It is great to see a beautiful hijabi on the front of a sports book, written by a non Muslim, published by a major publisher, and having the story have nothing to do with the cloth on her head, but rather the skills on the court. Teaching lessons about teamwork and self-worth, there is a whole series of these books about different sports with different main characters, and this one focuses on volleyball and a girl named Asiyah Najjar. I’d maybe recommend this 63 page book to kids starting to feel confident with early chapter books, but more on that later.
Asiyah plays rec volleyball and enjoys it, but when her friend Lucy convinces her to try out for the traveling team, she has to not just be good enough to make the team, but focused enough to not let her teammates down. With daily practices, comedian Asiyah feels like everyone is taking the new team way too serious and she questions if she wants to continue. She loves playing the piano and with school work, her time is being consumed by volleyball. When she overhears her friends doubting her commitment to the team, she, with the support of her brother, decides to dig deep and give it one last, serious, try.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that Asiyah mentions in the first chapter that she is nervous about the traveling team, because of her hijab and that people in town know “what it is, and why I wear it,” she says. She never mentions that she is Muslim or why she wears it, just states that the people around her know. Religion and faith are never brought up again.
There are some slightly off things in this book for me. According to the publisher, the book is meant to appeal to 8-11 year olds, but to me, the style of the book is aimed for 6-8 year olds. Those who need pictures and a large font and big spaces between lines and short chapters. The illustrations, however, in the book make the main character and her friends seem like high school students, with their heavily makeup looking faces, or at least middle school with the main character wearing hijab. After reading the book, twice, I still don’t know how old the main characters are. They seem pretty independent, but then when Asiyah’s parents have to run some errands, her brother Rad walks her and Lucy to volleyball practice, like an escort.
That’s another thing, of all the ethnic or religious names that could have been chosen, Rad seems like an odd choice in that it will come across as funny to readers and kind of mitigate the amazingness of having a socially accepted female Muslim athlete on the cover, again, just my opinion.
Another slightly confusing thing for me is that the book is a “Jake Maddox book,” but he isn’t really the author. After looking in to it, I think it is more like a series or type of sports book that other’s write for and include his standards, “each of his stories is stamped with teamwork, fair play, and a strong sense of self-worth and discipline (http://www.capstonepub.com/consumer/products/digging-deep/).” The book is ok for 2nd graders, the lessons learned will resonate in the moment and teach a point, but the characters will be quickly forgotten. The book has questions at the end and a glossary of volleyball terms which would be great for kids interested in volleyball.
Clean, the characters listen to music and Asiyah plays the piano.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I wouldn’t do this for a book club book, but with the standards of sportsmanship and the integrity I’d probably have it in my classroom. The book is a super short read, so reading it would help boost struggling reader’s confidence, and with so many books in the series, if the child likes sports, they will have lots of options with positive messages to engage with.