Tag Archives: Foster Care

Zahra’s Blessing by Shirin Shamsi illustrated by Manal Mirza

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Zahra’s Blessing by Shirin Shamsi illustrated by Manal Mirza

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Just when you think all the Ramadan stories have been told, you flip open a new book, hold your breath as the stage of predictability is set, and alhumdulillah in this case, you squeal with delight when the big reveal in a children’s book swept you up and surprised you too.  This 32 page richly illustrated story for elementary readers is heartfelt, culture rich, informative, and embracing.  The book doesn’t dwell on the details of Ramadan, fasting, and Eid, but intentionally focuses on some of the feelings, blessings, and acts that make the month extra special.

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Zahra looks up at the Ramadan moon as she hugs her teddy bear and sends a prayer up asking for a little sister. The next day Mama is packing up beloved clothes, and ones that the family has out grown to be donated.  They discuss giving without hoping for anything in return and once again Zahra asks her mama for a little sister. To which her mother lovingly replies that she should be patient.

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When Teddy goes missing, Zahra can’t help but think a little sister would help her find it.  Iftar that night are all of Zahra’s favorite desi foods and prayer after is her asking for a sister and Teddy.  The following day Mama and Zahra take the collected donation items to the shelter and Zahra realizes how sad she is about losing Teddy and these refugees have lost everything.

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Zahra spends time with the children at the shelter and gets to know them.  She wishes she could find Teddy to gift to a young girl named Haleema.  Some days Ramadan crawls slow, and other days fast.  The family reads Quran together, fasts during the day and prays at night.  The night before Eid, Zahra’s dad whispers a secret to Zahra, one that she keeps close to her all through Eid prayers the next day.

Not going to spoil it, although I’m sure you can guess what is going to happen.  There are hints in the remaining illustrations, but I think kids will enjoy not having the heads up.  The book concludes with some informational blurbs and details about the Muslim author and Muslim illustrator.

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I enjoyed the illustrations, they are bright and bold and festive and unique.  They compliment the text completely as they show praying, reading Quran, making duas, etc.  The text doesn’t get preachy, it doesn’t even mention Allah swt or God, but talks of prayer and blessings.  The combination of the text and illustrations, however, definitely convey a strong unapologetic Ramadan/Muslim centered story.  Overall, it is universal and warm and sweet, and both Muslim and non Muslim children would benefit from reading it.

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My only concern is the page that the family is making dua together, it seems odd that they are all sitting in a line as if they have just prayed, but not prayed with the dad in front and the mom and Zahra behind. I read an electronic arc of the book and I look forward to purchasing a physical copy to add to my bookshelf.

The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf

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The Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Rauf

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Woah! Domestic abuse, foster care, murder, astronomy, and above all hope and bravery. It is so, so much, and so beautifully dealt with from the perspective of a child, that I’m still living in Aniyah’s world and praying she is doing ok.  As the beginning of the book states, it is a story written for everyone, but it then goes on to say that there could be triggers and difficult things to read. So please, while it may be written for ages nine and up, you should know what your child can handle before suggesting they read such a heartbreaking 306 page book, and if they aren’t able to handle it yet, make a mental note to have a discussion when they are ready, it is important.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with a map of London and the chapters start with constellations, maps to the stars, and a little girl who wants to be a star hunter.  Drawing on Simba from the Lion King and wholeheartedly believing that stars are people who’s hearts were so big that when they die they light up the night, she maps the stars outside her foster house window, on the lookout for a new star, her mom.  Not remembering all the details that brought her to this foster home, she and her little brother Noah are trying to figure out their new life, the foster home rules, the loud pain they felt, and if they are winning the game of hide-and-seek with their father.

Unable to speak, Aniya, breaks her silence when a news story on TV tells of a star breaking the rules of gravity and flying by Earth.  Convinced it is their mom, Aniyah and Noah with the help of fellow foster kids Travis and Ben hatch a plan to go 73.6 miles from Waverly Village to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to make sure the star hunters name the star the correct name, and not the random computer generated one the contest rules dictate.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is inspired by the author’s aunt who was a victim of domestic abuse and killed by her husband.  The love and pain she feels at her loss, I believe is conveyed through the pages and felt by readers of all ages.  I had my 10 year old son and my 12 year old daughter read the book, because this book’s topics are heavy and weighty, but handled with such sensitivity and childlike innocence that it is a great introduction to the topic, without being overly heavy and weighty.  The author is amazing, and I was curious how she would follow up her amazing debut novel The Boy at the Back of the Class, and I think this one is just as powerful, if not more so. 

All of the foster kids suffer from some form abuse and there is even a note at the beginning about how the author does not like the term “domestic abuse” and there are resources and information at the end of the book for children or adults suffering or how to help someone they know suffering abuse.  There is also a page about Herstory, the constellations, and some personal anecdotes about the author’s aunt.

The book is truly heartbreaking because as an adult reading the book I could easily figure out what happened, that the father killed the mother, and that the games the mom would have the kids play were not games at all, but ways to mask what was going on. The book is very subtle in how it talks about what the mom and kids endured and some kids will not get it, and others will, either way, parents should be aware and available to discuss that abuse is never ok and that if their friends or someone they know is suffering/surviving, there is help.

The book is powerful also in the way the foster kids for the most part stick together, I think the way they are so willing to help and risk their own chances at adoption is selfless and memorable.  Also the way they put up with Noah, a little kid, who gets annoying, but handled lovingly,  because family means so so much when you don’t have one. 

On the surface though, it is an adventure story, can a ragtag diverse group of kids with little money, injuries and a deadline travel nearly a hundred miles to name a star?  Its fast paced, interesting, and emotional on many levels.

There is nothing Islamic in the book, not even a Muslim name in passing, but the author is Muslim and the story universal.

FLAGS:

Halloween is when they run away.  There is a lot of lying, but they know it.  Lying when the mom covers her bruises and marks, and how she is doing, lying when the kids run away and steal the bikes and sneak on a bus without paying, and break in to the observatory.  The kids feel guilty and know right from wrong in every instance, but when they opt to do something uncouth they rationalize it because they have to name that star!

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m seriously considering reading this as a middle school book club selection.  It is written for a younger audience, but I think I want to open up the topic of abuse and have the school counselor come and listen to the discussion.  The book is that good, and that important, and that powerful, that a discussion and lessons, will keep these characters’ stories in the middle schoolers’ minds as they grow and hopefully teach them empathy, compassion, appreciation, and patience.