Tag Archives: Eman Salem

My Baba’s House: A Poem of Hope by Dr. Amani Mugasa illustrated by Eman Salem

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My Baba’s House: A Poem of Hope by Dr. Amani Mugasa illustrated by Eman Salem

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I wanted to love this Islamic centered children’s book about grief, but I found it a bit problematic and misleading.  I am by no means an expert in Islamic matters of death or in psychological bereavement, but the note at the beginning of the book- if I wasn’t already going to look at it critically- really raised some warning flags.  It says that the book is not an instructional book on Aqeedah, that even though the title and whole story is about a house being built that “the book only expresses the idea that we hope and pray that Baba’s good deeds will lead him to Jannah, that that the rest of the family will meet him there one day, not that he is there already.” So, before you even start the story, it seems that the disclaimer is making it clear that this book is not religiously accurate, and that it is just meant to soothe and provided hope.  After taking all that in to consideration, and reading the 26 pages of text over a dozen times, I think I finally pinpointed why the book further reads problematic for me.  It is the repeating phrase, “Your Baba has been building a beautiful house for you,”  because he hasn’t right? He has built a house for himself through his good deeds in this duniya, he benefited HIS parents by being a righteous Muslim.  The words “for you” completely take the book in my head from being a slight suspension of timing where the deceased are, in to be misleading.  So if the book is not accurately framed and only to be taken as something “to open the discussion,” what is the point? Why fill it with Islamic references and concepts, if they will then have to be clarified, corrected, and re taught?  Sigh, I’m happy to listen to those that want to change my mind, truly I am.

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The rhyming book starts out with a mom and two kids being consoled by the text that their Baba has been building a house for them with Allah’s help.  That it is amongst the flowers, made with Allah’s powers. That with every good deed he did, their Baba becomes a builder, that there are pure rivers and trees, and that the house is hidden through Allah’s gate.

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To find their Baba’s house they will walk with Prophets, and see ripe fruits, and smell sweet musk.  There will be rivers of milk and he will carry them above his head.  The illustrations on this page are a little off in my opinion the shadows of a person elevating and even the girl looks a little concerned.

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I like that the next spread addresses that only Allah knows when the day will come that we reunite. And then the next pages tell how the children can help decorate their Baba’s house by calling adhaan, reading Qur’an, being kind, giving charity, and making duas.

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The book concludes with encouraging patience and finding reassurance in knowing we belong to Allah and to Him we return.

With the exception of the one page, the illustrations are adequate and show a mixed racial family.  The rhyming lines are rather weak, and ultimately there are just better books out there about grief that don’t have to be so qualified for accuracy.

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.

We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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This 8×8 hardback rhyming book for ages 4 and up is filled with detailed pictures that will remind children of all ages how important salat is despite how tempting it often is to neglect it.  I think six and seven year olds will benefit the most from this 30 page book that also has an activity poster included, as they start to take on the responsibility of praying on time and making good choices.  The gentle parents, the relatable scenario and the adorable little sister, bring this story to life, and will hopefully be a benefit for young muslims and their families.

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A small family of a mom, a dad, a brother and a sister are out working in the garden when the athan is heard.  The five prayers are mentioned as they set off to pray just like the Prophet (saw) did.

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They all head in to make wudu as wudu and salah go hand in hand.  They start with bismillah before going through the simplified steps to wash their sins away.  They are about to start, when the doorbell rings.

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Friends have come to play.  Mom and dad tell the boy to pray.  The boy says there will be time after they play.  Once takbeer is called, the boys slip out on their bikes.  The boy wants to have fun, but something is nagging at him and he wonders what the Prophet (saw) would have done.

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Whispers urge him to enjoy the beautiful day, but he realizes what he must do, and when his friends ask what is wrong he suggests they go pray.  Aqeemus salah!

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They head back to the boy’s house, make wudu and pray together. The steps are named and explained and after concluding he sees his proud parents watching.

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There is a glossary at the end and the poster has the steps of wudu and salat as well as an activity to put the steps in order.

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Littering Stinks by Summayyah Hussein illustrated by Eman Salem

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Littering Stinks by Summayyah Hussein illustrated by Eman Salem

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This 36 page early chapter book is a good introduction to the concept that one person can make a difference.  The seven chapters flow easily, and while the names of the cities, Freshtown and Dumpton are a little on the nose and the premise a bit of a stretch, fluent 1st and second grader readers will enjoy the story and delightful pencil illustrations of a kid changing things for the better and making a difference.  One blatant hole for me was the lack of outright Islamic preaching.  For a book that is not available in mainstream outlets here the US and only through Islamic book stores, I expected more than just a Muslim family with hijabi characters and Islamic names.  I wanted cleaning up the environment and doing good deeds to have hadith and ayats quoted and referenced throughout, but alas there are none.  So, I suppose the book isn’t “Islamic Fiction.” but, in my opinion it really could and should be.

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SYNOPSIS:

Aliyah and her family have just moved to a new city, Dumpton.  Transferred by her father’s work, the family is shocked by the trash, smell, garbage and flies everywhere.  The kind neighbor lady brings them a pie and welcomes them to the neighborhood, but is later seen throwing a candy wrapper out the window.  Aliyah is shocked that such a nice lady is also a litterbug.  Aliyah calls a family meeting to come up with a plan to clean up Dumpton.

Each day Aliyah tries something new: cleaning up the street she lives on by herself, letting people know about littering, putting up signs, and finally on day four forming a clean up crew.  But nothing works.  Aliyah gets discouraged, but her parents encourage her to do the right thing no matter what.

The night before the first day of school Aliyah has an idea, she grabs a bunch of solid color t-shirts and a permanent marker and makes herself some shirts to encourage people to take care of their trash.  Every day she wears a different one with a different saying and by the end of the week people are starting to ask her about them.

The following Monday, her brother joins her and wears a matching shirt to start the cycle again, but when she gets to school the two of them aren’t the only ones wearing yellow t-shirts that say “Littering Stinks.” Everyone is!

The principal calls her into the office to discuss the potential of children to change the pollution in their city and slowly but surely they get the city cleaned up.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that it encourages everyone, no matter how small, to make a differences and do what they can to make things better.  I love that it doesn’t just happen and that she gets frustrated and has to power through and stay true to herself. The main character wears hijab, but there is no mention of religion or faith which would have added some depth to her as a character finding motivation from belief in a higher cause and a responsibility to the care of the Earth.  Even some concern with starting at a new school as a hijabi would have possibly added some relatable connection to her personal strength and why she is willing to trust herself with the littering task at hand.

The premise that no one born and raised in the town seems to have a problem with the littering and pollution or that people from the outside haven’t been completely disgusted by it, but rather joined in over time, is a bit far fetched.  Sure you could make the argument that in other countries this is how it is, but it seems like a bit of a leap given the setting of the book and the target audience.

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FLAGS:

Clean, haha pun intended?

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This book is an early chapter book, not to be confused as being a book for early readers.  The sentences and diction and vocabulary are for fluid readers that are just moving into short chapters and need a few illustrations, spaced lines and a bit larger font.  There are questions at the end which would make the book a great small group reading to discuss, but definitely for early elementary.  Would be a great inclusion in a unit on leadership, project planning, or Earth Day.

Can Mustafa Control His Anger? By Hadeek Aziz and Katherine Bullock illustrated by Eman Salem

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Can Mustafa Control His Anger? By Hadeek Aziz and Katherine Bullock illustrated by Eman Salem

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When I finished the 27 page Islamic fiction early chapter book, I thought, “It reads like a child wrote it.”  And sure enough as I flipped to the bio page I learned that indeed it is written by a secondary school senior.  I don’t want to be overly critical as a result of learning this, but as a published book that I paid for, I really wish some would have “corrected the book” and smoothed it out.  It has a lot of potential, and a good message, it just slightly misses the mark in details, some awkward tense changes, and crossing the line of what Mustafa does and says when he lashes out.  He doesn’t apologize and physically assaults people without consequences other than kids not liking him, and considering its for independent readers seven and up, that is a bit concerning.

SYNOPSIS:

Mustafa is a nice boy, except for when he isn’t.  Unfortunately he loses his temper a lot and as a result has no friends.  Whether it is losing a game, having someone not believe him, or even someone taking a treat he wanted, Mustafa resorts to physical violence and hateful words.  No parents or adults seem to ever correct him, so other kids just steer clear of him.

When a teammate won’t pass him the ball in soccer he punches poor Humza and when he goes to throw another punch he gets pushed off and bumps his head.  He storms off into the forest feeling alone, but not remorseful when a little red creature pops up and tells him he will be weak until he can control him.  Determined to show the creature he is strong he chases after it only to be scooped up by a giant named brother Haneef.

Brother Haneef and his giant friends live in a mud house in Makkah.  Shocked at how he got to the desert, he learns from his giant friend to ignore taunting, when another giant says you cannot learn Surah Al-Falaq in an hour.  Later when the giants race and Haneef loses, he says Audhu bilallahi min ash-shaitan ar-rajm and to sit down if standing and lay down if sitting as per the Prophet (saw) advice.  A giant girl gives Mustafa a strawberry tart and when he reaches to get a chocolate cupcake and someone else takes it, both he and Haneef scream, but Haneef goes and makes wudu reminding Mustafa of another hadith.  When Mustafa asks Haneef why he shouldn’t be mean to people that make fun of him or leave him out, Haneef tells him the hadith about how the strong man is the one who controls himself when he is angry.  As the giants go off to pray at the Kabaa, Mustafa finds himself at home in his bed with his sister waking him up and asking him where he has been.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the topic and that hadith are used and referenced in the book, as well as other resources. I also do like that it was written by a teen.  The pictures in the book are well done for the style and audience of the book, and the six short chapters are appropriate and inviting as well.

Oddly, the tense of the story changes at an awkward place on page 6 and I think it was intentional to go from telling about Mustafa to experiencing his “adventure” with him in the present tense, it just needs to be smoothed out.  Similarly, Mustafa is the protagonist, and we know his thoughts, but randomly at one point we know Haneef’s.  It isn’t technically wrong, but again, it is awkward as it is a short book, and everything else focuses on Mustafa asking Haneef to know things, not suddenly being in Haneef’s head.  I also felt like some resolution with shaytan, the red being, leaving or saying I’ll be back or something to continue his arc and role in the book is needed.  The details are hit or miss, vague descriptions about the giants lumps them all together, why they were at the Kabaa seems a bit random as well.

The biggest concern I have is a common one with these type of books, think Ahmed and Layla Deen books.  To make the point that he has a problem with his anger, the story goes way overboard.  Mustafa is genuinely hurting people, with kicking, punching, pushing, and throwing.  He lashes out and tells his little sister to shut up and calls her an idiot, and never once does he apologize even after his time with the giants.  Haneef makes the point that we all lose our temper, and need to simmer down, but Haneef also never apologizes for yelling or getting upset.  This is not ok, if you are teaching with the Prophetic method then that is a fairly large hole to have in the story.

There are no parents or adults which could make the point that kids won’t play with him stronger, but I feel like it really just means he gets away with a lot, and as a bully, that is not reassuring at all to the other characters in the book.  Some immediate consequences would be nice, or delayed guilt, something to make Mustafa not just seem like an awful person.  The moral is that he has learned his lesson, but I wasn’t convinced, nor where my 9, 10, and 12 year olds.

FLAGS:

Language and violence. Mustafa says, “shut up” and  “idiot,” he kicks a girl, throws a kid off a chair, throws a plate at his sister, punches a teammate,  and yells at everyone.

TOOLS FOR LEADING A DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t recommend this book as a book club book, or even one to spend library or classroom library shelf space on.  It isn’t awful, there are just much better books out there and this one if not discussed might leave kids with the wrong impression.

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We’re off to make ‘Umrah by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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We’re off to make ‘Umrah by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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Its surprising how few books about Umrah there are for children.  As a religious act that many children are included in, there really should be more, but alhumdulillah this fun one exists, and conveys the steps of Umrah in rhyming fashion for ages 4 and up.

Told from a little boy’s perspective about his family’s journey, a little history is given, before the major parts of Umrah are explored.  The book prefaces the story with a note to parents and teachers making sure they know the book is a semi-fictional narrative meant to reinforce learning, it isn’t a comprehensive guide. 

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Full page pictures with four line stanza groups detail the steps about the journey and flight to Mecca, including defining and using the arabic words for the talbiyah, putting on ihram, crossing meeqat and praying rak’atayn.  The step-by-step approach is warm and exciting, as the pictures show smiling faces and the words balance information and enthusiasm of being in Mecca for the first time.

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Details about praying, rich and poor, side by side are included, making tawaf, seeing the black stone, seeing Maqam Ibrahim, drinking Zamzam water, a bit of history about Sa’i, and the little boy feeling tired going back and forth between Safa and Marwa are all given in a well paced narrative that is neither rushed, nor overly forced (just a little to keep the rhyme scheme :)).  The steps of Umrah conclude with the family members getting hair cuts and then a quick trip to Madinah.

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There is a glossary at the end of the 32 page book, that is nice for older kids, or as a way to reinforce words used to describe the journey.  I think the strength of the book is really that it shows what to expect during Umrah.  Children about to go will benefit from the mapping of the events and getting a heads up on what awaits them.  Children that have gone will have a handy way to remember what they did.  Children learning about Hajj perhaps, will be able to see how Umrah is shorter and be able to see what the similarities and differences are in a simple manner.  Even children who have no connection yet to Umrah will benefit from the vocabulary and excitement shared in the story.  While the story is aimed at younger kids, even middle elementary age kids will enjoy reading it once or twice.

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The book claims to come with a poster and paper dolls to reinact the steps of Umrah, but I purchased my book second hand and they weren’t present.  Hence, I didn’t comment on their quality, but it sounds like a wonderful supplement to the book.

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The Victory Boys by Jamal Orme illustrated by Eman Salem

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The Victory Boys by Jamal Orme illustrated by Eman Salem

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I’m not sure why Amazon states the book is for pre-school and up, when the publisher, Kube, posts this book for ages 7 and up.  I think 3rd or 4th grade soccer/football fans will enjoy the book.  There are some slightly mature ideas presented and worked through, and the soccer lingo assumes the reader knows the sport.  Plus the quality of the illustrations and the small font isn’t going to entice someone not already excited to read the book based on the content within.  My boys, ages 8 and 9, enjoyed the book, as did I, once the story got going.  It doesn’t really grip you from the first sentence, but as the story progresses and the way Islam is woven in makes for some learning experiences in the midst of a few intense football matches.

SYNOPSIS:

The boys at the Sunday Madrasa do not enjoy their time there.  They find the Imam boring and thus are not inspired to learn. When they sneak a football into break time however, they suddenly feel more engaged and present in their lessons.  A change the Imam notices and appreciates, but doesn’t know the reasoning for as he strictly forbids football and finds it a waste of time.  Outside of Madrasa, Junayd is having a hard time at home.  He has to help out a lot at his father’s restaurant and his older brother Saleem has gotten in trouble with the police.  His mom prays for the kids, but is also at a loss as to how to help with the stresses at home.

During a secret game of football in the masjid courtyard, an arrant ball breaks the neighbor’s greenhouse window, and the boys are forced to come clean about their covert game.  The Imam demands the kids stop playing and that they tell their parents what they have done, so that they may earn some money to replace the window.  As the kids come through with the money and the Imam sees the kids resort back to their lackluster attitudes to learning.  He gets an idea to start a football club after madrasa classes.  The only problem is that he knows nothing about the sport and no parents are willing to help.

Saleem by chance comes to collect his brother one day, and as he hollers advice from the sidelines, the Imam recruits him to coach the team.  In response the Imam ever so gently uses football to teach not only the madrasa kids, but Saleem as well.  When the boys learn of an upcoming tournament, the Madrasa enters an A and B squad and the Shabab Al-Nasr, Victory Boys, will be tested not only in their play, but also in their manners, and understanding of what it means to be a team and Muslim.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the Imam grows and changes.  I mean it is a kids book about soccer, but really it is the adult in the story that shows the most heart.  He goes out of his comfort zone, reevaluates his opinions, and admits when he is wrong.  High five Imam!  I also like that he didn’t give up on Saleem, and the way he leads him is with such kindness and compassion, that even youngsters, will be impressed.  

The book does not talk down to the reader, which is nice, but at the same time I think it pushes the age appropriateness a bit with the detail devoted to alcohol being sold at the restaurant, Junayd’s father’s flaws, and even Adam’s dad’s tantrum of sorts.  There really aren’t any nice parents in the book.  We don’t learn much about the moms, but none of the dads seem too supportive.  Really the only nice adults are the Imam and the neighbor who’s window they broke.

The timeline isn’t entirely smooth, the kids come together and play well as a team remarkably fast for how intense the tournament is, and how well they perform. And some of the characters could have used some fleshing out, I couldn’t really tell you much about them.  The font is really small and the spacing often forgotten.  The book is about 95 pages with a glossary and an acknowledgement at the end, fortunately the 2nd book in the series seems to space the words and lines out more and is 155 pages.

The story is solid and for the most part well written.  I read it in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the lessons learned and then put into practice.  The book isn’t preachy, but you are glad to see the Imams words given life in the other characters’ actions.  Saleem changes quickly, but the author and story account for it in a way that is believable for the audience and the message of not giving up on one another comes through loud and clear.  There is a lot of technical detail about the sport, but it doesn’t drag on, it adds to the excitement even if you just know the basics.

FLAGS:

The talk of alcohol, of Saleem being with a group of kids and a stolen car, there is some yelling and aggressiveness from the adults.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The story is a bit short for a book club selection, but I would definitely consider it for Lunch Bunch (where I read to 4th and 5th graders while they eat lunch).  And I think most Islamic School libraries and classrooms should stock the series.  

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A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

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A Little Tree Goes for Hajj by Eman Salem

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A friend loaned me this book with a bit of hesitation as to its quality, and although I needed one more Hajj book for an upcoming story time, it seemed that it was yet another book about the steps for Hajj, so I wasn’t stressing about acquiring it. Luckily we were both wrong, at least from my perspective.  The book is so sweet, and not so much about the steps and details of Hajj, but more about the longing to go.  To seal the sweetness deal, it is about the friendship between a man, and a tree, and perfect for 3 year olds and up.

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The little tree dreams of traveling, but more than anything he dreams of going to see the Ka’aba.  Noting the logistical struggles of travel with roots, his mother encourages him to make duaa for his heart’s desires.  After a lot of patience and a lot of duaas, (alhumdulillah, it shows duaas take time and are not a magical instant granting of a wish) a young man walks by on his way to the coast to catch a boat for Mecca.  Startled by a talking tree, the clever boy just happens to have a basket and he uproots the tree and they head out together.

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The book shows the two doing all the steps in a large two page illustration, keeping the text to a minimum.   On the next page though, it highlight the two praying and trimming their hair and leaves. When the tree is returned to his mother, she is watered with Zam Zam water and “they agree it is the sweetest water ever tasted.”

The friendship continues, as they journey on countless adventures, and in the end, when the man is old and the tree is too big, the old man returns to rest on the tree’s roots and tell stories to the nearby saplings.

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Written in both English and Arabic, the story is a fast read that holds even the little one’s attention as they look at the expressive illustrations.  There is additional information on the Hajj rituals page, but it can be used according to need, like the glossary in the back.  The story is for Muslim children and families as it does not explain the requirements of Hajj, importance of the Ka’aba, or history of the rituals.