks him. His dad has a good day of driving his taxi for people trying to get to the stadium and home from it. At the end of the day, they count up their money and there is enough for Abdul to return to school.

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The final page shows Abdul praying and thanking Allah for the oranges to sell, the taxi passengers and for patience. I have no idea why he is wearing an undershirt and underwear while he prayers, clearly his awrah is not covered, nor does it radiate reverence.

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The point of the book is to humanize another culture and perhaps make western children appreciative of their life, the ability to attend school, and not having to work from such a young age. The book I checked out from the library, doesn’t show that anyone in 1997 until today, or at least whenever the library switched from the stamped dates to electronic ones, ever checked out the book. And while yes it offers very little to the catalogue of memorable books of our time, it does show the early indications of our presence in literature.

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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I absolutely love how smart this book is, and how it allows for elementary aged readers to feel that “aha moment” when they read it, get it, and realize that they need to remember the lessons because it could happen to them.  The illustrations are an added bonus and are perfectly aligned with the tone and text of the story.  My only issue, is the title.  Pitches reads as a euphemism for another word and since the book involves girl drama, teasing, and misunderstandings, it really is hard to not have that thought zap your brain when you see the title.  Perhaps if the “and Other Problems” would have used a bigger font on the word “Problems” the alliteration would have been more obvious, and hidden the word “Pitches” a bit.  If I’m alone in this, I apologize to the author and publisher, (I’ve mentioned my concern to them), but for others that saw the word and questioned the content, rest assured it is about baseball and the book doesn’t have even a speck of questionable content.

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Amira is at a new school, and luckily it is Tuesday, Pizza Tuesday to be exact, and she can’t wait to dive into a cheesy slice.  Unfortunately, Olivia takes the last cheese piece and when Amira asks if she will let her have it, Olivia says she had it first.  Stuck with an egg salad sandwich that smells, Amira sits alone and broods.

In gym they are playing baseball, but no one knows how good Amira is, and she is picked last.  When Amira is up to bat, Olivia is the pitcher and her pitches are terrible.  Amira still mad about lunch and afraid that the others will blame her for not hitting the unhitable balls, shouts, “you’re supposed to aim at my bat.”  Everyone laughs, but Olivia runs off clearly upset.  The new pitcher sends a decent throw and Amira hits a home run.  The captain of the team praises her, and Amira is hopeful she’ll have someone to sit with her at lunch.  After class, Amira sees Olivia crying in the bathroom and no one asking her if she is ok, Amira doesn’t feel so well, and doesn’t ask either. On the bus ride home Amira is greeted with cheers for her home run, but Elena the captain, isn’t among them.

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The next day is picture day, and Amira trips and rips her shirt.  Everyone laughs, Elena says, “it was an ugly shirt anyways.”  Only one person offers her help.  Could Amira have misread the whole class dynamics?  How should she move forward?

Sorry, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but the message about owning up to your choices is stressed, along with making kind decisions, and sometimes needing to take a step back and understand things from someone else’s perspective.

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Like nearly all Ruqaya’s Bookshelf books, the story is universal, but the characters, illustrations, and point of view is a relatable Muslim one that allows our young Muslim readers to feel seen and celebrated.  The reliable large glossy pages make the book a great deal for your money and is available on the publisher’s website: http://www.ruqayasbookshelf or from my favorite bookstore http://www.crescentmoonstore.com

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Seven is Special! By Shagufta Malik

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Seven is Special! By Shagufta Malik

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I’ve seen this book on and off over the years, but it wasn’t until I saw @muslimkidsbooknook’s post about it, did it register that it is a chapter book, with a plot and story.  I thought it was a journal for seven year olds with prompts perhaps.  Needless to say I judged a book by its cover and hope at some point the author will consider changing the title, redesigning the cover, and tightening up the story, because there is a lot to enjoy in this book, but to get to it, you have to get it in your hands, and open the cover.  The doodles, the author’s voice, and the playful font over 128 pages will appeal to elementary aged girls, but boys will find plenty to relate to as well if you can convince them to give it a try.

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SYNOPSIS:

Seven-year-old Maryam has started taking her salat more seriously, and finally the family, her parents and her, are going on a REAL holiday.  They are going for Umrah.  Maryam is so excited, but then the trip gets canceled and her mom is sick, and Maryam is tired of always feeling different than her classmates.  Will everything work out? Will prayers and duas be answered? Will eight be great?

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the book stays on a seven/eight year old level, but I do question how much stress is on how sick the pregnant mom is, and how kids will understand that.  I was sick, very sick, with all my pregnancies, and my older children saw me and it still affects them, in sometimes surprising ways.  My oldest daughter says she is never having kids.  Granted she is 14, but I would worry that reading a children’s book that mirrors something that was pretty traumatic for her to see will cement her impression about childbearing.  Obviously, I could be the exception, and perhaps like many literary mirrors it would make her relate more to the story.  I know she is above the target audience, but the illness of the mom is a large part of the book, and it is very detailed and specific.  I think if you are a young child reading it, you might ask your mom if that was her experience, and it could be a lovely conversation about heaven being at your mother’s feet, and the tests and blessings of it all, but the book really doubles down on some of the details of the throwing up and vomiting, and I wish her being sick could be shown in more situational ways.  Maybe she tried to do an activity with her daughter, but couldn’t, or she had to ask another mom to help with something she normally did at Maryam’s school, etc..  There are such wonderful tangible little nuggets in the book about salat at the park, and kids duas, and making wudu in public, that I think a little reframing of the illness and symptoms is definitely in the author’s skill set.

I love the unapologetic voice of being Muslim and some of the insecurities that Maryam faces and grows from.  Kids will enjoy seeing their concerns articulated, and inshaAllah benefit from her perspective as they make decisions about their own identity and attitude.  I know some families make a big deal about starting salat at seven, but when the book starts she has been seven for a while, so I’m not entirely sure why that was the focus of the book’s title.  Additionally, the pink cover really screams that it is a girl book, and I think boys will be nervous to be reading a “girl book,” that really isn’t gender specific in the storyline.  Yes, there are all sorts of stereotypes in that assessment, but I think you all get what I’m saying.

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FLAGS:

Illness, a bit of a temper bubbling over, stress.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think young readers that are handed the book and start it, will finish reading it.  It is a super quick read, and with the drawings and conversational language, they will enjoy the pages as they fly by.  It is an elementary read, and anyone older will probably see the foreshadowing that the mom is expecting, while the second and third grade readers, will probably be genuinely surprised.

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.

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. 

Talaal and the Whispering Worrier by Shereeza Boodhoo illustrated by Khalif Koleoso

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Talaal and the Whispering Worrier by Shereeza Boodhoo illustrated by Khalif Koleoso

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This 38 page book addresses anxiety and self confidence with Islamic tips and tools to help kids cope and feel less alone in their struggles.  The rhyming text on some pages is flawless, and elsewhere falters and distracts from the text.  Similarly, the panda that personifies the “Whispering Worrier” is at times a compliment to the story, and at other times seems to muddle the seriousness being discussed (I don’t understand the ever-present watering can).  The book is long and the text small, but overall the message is good and presentation sufficient.  Books like this by qualified professionals are incredibly valuable and important.  The use of Quran and trust in Allah swt to feel confident and at ease is something we need to share with our young ones early, often, and regularly. 

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Talaal comes home from school and declares that he feels sick and is not going back to school.  His parents can’t seem to find anything wrong and send him to go do his homework.  He passes his older sister who is praying and seems so relaxed, when she is done she comes and talks to him.  He explains how he felt when the teacher asked them to share and how the fear and nerves felt like his heart was being beat on.  She reassures him that she feels the same way at times and that a Whispering Worrier whispers unhelpful thoughts to tear us down.

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She suggests countering the negative thoughts with helpful positive ones.  She also suggests reciting Qur’an.  She then has him practice some ayats.  He recites the begining of Surah Ikhlas, and starts to feel better.  Talaal excitedly goes to tell his parents what is going on, and the suggestions his sister has given him for coping and overcoming his stresses.  They let him know that they too get nervous.  His mom, goes a bit off topic and explains various wonders that Allah swt has created and they reassure Talaal that he too is beautifully made.  Talaal starts practicing and finds over time, in different situations, he starts to calm his Whispering Worrier.

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I like that the advice is rooted in Islamic concepts and that his sister, not an adult, is who coaches him and guides him, making it seem normal and not a punishment.  I like that it isn’t an instant fix, but something to work out and be consistent with over time.  The end has a note to caregivers and some tips.  I think reading the book and having discussions is the first step and inshaAllah if your child or student is struggling that professional help will be sought, so that children don’t have to suffer needlessly.  

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I read this to a group of early elementary students to try and normalize the topic and encourage them to talk to a parent or teacher if they felt similar to Talaal.  Unfortunately, the book had a hard time keeping their attention and I think, in retrospect, it might be a better selection for smaller groups or one-on-one so that discussion and feedback can safely occur.

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Eid al-Adha: Festivals Around the World by Grace Jones

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Eid al-Adha: Festivals Around the World by Grace Jones

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I had hoped to go through all the recently published non fiction hajj and Eid al-Adha books at my local library, the same way I went through the Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr ones to check for errors and accuracy, but they really didn’t have many, and those that they did have were not published in the last few years.  I did find this book from 2017 and because it has some errors: saying Eid is in September every year, not mentioning all the parts of Hajj, which is ok, but overly stressing the stoning at the jamarat, pronouncing Hajj as Harj, etc.,  I thought to share it with you all, so that you too can contact the publisher and your local library and/or bookstore to see about pulling it if you are so inclined (booklifepublishing.com)

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The 24 page non fiction book is a large 9.5×12 horizontal layout with beautiful pictures of diverse Muslims worshipping and celebrating.  A little cartoon character, Noor, guides you to word pronunciation with a glossary at the end.img_2346The book starts out with a two page spread defining what a festival is.  The next two pages define Islam.   Page 8 then states that “Eid al-Adha is a festival celebrated by Muslims in September of every year.”  And page 9 of the book says we throw pebbles at a wall, not that we throw pebbles at three representative pillars.  It also says that Eid is celebrated for two to four days depending on the country.  Religiously, it should say it is a three day holiday.

img_2347It then tells the Story of Eid al-Adha aka Ibrahim (as) being to told to sacrifice his son.  I’m not sure why the book doesn’t says that Muslim’s consider Ibrahim a Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and instead call him a wise man.  Indeed he was, but it seems very awkward to not mention how Muslims regard him, and seems to go out of its way to not say he is a prophet in Islam.

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The next section is about Hajj which tells that it is performed in the last month of the Islamic year and that we walk around the kaaba seven times.  No other info is given, but in the next section it again mentions the throwing of pebbles,  really dismissing any other steps and making the sacrifice and stoning rituals seem to be the whole of Hajj which is incredibly misleading and erroneous.

The book shows that those not at Hajj, pray in congregation wearing new clothes, give and receive gifts and giving charity.  In the section about Festive Food it only Buriyani from India is featured, it seems random.  It should have been stronger that one third of the sacrifice goes to the poor, one third to friends and family, and one can be kept for oneself.  This would show that meat is the highlighted festival foods in any culture celebrating.  On the “Noor Says” page at the end, it has Hajj pronounced as “harj” which is wrong, it is Hajj, or possibly hadj.

My standards have dropped considerably, and would sadly not consider much of this major.  But, it does provide another example of how involved and aware we need to be in our representation in mainstream nonfiction publications.

Stuck in the Middle by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Diana Silkina

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Stuck in the Middle by Sumayyah Hussein illustrated by Diana Silkina

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At 122 pages this early chapter book with frequent illustrations is a great book to share with 2nd-5th graders.  It is has a great message and lesson with lots for children to relate to with regards to life with siblings, getting frustrated, making mistakes and recovering.  The lesson is strong, but doesn’t become preachy as the protagonists voice rings true to her age.  Mistakes are made by many characters and situations are fleshed out so the reader can understand why things are done.   By showing that there isn’t one side to a story, and that knee jerk reactions are common, readers will get that ultimately we are still responsible for how we act, and learning from our transgressions is part of growing up.

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SYNOPSIS:

Salma is the middle child in a busy family, and very little is in her control.  When her frustration over her brother stealing a chocolate bar, causes her to lose her cool, and then she is forced to run errands with her family, homework doesn’t get done in time and she finds her self in detention.  Normally a very good student, teachers and other students are shocked that Salma is in trouble.  Things don’t improve when her brother steals her carrot cake the next day, and in a plot to get even, Salma ruins her brothers brand new PS4 controller.  She also turns a blind eye at school when she sees someone picking on him.

Doing her best to avoid being discovered as the culprit, or being in a position to see her brother being bullied, her guilt starts to get to her.  When an ambulance has to come to the school for a kid that got pushed and needs stitches, she realizes she has to make things right, even if that means getting in trouble.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it is so relatable, honestly switch Salma with my middle son Haroon, and the 13 year old boy that doesn’t want to go out with the family, with my 13 year old daughter that doesn’t want to go out and we are looking in a mirror, haha.  The family is Muslim and they practice and let the religion shape their view of the world and how to function within it.  The girls wear hijab and use the hadith premise that they have to fix a bad deed with a good deed to provide the solution to the mistakes made earlier in the story.

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FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I already made my middle child read the book, and because of the length it wouldn’t lend itself to a book club, but I can see teachers having kids read it and then discussing, just like I am doing in my family.  It is sweet and well done and a great addition to your bookshelf.

 

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

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The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

 

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This 36 page picture book tells a beautifully presented story that incorporates events from the author’s real life that convey a story of loving your culture, finding similarities and giving people a second chance.  Ideal for students between 2nd and 4th grade, younger children will enjoy having the story read to them, and older kids will benefit from the message as well.

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Kanzi is about to start her first day of 3rd grade in a new school.  It doesn’t specify if she has just come from Egypt, but being she seems to speak English well, knows that she’d rather have peanut butter and jelly instead of a kofta sandwich and mentions that she got a quilt when she visited her grandmother, in Egypt, she possibly is just starting a new school, not her first in America, but it is considered an immigrant story, so I’m not certain. E403D261-438B-4263-A2FB-C3F8693C9D3E

When she arrives in class and introduces herself she bravely says that she is Egyptian-American, but on the way to school she turns down the Arabic music in the car, so the reader sees that she is a little nervous about being seen as “different.”  When her hijab wearing mom brings her forgotten kofta sandwich and calls Kanzi ‘Habibti,’ classmate Molly teases her that she is being called a hobbit.

A crying Kanzi tells her teacher and Mrs. Haugen reassures her that “being bilingual is beautiful.”  That night Kanzi asks her mom to send her a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day, and before beds she writes a poem as she snuggles in her beloved quilt.

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At school Molly apologizes to her and says that it just sounded funny.  Kanzi tells Molly it is because she doesn’t speak Arabic and that her mom says that “learning different languages makes a person smarter and kinder.”  Molly dismisses the comment and smugly walks off.

Mrs. Haugen sees Kanzi’s poem about her quilt from her grandma in Egypt and asks her to bring her quilt to school. The kids love it, and Friday Kanzi’s mom shows up to help with a special project: an Arabic quilt with the kids names.

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Molly is not enthusiastic and Mrs. Haugen writes English words that come from Arabic on the board: coffee, lemon, sugar, algebra.  Telling the kids that “we can speak non-English languages and still be American.”

Kanzi and her mom write the kids names down and the children copy them.  The teacher cuts them out and makes a quilt to hang in the hall.  On Monday when everyone sees the quilt, they love the beautiful letters and colors.  Even Molly sincerely apologizes and asks Kanzi to write her mom’s name in Arabic as a gift.  The two hug and seemingly will become friends.

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Across the hall another quilt is hung with names in Japanese, as another student and teacher were inspired by Kanzi and her quilt.  The last page of the story is a letter Kanzi has written to her parents telling them how grateful she is that she has two languages and that she will speak them without guilt.

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The story is beautifully told and exquisitely illustrated on well-sized 9.5 x 10.5 pages in a hardback binding.  The mom wears hijab and it mentions it, but there is nothing religious about the text.  It is a universal story of coming to be proud of your roots and inviting those around you to learn and grow.  There is a Glossary of Arabic Words at the end and a bit about the author and illustrator.

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My kids favorite page by far was reading the names written in Arabic and they all enjoyed the story (ages 13, 10, 9, 4).  I actually had an issue when Molly apologized the first time, feeling that Kanzi’s response was a bit pretentious to what seemed like an 8 year old being told to go say she was sorry, but my older three unanimously and fervently disagreed with me, saying that she was obviously insincere and Kanzi knew it.  I’d love to hear from other readers if they felt like Molly was sufficient in saying sorry and admitting that it sounded funny and that Kanzi was arrogant in saying that people that know two languages are smarter and kinder, or if Molly was being rude and racist and Kanzi was sticking up for herself.

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Irregardless, the book is well done, enjoyable, and will get repeated reads by a large range of readers.  My children keep pulling it off the book shelf, and for that I need to thank Gayatri Sethi (@desibookaunty) who generously sent me the book the same day I checked it out from the public library.  Her generosity once again is a gift that I hope to pay forward in the future.  This book also highlights how amazing teachers can be and often are in facilitating inclusion, understanding, and respect.

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