Tag Archives: Fun

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

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The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

I was a little nervous to read an adult fantasy book with jinns, both in terms of length and knowing I would undoubtedly compare it to the Daevabad trilogy, but I got an ARC and dove in.  I was put off by the use of gods, and that there was no Islam present at all.  I’m not sure if the author identifies as Muslim, or what her background is, so I told myself I’d read at least 25% and then state I didn’t finish it because I primarily review juvenile fiction with Islamic content or by Muslim authors.  Well, lets suffice it to say that arbitrary percentage came and went and I had no intention of putting the book down.  So why am I featuring it? Simple, it is clean and I liked it.  Aside from the plural little g gods, the book is Arab culture rich as a retelling of the Arabian Nights, according to @muslimmommyblog the Arabic is accurate, the story is engaging, and really my only question is, why isn’t it YA?  I have a handful of reasons why I focus on children and teen lit, but one very strong one is that the books are “cleaner” in theory.  Lately though, it has been hard finding YA that followers of my reviews can confidently share with teen readers.  I think this one, although it isn’t a religious mirror, the salaams, culture, Arabic, and storyline, tinge the framing and make it a fun “safe” read to suggest to our kids.  At 480 pages, it probably is best for ages 15 and up, and it ends on a cliff hanger, so I’m not sure what the next book might introduce, just be aware this review is for this book alone.

SYNOPSIS:

Layla aka Loulie aka The Midnight Merchant hunts and sells magic jinn relics that she locates with the help of her jinn bodyguard Qadir.  After her tribe was slaughtered by a mysterious army, and she the only survivor, Qadir and her have been a team.  When her skills align with the needs of a powerful sultan she is forced to go on a journey with his son, the prince and one of his 40 thieves, to find a magic lamp that will lead her to answers about her past, offer her chances of revenge, test her abilities, plague her with loss, and fill the pages with adventure.  Stories of the One Thousand and One Nights are weaved in through oral storytelling, world building is built and explored through the characters’ understanding their world and the jinn, and the non stop action keeps the story moving forward with minimal dialogue and a lot of high energy showing.  Clearly if I say too much, the excitement will be lost, and I don’t want to spoil the characters’ arcs, their foibles, their illusions, and the climax- seeing as it is a linear story and if the motivation to move forward is lost, the book will lose its charm.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book keeps pace pretty well, a lot of the spoilers are not dragged out and I appreciate that they are not used to dangle the reader’s interest.  The story has depth, the characters are fleshed out, and the truth and illusion reveals are done without insulting the reader.  I’m still undecided about the (SPOILER) comic book quality of death for the main characters, but it keeps it interesting, so for now at least, I’ll play along.

There aren’t a lot of characters, but there are a lot of names for each character and at times in the thick of fast paced action sequences, I did get a little confused as to what was happening to whom and who was saying what.

I don’t truly understand why the divinity is plural or why they say salaam, but nothing else “Islamic” is remotely present save the concept of jinn.  I suppose though for all the fantasy books that use Islamic terms and imagery and then present them horribly, I should be glad that this one really doesn’t conflate the two, but an athan in the background or a few inshaAllahs, sigh I suppose a girl can dream.

FLAGS:

Language, violence, murder, killing, deceit, minor seduction, betrayal.  Very clean not just for an adult fantasy, clean for most any YA or Teen book.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

It would be a bit of a pivot for me to feature this book as a book club selection because there is plural deities and NO Islam, but it is very tempting to suggest it to the high school advisor.  The book comes out May 17, 2022, you can preorder it which helps show support, or order after it releases on Amazon.

Must Love Pets: Friends Fur-Ever by Saadia Faruqi

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Must Love Pets: Friends Fur-Ever by Saadia Faruqi

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This 208 middle grade novel by a Muslim author features a desi family and the protagonist’s love of pets.  Iman Bashir is on summer break and is determined to convince her mom and grandfather that she is responsible enough for a pet dog.  The internal realization of selfishness, her ability to problem solve, be a good friend, and know the limits around her, keep the story from being whiny and annoying.  The writing is superb and the characters relatable.  I wish there was a bit more Pakistani culture, or some indication of the characters faith (there is one Salaam), not because all books need it, but rather because it almost seems that text goes out of its way to not contain it.  The story is clean and the first in a series that I think most kids will enjoy. The father in the story has passed away and at times Iman struggles with sharing her thoughts on him, I don’t think it would be triggering, it is subtle and adds depth to the story, but it is worth noting incase it hits too close to home.

SYNOPSIS:

Iman has been begging, or rather asking her mom for a dog at every chance she can get, but after 43 rejections she is thinking she needs a new plan.  When she meets the new neighbor, Olivia, who is the same age as her and her best friend London, an idea is hatched to start a pet sitting business.  Iman’s mom is always stressing how important it is to help others after all.  Opportunity strikes when Sir Teddy’s owner has to rush out of town, the girls offer their services to watch the beloved dog.  But how do you share caring for a dog at three different houses? How do you let your parents know what you have committed to? What do you do when your brother is allergic to dogs, or you have a cat that doesn’t like dogs, or your house is still in boxes? What do you do when your first customer goes missing?

WHY I LIKE IT:

I like the side stories the best: the grief of losing a parent, the Dada Jee and his lemons, the soccer team helping search for the missing dog.  The story itself is fine, albeit predictable on the surface.  Where it really shines is in the point of view of Iman.  I love that her internal dialogue knows that she is being selfish, that she is being a bad friend, but that she is still feeling these very real feelings adds depth to the book, character, and plot.

I like that the mom is a strong single mom, and I hope that as more books in the series are written we get to see some emotional unpacking and connection between her and Iman.  I do like that the meaning of Iman’s name is explained in Arabic, and desi foods are featured, but I couldn’t help but feel that the writing would set up for something more, and then abruptly pull back.  There really is no explanation about why Dada Jee doesn’t like dogs other than saying in Pakistan they aren’t allowed in the house.  So finish the though, face palm, they are not let in because religiously which has influenced culture- dogs are generally not brought inside, it is a bit of a contentious point.  I get because Muslims feel differently about dogs it was probably kept out, but she is a talented writer, she could have still acknowledged the hole in the rationale without committing to a side.  Sure in my Islamic School Librarian head, I would have loved the characters taking their shoes off when they enter the house, eating halal, and pausing to pray, but I accept that isn’t the story.  At times though it didn’t feel OWN voice, it felt very watered down on the cultural rep and it makes me wonder why it was really included at all.

FLAGS:

Clean.  Loss of a parent.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This is a solid MG book and would be a great addition on a school or classroom library shelf.

What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

This rhyming Islamic tale wonders what dinosaurs would do if they were Muslim and alive today.  For littlest Muslim readers this repetitive tale ponders how they would eat, pray, love their mothers, respect their neighbors, dream, and feel, by tying all those things back to how Muslims behave.  The adorable illustrations kept my 6 year old glued to the story and the simple text held my 2 year old’s attention.  A fun book with wonderful supplements at the end to engage children in activities that everyone does compared to those that just Muslims do, a Fun Fact about (Muslim) dinosaurs and mums in Islam.  As well as extra activities, valuable information, and details about donations made with the purchase of this book.

The book takes place in London and imagines if dinosaurs were alive and if they were Muslim what day-to-day life would be like.  The refrain starts out “If dinosaurs were alive today and if they were Muslims too,” before stating what they would do and having it conclude with “just like me and you.”

In a similar vein as the ever popular How do Dinosaurs series by Jane Yolen, the book teaches kids how to behave by teaching the dinosaurs.  The book is short, and the humor comes from the illustrations, primarily the facial expressions of the parents, more than from the text, but I think the wildness of Dinosaurs living today will get most little kids smiling.

The only real concern I have with the book is the text when they are in the masjid praying and it reads, “they would try their best to pray five times a day.”  I know we don’t demand our littlest ones to pray all five salat, but I don’t know if it would imply that trying to pray is sufficient even when you are older.

From start to finish I found myself smiling while reading this book aloud to my kids, even after the fourth time in a row, alhumdulillah.

An Ayesha Dean Novelette: The High School Heist by Melati Lum

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An Ayesha Dean Novelette: The High School Heist by Melati Lum

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If you are a long time fan of Ayesha Dean and you have been waiting for some children in your life to grow up just a little, so you can share the strong Muslim detective books with them, you are in for treat.  This book is a short novelette for middle grade readers!  It isn’t a prequel detailing her personal backstory, but it does show how she got her first taste of sleuthing at age 13.  If you are new to the series: the book like all the others is Islam centered, fast paced, authentically voiced, and an overall fun read.  Unique to this book is that it is for ages 8 and up, and takes place in Ayesha’s home country of Australia.

SYNOPSIS:

Ayesha is at a new school, she has recently started wearing hijab and she just wants to settle in to it all with friends Jess and Sara.  Things have been going missing from year eight lockers, but it isn’t until Ayesha is a victim does the concern really hit home.  Add to that getting paired with the jerk Dylan Wyley for a project in Indonesian class, and Ayesha is not having a good day.  When she senses some suspicious activity, she is on the case: ready to get her stolen book back, take down a bully, put her Tae Kwon Do training to use, and make it to the library to pray her salat on time.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I really enjoyed the relatable voice of young Ayesha, having read all of the other books in the series, it was sweet to get a peek of her in her younger school days.  I love how much Islam is in the book, and not in a preachy way, but rather in a ‘I’m Muslim and this is how I see the world and this is what I do’ sort of way. I’m not going to lie though, I wanted more backstory on how she became friends with Jess and Sara, how she settled in to living with Uncle Day when her parents died, and all the backstory four books solving crimes around the world just couldn’t get to.  But I fully realize, that is just something I may never get (hint, hint) and will have to be content with the fast paced, culture and Islam rich stories that we thankfully get.  I’m not complaining, I just get overly invested.

To all my arrogant ignorant readers out there, that like me, might be a bit confused about Australian schooling and culture- I embarrassed and humbled myself and annoyed the ever gracious author to learn more about Ayesha’s world.  In Australia the lockers are located in the students’ homeroom classrooms (tute rooms), hence they don’t often padlock them.  High school refers to ages 12-17, and sometimes 11th and 12th grade are called senior school, and “How did you go” is a phrase in Australian English.  See, aren’t you glad I asked, now we know, and can widen our view together.

The only thing that I think I would have liked to see would have been a bit of pause before Ayesha got into a fight.  It is high energy, and she does it to help someone, but I feel like at 13 years old, in a book for 8 year olds, and as someone familiar with Tae Kwon Do, it should have been more articulated that she was nervous to engage in a physical altercation, and was only doing it because she could not diffuse the situation, get the victim away, and thus had to step in.  I recognize that pulling out of the scene might have made it lose momentum, but I felt a little off celebrating a school fight without that pause of introspection.

FLAGS:

Fighting, stealing, bullying, Islamohobia, racism, bigotry.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The book is short and for a younger age than I meet with, but I look forward to purchasing the book on February 20, 2022 to have available in the school library for anyone to pick up and read, inshaAllah.

Eliya’s Explains Miracles by Zanib Mian illustrated by Daniel Hills

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Eliya’s Explains Miracles by Zanib Mian illustrated by Daniel Hills

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It is quite remarkable how my standards and expectations have grown and evolved.  I anxiously have waited for the next book in the Eliyas series, having loved the Angels book that came out nearly two years ago.  Zanib Mian’s voice makes the reading of nearly all her books enjoyable, whether it is a fictionalized tale or an Islamic knowledge book with fictionalized framing.  This book disappointed me however, because I now expect and crave references and sourcing for books that present facts or at least qualified and named scholarly approval to be mentioned.  I also was not comfortable with the depiction of Buraq on the cover, on a full page illustration within the book, and on the back cover.  The text itself is lovely and informative, and nothing “seemed” off factually in this 92 page early chapter book, but the lacking reassurance of the content contained within prevented me from truly loving the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

Eliyas has finally convinced his family to go camping.  With a late start and a lot of chaos they will have to set up the tent in the dark, alhumdulillah there is a full moon out.  As they drive to their campsite and marvel at the moon, they begin to discuss the miracle of the moon being split in to two.  As they find a place to settle, they discuss miracles about water, as they collect firewood they talk about the tree where Rasul Allah gave khutbahs from crying when he moved to give the khutbah from elsewhere.

The family of Eliyas, his younger brother, older sister and parents learn and discuss the miracle of the Quran, Prophet Dawud and Prophet Sulaiman peace be upon them both speaking with animals, Buraq and the night journey, Prophet Ibrahim (as) being in the fire, Prophet Musa (as) dividing the sea amongst other things, Prophet Isa (as)’s ability to heal the sick and with Allah’s permission breath life in to a clay bird, and the she camel miracle of Prophet Salih (as).

The camping trip, the siblings bickering and then helping one another, and Eliyas having to admit to forgetting the food, all tie the miracles together in an easy to read and engaging manner.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I really love Zani’b Mian’s books, and I genuinely hope that she will consider removing the illustration of Buraq and having the miracles sourced, or the book “approved.”  Kids will read this book over and over again, long after they have grown out of the early chapter book demographic and inshaAllah it will inspire deeper knowledge to be sought.

I love the quiz at the end-with answers, playful fonts and doodles throughout the book, the short chapters, and relatable banter between the characters.

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FLAGS:

Depiction of Buraq

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Even with the depictions it could possibly be used as a read aloud story to first and second grade and up.  If you were a teacher or in a capacity to read the story to the students, so that they might not dwell on the illustrations, the book could be shared.  For reassurance, have someone more knowledgeable than I verify the miracles shared for accuracy though, before sharing.

This book, like so many of the books I review was purchased from http://www.crescentmoonstore.com and no I do not promote the store because it benefits me in any way, I just really the store, the service, the selection, and the prices.

Environmental Sunnahs: Emulating the Prophet One Earth-Friendly Act at a Time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

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Environmental Sunnahs: Emulating the Prophet One Earth-Friendly Act at a Time by Alia G. Dada illustrated by Sarah Hafeez

This beautiful book explores how intertwined Islam and caring for the earth are in a kid appropriate manner.  The rhyming lines and fun illustrations are accompanied at the end by very detailed sourcing, references, and tips.  All non fiction or fictionalized fact books should be sourced this well, it really has set the bar, and left most books in the dust.  My only real critique of the book is that I wish it was larger.  The pictures and dancing text need more space to be poured over and enjoyed. The 8×8 size doesn’t do the 36 page book justice.  The inside text should also be a more uniform/consistent in size.  At times the rhyme is off and feels forced, but because there are facts on each page the story isn’t read consecutively.  You break the rhyme scheme to ponder over the “Did you know?” sections, so the beat and cadence isn’t super important.  Overall, a well-done book to share and discuss with children ages 5 and up, and a great reference, resource, and memorable teaching tool to bring us all closer to the prophetic mannerisms we strive to emulate.

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The book starts off with a message by naturalist, Director of the Art and Wilderness Institute and author of “How to Draw 60 Native CA Plants and Animals, a Field Guide (and my former childhood penpal) Sama Wareh.  It then jumps in to exploring the miracle of nature on land and under the sea. It shows desert landscapes, and mountainous ones, jungles, and farms, valleys and cities.

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The book talks about water: Zam Zam and wudu and where clean water comes from.  How little water we should use according to hadith and how to respect all living things. It talks about Prophet Sulaiman (as) showing kindness to even an ant. And how planting a tree is charity. It shares information about reusable goods, limiting waste, and understanding eco systems.

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The book concludes with easy to read Hadith references, Quranic references, a glossary, and action items.

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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I started to read this book to myself, abruptly stopped, gathered my children around, and began again aloud.  This 40 page early elementary picture book isn’t just counting up and down with silly scenarios and outrageous details, it is familiarity with a culture often not represented with universal humor, appeal, and anticipation. This rhyming book begs to be shared: one-on-one, at story time, or in a classroom.  There is so much joy and connection that I’m ready to felt-board the story, march into my kid’s school and demand an audience.  I found mine at the library, but I think I am going to order it because it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf to be read again and again.

Musa and Dada get in a daladala and are off to the crystal blue waters of Zanzibar.  But it is hotter than peppers out and the kind driver is offering everyone a ride.  First is the old man with his seatless bike, then it is two little goats and their herder, next is vendors with their three baskets of fruits.  Each time Musa cries and protests that there is not room for anyone else, let alone their stuff.  Yet when everyone wiggles and scoots and smooshes, there seems to be room for everyone.  This continues until there are ten scuba divers joining the smelly fish and stinky chickens, umbrellas and milk pails.

Alhumdulillah, they reach the beach.  Then one by one they all get out at Nungwi beach.  Giggles and wiggles and Musa and Dada are off the minibus and swimming in the cool waters. Alhumdulillah indeed.  The book concludes with a glossary and an author’s note.

“Find me on Twinkl’s list of best children’s books of 2021!” 

Could Be Anything! by Eman Mouneimne El Ayoubi illustrated by Victoria Romanenkova

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Could Be Anything! by Eman Mouneimne El Ayoubi illustrated by Victoria Romanenkova

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This is not normally a book I would review because it will read like paid endorsement, which it is not.  It is a 32 page personalizable book, that I’m highlighting because it exemplifies a concept of Islamic literature, that is often lacking.  We have numerous books teaching Islamic concepts to toddlers and preschoolers, but forget to teach the secular concepts through an Islamic lens.  We often have a bookshelf of Islamic books that include learning to say Alhumdulillah, and the names of Allah swt; and a bookshelf of non Islamic books that features stories about dinosaurs, monster trucks, and being silly.  This book reminded me of how important it is to have books that do both.  Not to necessarily preach, or even teach, just to merge the two shelves and present a singular framework of Islam, a way of life, not just a religion to our youngest believers.

Sure the name and customizable appearance is fun, but deeper than that, learning about different careers knowing that Allah swt created all of us to do so many worthwhile jobs is a great lesson to be sharing.  The larger concept of teaching Qadr to our children is only presented on the back cover of the book and can be implemented by using the parent guide at the end of the story.

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The book starts with asking what you want to be when you grow up and informing the child that Allah swt has a plan for us all.  Each page after then mentions the child’s name, introduces a career, and ties back to that Allah swt has written, or decreed something for us.

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The highlighted careers vary from being a parent, to an astronaut.  A teacher to a chef, a mechanic to a dentist.  There is no priority, nor opinion on one career or job or hobby being more important or more valuable than another.

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The pages are bright and colorful and the paperback book thick and sturdy.  I did struggle with the word “could,” and often would self edit as I read and would change it to, “Ayub ‘can’ be anything.” I’m not sure why the diction is what it is, but it reads incorrect to me.

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Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

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Arab Arab All Year Long! by Cathy Camper illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

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This 40 page month-by-month celebration of Arab culture, both old an new, will be a source of pride and smiles for readers of all ages.  The author is an Arab American of Lebanese decent and the illustrator was born in Lebanon.  The book shows Muslim’s teaching others about Ramadan, looking up hijabi fashions, as well as making cookies at Easter and dressing in sleeveless shirts.  To be Arab is not a monolith and this book seems to convey that culture and tradition and love are all it takes to be included in the broad diverse identity of being Arab.

January starts with finding stars with Arabic names, and February recalls how a comic about Martin Luther King, Jr. helped inspire the Arab Spring.  The kids in turn make a comic to teach others about Ramadan.  March is a chuckle about Arab time, and April is making maamoul with Sitti for Easter. May is learning to write Arabic and June for gathering grape leaves to make warak enab.  July is picnics that remind mama of Morocco and making perfume with familiar smells and memories. 

August is playing the doumbek with Dad who is in an Arab band. September is researching hijab costumes to wear to comic con.  Dressing up like Umm Kulthum wins first prize.  October is pomegranate time, which means the kids jump in the tub to eat and enjoy the messy fruit. Chilly November air requires the Palestinian keffiyeh to keep memories warm, and December when friends are busy over winter break it is time for sleep-overs and henna parties.

I like that dressing up is not for Halloween and that while some examples are country specific, many are general.  The book specifically mentions a few Arab countries, but the electronic arc did not include all the supplemental information that the published hardback book will contain.  I can’t wait to check it out and gift to my Arab friends and their children. 

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.