At first glance it might seem that this Iranian set book with a chador at it’s core is a political statement. I do not believe that it is. The backmatter does state that, “Our wish in writing this book is to add to the growing list of stories for children that demystify this veil (that is too often used as a symbol of hate) and instead present a different view of it as the safe and comforting space we always knew it to be.” This is an OWN voice authored book, from what I can find online the authors do not cover. It is a warm memory of finding love and humor and safety in the modest coverings worn by a grandmother. I do wear hijab and I choose to do it based on my understanding of what Allah swt commands, I have never been forced to cover by a person or government, and do not know how that would effect my love of fulfilling a tenant of my faith. But all that is an aside to make the point that this book to me is not weighing in on Iran’s politics, books are written and slated to be published years before they finally release, and this book is a silly heartfelt picture book about a girl and her chador wearing grandmother heading to the bazaar.
In the bustling city of Tehran, Samira is heading out to buy groceries in the big bazaar for the first time with her grandmother. Samira is nervous that it will be loud, and she might get lost, she asks her grandmother if she can rider under chador on her back. Her grandmother tells her no, she will look like a turtle.
Samira then suggest they walk in a line with grandma in front and her behind. Grandmother Shamsi says, na, na, na, she doesn’t want to look like a donkey. Various other suggestions involving hiding under the big black chador and staying close to Mama Shamsi are suggested, but all make grandma look like a funny animal, and she declines.
When at last they arrive at the bazaar, Mama Shamsi encourages Samira to not hide but to use her eyes, and ears, and nose to learn about the world around her. Hand in hand, they stick close together, and enter the market.
The love between the two characters is heart warming in the text and truly elevated by the remarkable illustrations. You love their relationship, you can feel Samira’s nerves, you appreciate Mama Shamsi’s humor to lovingly empower her granddaughter, and at the end you truly long to have your grandma next to you guiding you.
I enjoyed this book and don’t mind one bit reading it over and over again as kids giggle at the pictures and find details they hadn’t noticed before. The book releases in February, and I hope that presales can reinforce the power of OWN voice authentic tales to be shared. You can preorder/purchase it here.
This 46 page comic strip compilation follows the intergenerational Somali-Canadian members of a family. With crossword puzzles, word searches, advice, and graphs sprinkled in-the book at times was laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming, ironic, and honestly, there were things that I didn’t quite understand-and those perhaps were my favorite parts. The book features Muslims and immigrants and life in the west, and those I could relate to, but I am not Somali, and there aren’t a lot of Somali books available, so I loved the opportunity to see the culture and humor and themes that a book written authentically chose to highlight. The book is not a graphic novel, the characters and their situations are not a cohesive narrative, so if I didn’t understand a particular joke, it didn’t linger or carry over. By the time the book was done a sense of love, community, and joy left me waiting for the next installment and a desire to read more voices that are not easily found in Muslamic YA literature.
The humor is at times culture and experience specific, and I feel honored almost to witness a book for a particular group by a member of that group and thus don’t feel a need to “review” the book in my typical fashion. I simply wish to highlight that it exists, share some inside pictures, and hopefully send some support its way. You can purchase it on Amazon.
I was excited to hear that another Rick Riordan/ Rick Riordan Presents books featured a Muslim character and was anxious to see how the multi god genre would account for Islamic tenants. But I was completely giddy (that’s putting it mildly), when I found out that Sarwat Chadda is aka Joshua Khan, author of the Shadow Magic Series and that this book has practicing Muslim Characters front and center. In his own words, “it has taken be twelve years and eleven books to get around to writing a Muslim tale.” That isn’t to say that it is Islamic fiction, there is gay romance that is there if you want to see it and has been confirmed by the author outside of the book, there are numerous fake gods in Mesopotamian mythologies, there is death and violence, but it is fun, oh so fun. It has salat, and going to the mosque, and an imam, and saying surahs and discussing jihad an nafs, and sadaqa and it says the shahada in Arabic and English, it presents Muslims authentically in their words and actions, and it isn’t just the characters’ backstories it is who they are and how they see the world. The book is an AR 4.5 with 383 pages and like all Rick Riordan books, full of humor, sentiment, family, growth, and ancient mythology.
Sikander “Sik” Aziz is 13 and when not at school is at his family’s NYC deli working away. The son of Iraqi immigrants, he is dedicated to helping his family especially since his older brother Muhammed, Mo, has passed away. Mo’s lifelong friend Daoud has moved in to Mo’s old room and helps out in the deli, but is really an aspiring actor who does anything to get out of work. When the book opens, Sik and Mo are closing up when the deli is attacked by rat faced men demanding to know where it is. Sik has no idea what they are talking about and the two demons tear apart the family restaurant until a mysterious girl appears and sends them and their stream of insects, disease and destruction from the deli.
The next day at school Sik’s injuries are healing remarkably quick and he and the new girl, Belet, find themselves getting sent to the principal’s office together. When he learns that Belet’s mom is Ishtar, goddess of love and war, or rather passion, and was the girl at the deli, he can no longer deny that the tales Mo used to tell him about Gilgamesh, Enkido, Nergal, Kasusu, and Mesopotamian mythology are very real.
As Sik, Belet, Ishtar, Daoud, and an army of cats, Lamassu, learn that the plague god Nergal is behind what is going on and that he plans to destroy Manhattan, it is up to them to stop the destruction, save Sik’s parents who are in the hospital, and ultimately the world.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book was written before Covid 19 and the idea of a plague or pandemic was not yet on everyone’s mind, but when it was published in 2021 it sure become that much more relatable and close to home. I love that some of the reactions of the characters and community to being around infected people and the backlash was so accurate to what we have all seen since 2020.
The way that the oneness of Allah swt and the multi fake gods is reconciled is that the Mesopotamian cast are old and powerful, but not ALL-powerful, as Ishtar tells Sik, someone had to create us. She also says that today people might call them something else. It seems to leave open the idea that they have abilities and because of their abilities people worshipped them and the name stuck, not that they are creators or even claim to be. The concept of being between alive and dead is explored when Sik visits Kurnugi, he asks where Muhammad Ali is and Mo tells him he isn’t there, he went straight to Jannah. It might not be a clear explanation, but it at least hints that Muslims in real life have a different view than the mythological one being explored.
I love the snark, and the humor, it flows so well and incorporates pop culture with ancient references very smoothly. I love that they say InshaAllah and AllahuAkbar and when Sik is presumed dead at one point and awakens he can’t go to the mosque because they are having his janaza and it would be awkward. I love that there is a glossary that denotes if words are Arabic, Islamic, or Mesopotamian. Muslim kids reading this will feel so seen and proud to be openly Muslim and inspired that they too can be heroes.
Mythology, fighting, death, the use of the term badass. Daoud and Mo’s relationship. Daoud and Mo became friends in 5th grade and when Sik sees some photos of his brother that Daoud had taken, he says that he sees love. When Sik and Mo are reunited in Kurnugi, Mo hints that there is more to the friendship, it is subtle. In online interviews Chadda says they were in a romantic relationship. It is not explored or heavily detailed. The only other romance mentioned is that Gilgamesh in his prime refused Ishtar.
I think fans of Rick Riordan already know that there is going to mythological characters, creatures, battles and violence and a character or two that are LGBTQ+, some possible romantic angst between main characters, death, and unfaithful flirty gods. This book is much “cleaner” than most, so 4th graders and up that are fans, will be fine reading this.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t know if I could do this as a book club selection. The romance is minor, but once you sense it and know it is there, it is a factor. I don’t know if it would have to be discussed and how an Islamic school would want me to handle it, because both Mo and Daoud are practicing Muslims. I think the book does a sufficient job of not committing shirk and shirk like messages with the mythology, but as always with these types of books it is a judgement call if the children (and their parents) can understand where the lines of fiction are and where they stand.