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Little Leena Learns about Ramadan by Zainab Fadlallah

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Little Leena Learns about Ramadan by Zainab Fadlallah

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I was excited to see this 20 page book in my public library, and then once I started reading it I was equal parts frustrated, disappointed, and honestly a little upset.  The book is an example of what I posted a reel about a few days ago, about an over used, unrealistic, textbook fact share of Ramadan from a kid’s perspective in a plotless book.  In this book it is Little Leena waking up from a nap smelling something delicious and finds her family eating and wondering why.  She is told by her sister it is the ninth month of the lunar calendar, the new moon has been sighted.  Oh sure there are some mentions of cakes and cupcakes, but seriously, come on, what three year olds have a working knowledge of moon phases but don’t know what Ramadan is, know what “blessed Ramadan” means but have never heard “Ramadan Mubarak.” Ramadan is explained to be special because we try and be extra kind, and not because it is the month we are told to fast, and we get more blessings for being kind, and the month the Quran was revealed.  Yes I appreciate that hijabs are not worn in the house, but are worn outside, and the excitement and joy are visible, but how can you have a book this centered on Ramadan that contains no Islam in it.  You can’t say on the back that it is learning about “what the occasion is all about” if there are no religious inclusions: it does not say that it is an act of worship, that fasting is prescribed by Allah swt in the Quran, that we pray extra, there is nothing, it doesn’t even attribute Ramadan and Eid to a religion, sigh.  My frustration isn’t just in this book, it is in this growing trend that this book is a part of sadly.  Why have an OWN voice adorably illustrated book claiming to be teaching about Ramadan, when the religion is completely absent? If it was a cultural, or family traditional book of joy with or without Ramadan facts blended in, I might see what it was trying to accomplish, but a book for early elementary, from a toddlers perspective that is so formulaic misses the mark in my opinion, both in educating the target audience or in helping young Muslims feel seen.

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The book starts with Little Leena waking up from a nap and smelling something delicious.  She wonders if mummy has been baking cookies, or cupcakes with sprinkles, or maybe a chocolate cake.  She decides to go have a look and finds colorful lights and decorations and a magnificent chocolate cake.  She also finds her family sharing a meal, she asks what is going on and learns that it is Ramadan.

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Leena’s sister Safiyya explains that “Ramadan is the ninth month of the Lunar calendar” and “it starts as soon as the new moon is sighted.”  She further explains that “Grown ups fast from when the sun rises till the sun sets”  she says brave kids are welcome to try too.  I’m not sure what being brave has to do with fasting, to me determined or even strong would be better words to use as fasting isn’t scary, and kids are encouraged to try, not forced.

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Leena then wants her sister to explain what fasting is, and Leena can’t believe it means no food or drink during the day light hours.  Leena asks what makes Ramadan special, and is told, “Ramadan is special because during the month we try to be extra kind and do as many good deeds as we can.”  It does not say why we try and be extra kind though, before reminding that we also “try to remember to be grateful for all the things we have.” It is worth noting that in the illustration on this spread it has a Ramadan sign, that is spelled Ramadhan, not that one transliteration is write or wrong, but to have both in a children’s book is a little confusing.

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Leena then finds some presents and Saffiya explains that they are for Eid when Ramadan is over and we wear new clothes and get presents.  The two then discusses their love of presents and saying Ramadan Mubarak.

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The 8.5 inch square book is short, but the image quality and hardback binding in this library edition is nice, it just adds nothing in my opinion to the genre, to conveying to Muslim and non Muslims what Ramadan is and why it is important.  I worry that libraries might think this is good as our Ramadan reads are and not budget to get much better, engaging, reflective stories as a result.