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.
Nadia’s aunt is getting married and she gets to be the flower girl in the Pakistani-American wedding. She also will get mehndi put on her hands for the big event. Her cousins warn her that she might mess up and even in the midst of her excitement she begins to worry what the kids at school will say when they see her hands on Monday. As her aunt prepares the mehndi and the application process begins, various uncles peek in on her and her aunt gifts her a beautiful ring. The mehndi has to sit on the skin for a while to set and as Nadia practices sabr, patience, I couldn’t help but think something seemed off in the story. I’ve been at, in, and around a lot of Pakistani and Pakistani-American weddings, and this story didn’t seem to reflect the tone of such occasions. The book doesn’t reflect the hustle and bustle and near chaos, it doesn’t sound like the tinkle of jewelry and laughter as the women sit around chatting and getting mehndi put on together, the pots on the stove are referenced but not described so that the reader can smell the sauces thickening and hear the pans crashing and taste the deep rich flavors. It is lonely. Nadia is lonely and filled with anxiety about Monday. Durring the wedding she is walking down the aisle and suddenly freezes when she looks down and doesn’t recognize her hands. Her cousins seem to show unsupportive “I-told-you-so” expressions as she searches for some comforting encouragement to continue on. When she finishes her flower girl duties, her grandma asks if she understands why looking at her hands makes her feel like she is “looking at my past and future at the same time.” Nadia doesn’t understand and the author doesn’t explain. At the end she is ready to embrace that her hands are in fact hers and that she will show her friends on Monday. But the reader has no idea how it goes, or what exactly the significance of her painted hands are. The book fails to give any insight or excitement for a culture bursting with tradition at a time of marriage.
There is a glossary at the beginning for the few Urdu words sprinkled in the book. There is no further explanation however, of mehndi, or weddings, of the brides clothes etc. The illustrations are adequate, but because the text doesn’t offer much warmth or vibrance, they seem a little drab, and raise more questions about what some of the traditional items depicted are. The book is a standard 32 page picture book and is written on an AR 3.8 level, which I think is a little high. Granted my children are familiar with mehndi, but my first grader read it to me with little assistance. There isn’t any mention of Islam and could probably be argued that the story reflects any wedding from the subcontinent background performed in the west. The bride has a duputta on her head in the picture, but that is neither here nor there, and no one in the audience appears religiously covered. I would assume they are Muslim because of the minor characters’ names: Omar, Saleha, Amina, Abdul Raheem. Also, the word Sabr, an Arabic word, suggests that they are Muslim. Plus they eat kabobs which the glossary defines as mincemeat, so probably not Hindu. Overall the book is not, “bad” or “wrong,” I just wish there were more to it.