Tag Archives: Learning

Lala Comics: The Hilarious encounters of a Muslim Woman Learning Her Religion by Umm Sulayman

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Lala Comics: The Hilarious encounters of a Muslim Woman Learning Her Religion by Umm Sulayman

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A mix of information and entertainment, this 124 page comic book is divided into thematic sections which further break down in to mini-episodes or comic strips that feature a situation, an Islamic advice often based on a Hadeeth or Quranic ayat that is noted, and a misinterpretation taken to a comical extreme. The book is a great way to remind ourselves and children, middle grades and up, aspects of our faith that we might know, or introduce us to specifics that we should know, by showing the concept in exaggerated action. Because the examples are relatable and come from everyday life, the humor is that much more enjoyable, and as a result makes the “lessons” that much more memorable.

The three sections cover topics included in 1: Muslim Identity/Mindset, 2: Habits/Lifestyle, and 3: Adhkaar/Prayer, after an introduction of the characters, and the magic of the ‘Aalim Hat are explained, the stories begin. They are not sequential and can be read in any order, and are about four to 10 pages each. The book surprisingly does a good job of not getting overly predictable. Even though you know something is going to be taken incorrectly or to the extreme, it doesn’t drag on or get redundant. At times Ayye, is overly preachy, ok, all the time, but the persona is intentional and reads intentional, as his grounding of events is actually the point of the book.

The illustrations are clear and enjoyable. They are expressive and easy to follow. The glossy pages and full color print help keep the readers, especially the younger ones, tuned in to what the lesson is, and what silliness is ensuing. The hardbound 6 x 9 book is great to have around where it can be picked up and thumbed through. I read the entire thing in one setting, as did my 12 and 14 year old, and all of us have subsequently picked it up and flipped through it to muse over sections once again. A few of the pages seem to bleed into the binding and require some effort to see the cut off text, hopefully the book will have multiple reprints and this can be rectified. If you don’t follow the author on Instagram you should @LalaArtwork.

It is important to note that I am not a scholar, or anywhere remotely qualified to opine on the authenticity or interpretation of the points given in the book. The hadeeth are sourced, stating if it is a Saheeh hadith or found in Bukhari or Muslim for example or who narrated it. And ayats from the Quran tell the surah and verse. They are sourced when stated, there is not a bibliography at the end.

Potential concerns in the book: it does show a Muslim celebrating halloween and birthdays in a comic about Eid. In an episode about being strangers in this duniya, it mentions drinking and clubbing and nudity, boyfriends, etc. as things to avoid in this world. There is hyperbole and revenge, and bad judgement, but it is all in fun to make clear Islamic points and I think children nine and up will have no trouble understanding what is real and what is exaggerated, inshaAllah.

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

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The Library  Bus by Bahram Rahman illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

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It seems this polarizing 32 page picture book has instagram reviewers torn, perhaps along racial/cultural lines, as to whether the book is wonderful or simply victim to perpetuating the same old tropes and stereotypes.  Maybe being half brown, I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself in the middle.  I think if you are tired of feeling like the only strong Muslim female from the subcontinent acknowledged by the West is Malala Yousafzai, and seeing her single narrative and experience being repackaged in a new book every other week, then yes, this book is going to grate on a similar nerve and OWN voice or not, you will write it off as Afghanistan being close enough to Pakistan and the story of a girl and education being unoriginal.  I think the flip side is that if you find a female lead taking education in the form of a library bus to the places where formal education is not available and you love the empowerment that women educating women can have in changing a society, then you are going to probably love a female driving a bus, a female teaching, a girl planning to go to school, a grandfather making sure in a previous generation when women couldn’t be educated, that he taught his daughter, and being thankful that it is a person from the society and not a “white savior” coming to help the people in Afghanistan.  Both as far as I can tell have merit.  I think that you see in the book what your paradigm and perspective is before you even start.  I have read it and re read it and then read it again over the span of many weeks. I was alerted to it by @muslimkidsbooknook who sensed that we might disagree before she even posted her review (haha it’s like she knows me!), so my review is going to try really hard to focus on the text, and what it says, not on the 30 books before it that had a similar message or on my views on publishers only accepting manuscripts with reassuring easily palatable narratives, there is enough of that already about this book out there.  I’m going to try and offer my perspective on what the book contains and while it has problems for me, I definitely liked it more than I disliked it. Oh and one more thing: the illustrations, swoon, are gorgeous, like really, really beautiful. Bismillah…

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Pari and her mother are getting ready to set off in their library on wheels.  It is Pari’s first day as her mother’s helper and she is a little nervous. It is dark when Pari’s mom drives the bus to their first stop- a small village tucked in a valley between two gray mountains.  There are a group of girls waiting for the bus and call it over to return books and pick new ones.  This reminds me of my time in New England and hearing about the Book Mobiles and Mobile Book Fairs that would visit the small seaside towns that didn’t have proper libraries.  Even my mom used to tell me stories about waiting for the Book Mobile to stop on her street in Davis County, Utah to get books once a month.  The concept is universal and that it takes place in Afghanistan and is driven by a woman who is educated and independent, is intentional with the hopes of being inspiring.

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The girls then gather for a lesson, it is hard to know how impromptu it is or if it is a regular organized class.  It is also not made clear if they always practice English or it is something unique to the day, but they sing the alphabet song and count to ten.  After class a girl tries to chat with Pari and see how much she knows.  Pari lies and says she can print, but in reality can’t even read or write in Farsi yet. This shows a gap in the story as earlier Pari said she could barely count all the books in the library, and in the pictures there are a lot of books, but she is trying to keep up as the girls count to ten.  As the mom and daughter team pack up to head to their next location they discuss how Pari’s mama learned.

Pari’s grandpa taught her mom a long time ago, at a time when girls were not allowed to go to school and she had to hide in the basement to learn.  Pari wonders if her mom was afraid of the basement.  It is always dark down there.  It is really one paragraph on one page that mentions that girls could not learn.  It is presented in the past tense, and as the story progresses we learn that next year when Pari is older she will be going to school.

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There is a two page spread about the mom seemingly going off on her mantra that learning makes you free.  And I’m ok with it.  It says when you go to school study hard, period, then the next line says, “Never stop learning. Then you will be free.” Yes! I agree, how many of us pursued a skill or a hobby during this pandemic to feel free from the confines of staying at home.  Learning in any capacity is liberating.  It may not keep you safe in a war, but the freedom of the mind to find peace and pursue passions is critical to mental health and survival.  Am I reading too much in to these basic lines? Absolutely, well probably anyway.

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When the bus gets to a refugee camp with tents everywhere, Pari and her mom start handing out pencils and notebooks before settling in to what seems an organized English lesson of ABC.  I am torn on my thoughts about them stressing English over their own language.  A sense of pride in who they are by learning Farsi or Dari or Pashtu would show readers that Afghan culture is rich and worth learning and valuing.  I worry that by stressing the English, it presents the culture and language erroneously as the opposite.  At the same time, as a child and teen, I went to Pakistan over a dozen times and would beg my (middle class) cousins to teach me Urdu.  I’d make them take me to Urdu Bazaar for dictionaries and text books, and preschool grammar books so that I could learn my father’s language.  And it never happened.  I’d beg in letters before I got there, and they would agree, but when I arrived they all wanted to work on their English.  They wanted to practice it in conversation, they wanted me to read over their assignments, they would introduce me to their coaching center teachers, their principals, the tutors, and I’d find myself teaching them colloquialisms and explaining idioms, and I’d watch my “textbooks” gather dust.  This was before social media, and YouTube and Netflix and I was their link from their studies to the larger world that rewarded knowledge of the English language.  Is it correct or even logical? No.  But it was my experience that they desperately wanted to learn English over Urdu or the required provincial language Sindhi.  Would readers of this book know that? No.  Do critics of them learning English wish that it wasn’t the case more than wishing that the book simply didn’t highlight it? I don’t know.

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As they leave the camp, Pari reads the letters of the refugee organizations off the tents.  I find it off that earlier she called it ACDs instead of ABCs and yet now she knows the alphabet.  Again I’ve read the critiques questioning why the refugee camps are named and have over thought it.  In some ways I think it is a reminder that the country has been at war and that individual organizations are helping care for those displaced by countries that tore the country apart.  The text says that, “there are no schools for the girls in the village or the camps.” If anything I took this to show that while we stereotype Afghan society as not making education of females important, that international relief groups don’t either.  The great saviors aren’t teaching the girls in the camps, a mom and her daughter come once a week.  There is a subtle yet powerful critique of foreign policy there, if you want to really be honest, I think this should be made more clear.  At the end of the day the strong Afghan people are putting their country back together after a never ending illegal conflict has ravaged them further.

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The author says in his note at the end that this book is based on real people he met in refugee camps when he returned to his homeland and that this book is a tribute to the strong Afghan people, particularly the women.  Imagine where any war torn nation would be without the bravery and determination of mothers and teachers, and women who will risk it all for their children and ultimately an entire generation, when politics and power have found other things to value.

The book on its own I think is fine, allbeit written plainly for western readers.  Do I wish stories about life in this part of the world didn’t feature war and refugees and education, absolutely.  We can argue my experience compared to your experience, to the author’s purpose and intent, to the publisher’s vision. That is the beauty of books, we don’t have to agree and we can discuss and we can all be better for it.  There is nothing Islamic in the book other than some of the characters wearing a scarf or chador or hijab.

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Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant by Allan Drummond

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Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant by Allan Drummond

Set in Morrocco, the fictionalized framing of a children’s story about solar energy and sustainability at the the world’s largest solar plant in Ghassate will appeal to curious children in kindergarten and up. Told through the every day life of Jasmine, a little girl living near the plant, the concepts are not technical, but give a broad overview allowing readers to understand how impressive solar energy is, as well as the disparity that exists in the world. Over 40 pages with factual sidebars and an author’s note at the end, children who enjoy the story and are curious about the reality of it all will find an easy opportunity to learn more.

Jasmine and her friend Nadia live in Morocco between the High Atlas mountains and the huge Sahara desert. It is always sunny where they live.

They talk a lot about making energy from sunshine as they watch trucks going and coming from the world’s largest solar plant. Their teacher likes to ask them about the big changes happening in their world.

As the villagers tend to their sheep and cows, they cook on open fires and bake bread in clay ovens all while keeping an eye on the workers making the largest solar tower in the world. Jasmine’s dad rides a mule to work and many classmates parents work at the state of the art plant. The contrast is obvious.

The next day at school Miss Abdellam the teacher asks the students about sustainability. And the book doesn’t define the concept right away. First the class goes on a field trip to the solar plant.

At the plant the size of 3,500 soccer fields they see the 660,000 mirrors that follow the sun like sunflowers and bounce the rays to the 800 ft tower. The tower gets to a thousand degrees on top and heats water whose steam powers turbines and is turned into electricity.

The kids go home to work on their sustainability homework. With no internet or computers even, they have to think for themselves. The remaining pages define and provide examples of how solar power is changing life for the villagers and improving life for people not just in Morrocco or Northern Africa but potentially the entire world.

I love that the concept of sustainability isn’t just a definition it shows how it is in every day things, and those every day things lead to big things that are both tangible and ideological. The author/illustrator acknowledges his own surprise and bias when he learned that the largest solar power plant was in Nothern Africa. I love that some of the females wear hijab, and some do not, and that the teacher and some of the parents at the solar plant are female. There is nothing religious even mentioned in the book, but the visibly Muslim characters are empowering and honest for a story about science and Morocco.

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

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Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

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A great book about inclusion for back to school, except well with Corona, we aren’t doing things how we always have.  None-the-less this book about the first day of kindergarten for Musa and the friendships and celebrations of diversity (Eid al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas, Pi Day) that will take place over the school year, connect the kids and their cultures in a beautiful and heartwarming way.  The book is 40 pages with engaging illustrations and text perfect for 5-7 year olds.

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It is the first day of school and Ms. Gupta tells the class it is her favorite day of the year.  She also tells the children that the people around them will become their best friends.  Musa doubts this as he looks around at the strangers at his table.

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He also wonders how the first day of school can be any ones favorite day, clearly Eid al-Fitr is the best holiday.  Luckily, every show-and-tell will be about someone’s favorite day, so that the class can join together in celebrating it.  Moises can’t believe that Christmas isn’t the most fun until he learns that not everyone celebrates it.

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When it is Musa’s turn to teach about Eid, his mom and he bring in food and decorations and teach the kids to say Eid Mubarak.  They learn what Eid is like and can see why it is his favorite.

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Up next is Mo’s turn.  He tells everyone about Jewish New Year and how to say Shanah Tovah.  On Rosh Hashanah they light candles and share food with friends and family.

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Moises explains how Las Posadas is how his family celebrates Christmas.  It lasts nine days and there are songs and pinatas and presents.

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In the spring it was Kevin’s turn and he shared his love of Pi Day as his family celebrates science.  On March 14 (3.14) they make different pies and learn about scientists and their discoveries.

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On the last day of school, the children are sad, but their teacher hopes they will remember each other always throughout the year as she hands out calendars for them to keep.

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The book concludes with information about each of the four holidays mentioned. It is possible that on the Rosh Hashanah page the family is two gay men with two children, but it could be just two men as well, and doesn’t say anything in the text that suggests who and how the family is comprised.

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The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

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The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo illustrated by Sonja Wimmer translated by Lawrence Schimel

saidaThis absolutely gorgeous lyrical book will sweep you up and hold you tight as you imagine a world where more people take the time to get to know one another through the power and beauty of language.  Over 32 pages that are exquisitely and whimsically illustrated the words dance and come to life in English and Arabic as a friendship is formed.  Perfect for preschool through 3rd graders, older children and adults alike will be softened by the kindness and example shown between two little girls.

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Told from the perspective of a little girl that meets a new girl in school named Saida and decides right away that they are going to be friends.  Unfortunately Saida speaks only Arabic, and the little girl only English.

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But it is no problem, because the little girl is going to help Saida find her words.  She is going to look everywhere to let her get rid of her tears and throw away her silence.  So that she doesn’t see questions and sadness locked up in her.

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That night at home, the little girl’s parents tell her about Morocco and find it on the globe.  They explain that Saida’s words don’t work here and that her words wouldn’t work in Morocco.

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Undeterred the two girls start teaching each other words in their languages.  Some stick, some float away, but the two learn and communicate and connect. They find friendship in learning each other’s words.

They recite a poem by Jacqueline Woodson and tells stories about Marrakesh. The two girls plan to travel the world together. The book concludes with both alphabets shared and the reader wishing to join the little girls on their adventures.

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I was blown away by the presentation of the book and the feeling of compassion and cultural appreciation depicted.  Such a beautiful approach to welcoming someone different in to your life.

There is nothing Islamic or religious in the book, or really even cultural, aside from language.

Diana and the Island of No Return by Aisha Saeed

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Diana and the Island of No Return by Aisha Saeed

dianaThis Wonder Woman story of Princess Diana as a young girl is not noteworthy because of its groundbreaking storytelling, but more for the fact that the series and story is by a Pakistani-American Muslim author.  I am not sure how authors are assigned or chosen to  write these reimagined character series, but I think it is a great compliment to her writing and a great mainstream representation of diversity that we should celebrate.  Even more exciting is the subtle addition of Diana’s best friend, Princess Sakina, daughter of Queen Khadijah to the story, and that while they are citizens of fictitious world of Greek gods, they seem to spout Islamic wisdom on occasion, and be equally strong and important to the adventure at hand.  The book is meant for middle grades and at 288 pages is a fun light read for girls and boys of all ages.

SYNOPSIS:

Young Diana is anxiously waiting for the start of the yearly Chara Festival, when strong women from all over the world come to her island home of Themyscira to celebrate their different cultures and strengths.  Most of all Diana is waiting to spend the week with her best friend Sakina.  Frustrated that her mother is not allowing her to train with the other Amazonian women, Sakina listens to her and they hope to persuade Queen Hippolyta that this is the year.

As the women are arriving and gathering in the palace, Diana discovers a boy near the ships, Augustus.  Boys are not allowed on Themyscira.  There is no exception, but when all the women in the palace are drugged to sleep, her and Sakina are forced to trust him to try and save their loved ones.

Augustus confesses that a demon has hypnotized everyone on his island home, and that he was told to break the spell he needed to bring Princess Diana to the demon.  With no options and determined to prove her self, Diana and Sakina and her trusty bird fly off on a chariot to another world.

With tests around every corner, literally, the trio has to work together, to stay alive, gather the ingredients to make a potion to save the people on both islands, and push themselves to be brave.

WHY I LIKE IT:

So the story is ok, it is fun, I’m sure most kids that like superheroes and even many that don’t will enjoy the quick paced plot of the story.  There are definitely little nuggets of inspiration and motivation that make the book a positive influence on the reader.  The trio discuss bravery and how being scared doesn’t make you less brave, they encourage one another to push themselves and they forgive each other when they make mistakes.

Sakina and her people are scholars and on occasion says deep thoughts.  She says at one point, “My mother always says we are supposed to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.” Which is a general principal, but the word choice sounds a lot like Surah 3 verse 110 “enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong,”

FLAGS:

There is talk of Zeus and the other gods.  There is lying.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I probably wouldn’t do this as a book club book, but I would definitely encourage kids to read it.  I think muslim kids will get a kick out of seeing the names Sakina and Khadijah in the book and feel like its a bit of a shoutout, which I think is awesome.  It seems like it is book one in a three part series, so I hope to have my kids read them all and make sure the 3rd-5th grade teachers at their school have them as well.

 

Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures by Trisha Springstubb illustrated by Elaheh Taherian

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Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures by Trisha Springstubb illustrated by Elaheh Taherian

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This 32 page book for ages 5-8 is a perfectly presented story about inter-generational and intercultural friendships.  Big on sentiment and heart while keeping the text short allows the compassion the two friends have for each other and their actions of showing how they feel toward one another speak volumes.  The illustrations appear to be cut paper and add to the thoughtfulness that the story presents.

Khalil and his family live upstairs and are noisy.  Mr. Hagerty is quiet and lives downstairs.  The two bond over their love of the back yard.  While Mr. Hagerty works in his garden, Khalil hunts for bugs and rocks and treasure.

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When Khalil doesn’t know a word, Mr. Hagerty teaches him.  When Mr. Hagerty can’t remember a word, Khalil helps him.khalid

That summer it is hot, really hot.  The carrots are all shriveled, and Khalil can’t dig the hard earth for treasures either. So the two decide to have “refreshments,” which means chocolate cake and milk.

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That night, the two friends separately plot to cheer the other up.  They put their plan in to action and, no I’m not going to spoil the sweet acts the two do for each other.  But it is clever and sweet and all the things that make a feel good story stick with you and remind you that age and culture and color are nothing when two people open their hearts to learn and grow.

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There is no reason anyone casually reading the book would think that Khalil is a Muslim, and who knows maybe he isn’t, but the name Khalil caught my attention and the author’s dedication is to a Khalil, Muhammad, Fatima, and Adam.  So yes, I totally am claiming it.  Even if it isn’t, the old white man, and the young boy of color bonding is a great message in-and-of itself that we need to see more of in literature and real life.

 

You Can Control Your Voice: Loud or Quiet? You Choose the Ending by Connie Colwell Miller illustrated by Victoria Assanelli

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You Can Control Your Voice: Loud or Quiet? You Choose the Ending by Connie Colwell Miller illustrated by Victoria Assanelli

 

you can controlA choose your own adventure picture book, that doesn’t have anything Islamic specific, doesn’t seem to be written by a Muslim or illustrated by a Muslim, and that was found at the public library, starring a Muslim mom and daughter.  Oh hurrah for beautiful illustrations, teachable moments, volume control in a library and the fun to read the story and have control over what happens next.

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This 24 page book meant for kids in kindergarten to second or third grade is part of a series featuring diverse characters learning universal manners and making good choices. To see Muslims represent a universal lesson in a relatable environment is a great way to normalize seeing women in hijab in real life.

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Haneen and her mom are at the library, and Haneen finds a book about fairies and cannot contain her excitement.  Immediately the reader has to choose what Haneen does next.  If she stays loud, the story ends rather quickly, but if she tries to keep her voice down, she might get to stay at the library a little longer.

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There is a big test when she sees a friend, and disturbs a gentlemen working on the computer, but if you make good choices Haneen gets to check out two books.  If your choices aren’t ideal you might have to just get the fairy book and get out, and if you really struggle to know how loud or quiet to be, you’ll have to come back another day and try again.

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At the end of the book are some things to think about, to drive the point home.  I love the line, “We are all free to make choices, but choices have consequences.”  A great lesson for little ones, and a great reminder for older readers too.

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The book is 9×8 and the expressions on the characters faces make the book a great option for circle time, story time, bedtime, and just to have on hands for kids to thumb through and enjoy.  Well done!

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My Grandfather’s Masbaha by Susan Daniel Fayad illustrated by Avery Liell-Kok

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My Grandfather’s Masbaha by Susan Daniel Fayad illustrated by Avery Liell-Kok

masbaha.jpgThis 20 page story is endearing and sweet for children aged 4 and up, with a great lesson.   At first I thought it was an Islamic fiction book, but after thinking about it, I’m not so sure.  Lots of faiths use prayer beads, although maybe only Muslims have 33, and the setting, Lebanon, is a pretty diverse place.  Regardless, the character’s names, and the lessons taught are universal and children will benefit from being reminded about how blessed they truly are, in a gentle loving way.

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When little Adam’s friends go home and he has nothing to do, he enters his grandparents house stomping and complaining.  In response, Adam’s Jidoo, grandfather, starts to laugh.  This only makes Adam more angry.

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Jidoo Yousef then shows Adam his misbaha and explains that some people use it like an abacus to count, to mark prayers, some use it as decor, and that he uses it to remember God’s blessings.

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He and Adam, then go around and count all the blessings of toys, and people, and friends, and family, and food, and before Adam knows it, he is feeling blessed and thankful.

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The basic illustrations show the bond between Jidoo and Adam, but are nothing overly fabulous on the large 8.5 x 11 pages.  There is a lot of text on some of the pages, but it flows well and goes quickly.

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The book teaches a great lesson and if you get a chance to read it to your children, you definitely should.

The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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The Cosmos That Allah Has Designed by Zenubia Arsalan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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This 22 page beautifully illustrated picture book clarifies that it is not a science book, but rather an invitation to think deeply.  For ages 4 and up the rhyming pages will appeal to children’s sense of wonder and Allah’s perfection and precision.  Older kids will appreciate the journey through the cosmos and how limitless Allah swt is in all things.

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The book starts with Earth and how the spinning of our planet on its axis allows for the alternation of night and day, it then moves to how going around the sun at Allah’s command gives us our seasons.  But because it rhymes and is not a science book, the text is more imagery and tangible in nature, rather than a list of facts.

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It touches on the moon reflecting borrowed light and the power and strength of the sun before moving on to the planets and gravity.

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It then extends out to the Milky Way and has a page on black holes before coming back to Earth for us to recognize how we only are a small part of something so much bigger.

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There are two pages at the end with talking points, an ayat from the Quran, and emphasis that science and Islam are not at odds as Allah is the creator and governor of all things.

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The book is 6×9 and with the beautiful illustrations I truly wish the book was larger.  Not only to dive in to the glossy pages easier, but also so that the book could be used at story time to small groups.  The tone is contemplative and marveling as it challenges the readers to find mistakes or flaws in the perfection of outer space. I love that science-y Islamic kid books are now available that appeal to children’s sense of wonder and understanding.  Really the only other suggestion I would have liked to see, would have been a page defining the word “cosmos” as it is used on every page, and while I think kids will figure it out as the continue through the book, I think it is a bit of a block for the younger readers.