Tag Archives: lesson

The Muslims: Book 1: The Test by Ahmad Philips

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The Muslims: Book 1: The Test by Ahmad Philips

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This is the first anime comic book in an eight book series aimed at early elementary readers.  Often books have lessons, this however, simply presents as an illustrated moral.  There is a situation that contains the lesson that one should always try their best for the sake of Allah swt and that is about it.  The knowledge isn’t tested a few additional times or in different situations, it is just 22 pages to illustrate the concept of doing things for the right reason, in this case studying after a failed test.  There isn’t anything wrong with the bright colorful book, the brother sister duo read authentic as they try and recall Islamic teachings, and get each other in trouble by accident, the diverse family is supportive and understanding, it just seems that it would apply to a specific lesson in a home or classroom and then sit on a shelf unasked for and not very memorable.

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The book starts with seven year old Hani trying his best on a multiple choice test that he didn’t study for.  He battles the personified Quiz Monster to no avail and on the way home from school confesses all to his little sister, Huda.  She reassures him that Allah swt doesn’t give us more than we can handle and agrees to not tell their parents.  Hani plans to tell them himself, inshaAllah.

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When they get home though, she slips, and spills the news to their mom.  Their dad comes home soon after and everyone knows.  The parents he imagines will turn into evil monsters themselves, but rather they laugh and remind him that he should have the intention of pleasing Allah swt in all things, so that he will assuredly never fail.  That if he makes that his goal, then he will inshaAllah find success.  Hani decides that he isn’t going to be careless in his studying and keeps focused.  He has a nightmare that he studies the wrong material, but alhumdulillah it is just a dream and he is ready, inshaAllah.

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The Islamic lesson and the situational allegory isn’t super clear, and I feel some discussion will need to take place to connect all the dots and convey the lesson in a way to be succinct and memorable.  Had he maybe made dua or intention before he studied, then the message would have been put in to practice, not just something the father talked to him about.  It is admirable that Hani was honest, that he didn’t try and hide is score, which I wish would have been praised.  Additionally, a little resolution between the siblings to show all was forgiven would have been nice.  The mom wears hijab even in the home, and there is a glossary at the end as well.

The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

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The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston illustrated by Claire Ewart

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Set in Lebanon, this 32 page book for kindergarten to second graders uses the ever important olive tree as a point of contention between two neighbors. Muna’s family moved away during the conflict because they were not like the others in the village, and while they were gone, Sameer’s family cared for the olive tree on their neighbor’s property, and collected the olives that fell on their side of the wall. But now that the neighbors have returned, Sameer is not only disappointed that they don’t have a boy his age to play with, but also clashes with Muna when she says that he shouldn’t take their olives. By the end of the book, olive branches of peace will be referenced and hope hinted at in this brightly illustrated book with a lesson.

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I like that why Muna’s family left is not abundantly clear, saying that “For many years the house next to Sameer’s had stood empty. . . that the family who lived there had gone away during the troubles because they were different from most of the people int he village.”  Lebanon is a diverse place and the illustrations seem to show both Mom’s wearing head scarves, the text does not detail if they are unlike each other because of religion, or culture, or some other reason, and I kind of like that it is left vague so that children learn in the end perhaps, it doesn’t matter.  

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When the family moves back home, Sameer watches them and recalls the ways his mom prepares the best olives in Lebanon.  The neighbors are polite, but not friendly.  They don’t ever say much and they don’t return visits.  One day when the ripe olives have fallen on the ground, Sameer heads out with his basket to collect them.   Muna, who has never looked over at Sameer, watches him and tells him that they are her olives, and that the tree has been in her family for a hundred years.

The two bicker about who has rights to the olives on Sameer’s side of the wall and in anger, Sameer dumps his basket of olives on Muna’s side and walks off.  After that, no one on Sameer’s side collects the olives on the ground.  One night there is a storm and the olive tree and part of the stone wall are destroyed.  The adults gather to survey the damage, but walk off without saying anything.  The two children are left to decide what to do next about their beloved tree, and their relationship with one another.

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I like that the resolution is subtle, but thought provoking and that the adults don’t seem to interfere too much.  I can’t imagine that they don’t have opinions about their neighbors and the olives, but the book stays on the children and the assumptions, stubbornness, and unsaid words that have created such a divide, and must ultimately be resolved as a result.

 

We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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We’re off to Pray by Sana Munshey illustrated by Eman Salem

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This 8×8 hardback rhyming book for ages 4 and up is filled with detailed pictures that will remind children of all ages how important salat is despite how tempting it often is to neglect it.  I think six and seven year olds will benefit the most from this 30 page book that also has an activity poster included, as they start to take on the responsibility of praying on time and making good choices.  The gentle parents, the relatable scenario and the adorable little sister, bring this story to life, and will hopefully be a benefit for young muslims and their families.

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A small family of a mom, a dad, a brother and a sister are out working in the garden when the athan is heard.  The five prayers are mentioned as they set off to pray just like the Prophet (saw) did.

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They all head in to make wudu as wudu and salah go hand in hand.  They start with bismillah before going through the simplified steps to wash their sins away.  They are about to start, when the doorbell rings.

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Friends have come to play.  Mom and dad tell the boy to pray.  The boy says there will be time after they play.  Once takbeer is called, the boys slip out on their bikes.  The boy wants to have fun, but something is nagging at him and he wonders what the Prophet (saw) would have done.

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Whispers urge him to enjoy the beautiful day, but he realizes what he must do, and when his friends ask what is wrong he suggests they go pray.  Aqeemus salah!

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They head back to the boy’s house, make wudu and pray together. The steps are named and explained and after concluding he sees his proud parents watching.

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There is a glossary at the end and the poster has the steps of wudu and salat as well as an activity to put the steps in order.

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The Salams: Cranky Kareem Says Alhumdulillah by Kazima Wajahat illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

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The Salams: Cranky Kareem Says Alhumdulillah by Kazima Wajahat illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy

 

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Part of me is tempted to channel my own Cranky Kareem and say how awful this book is, just because I know that the author reads my reviews of her books with bated breath, but alas I cannot lie even in jest as the book is truly adorable.  This 40 page book in a new series highlights and starts to fill the gap in children’s Islamic fiction that is so needed.  There are a number of books and series for toddlers teaching them to say Bismillah, Assalamualaikum, and MashaAllah and all the praise-filled Islamic expressions, but they are very basic, this book, and hopefully the rest of the series, goes a bit deeper.  It shows how to truly mean what you say, how to glorify Allah not just in your words, but in the way you think about things, handle stresses, and carry on.  The concepts and amount of text probably will most appeal to mature kindergarteners to early second graders at bedtime or in small groups.  I do wish that Cranky Kareem apologized to Happy Hamdi after he relentlessly attacked him at the masjid, but in much the way Oscar the Grouch gets away with being so negative, the characters in the book and the readers alike will have to settle for Kareem finally learning the lesson, in this case, of being grateful to Allah (swt) for everything.

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The book starts out with Happy Hamdi waking up in Salamville and praising Allah in appreciation of the fresh air, birds, flowers, and allergy medicine that works.  Across town Cranky Kareem is having the opposite kind of morning.  The sun is blinding, the birds annoying, coffee bitter, and he’s out of milk for his cereal.

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When Kareem finally finds some peace and quiet on a bench at the park he is disturbed by Happy Hamdi and all his happiness.  As Hamdi and bounces off to talk to Greedy Gamal and Healthy Hassan, Cranky Kareem gets an idea.

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When Happy Hamdi heads to the masjid, Cranky Kareem sticks out his foot to trip him.  Hamdi falls and gets a bruise on his nose, but still says Alhumdulillah. He then knocks sticky baklava on him and again he responds with Alhumdulillah, he then dumps a bucket of ice water on Hamdi, and Happy Hamdi says Alhumdulillah once more.  When he leaves the masjid, Hamdi’s car is not working and he has to walk home.

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Kareem can’t take it anymore and confronts Hamdi.  Happy Hamdi explains that he was hungry and didn’t mind the syrup, then the water washed the syrup off and now that he is walking home, his fur is drying.  Flabbergasted by Happy Hamdi, Cranky Kareem stomps off.

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Convinced that Hamdi’s happiness is an act, Kareem pauses to ponder how his plan failed.  Healthy Hassan jogs by and bumps in to him, knocking him off the train track and causing Kareem to twist his ankle, just before a train goes swooshing by.

Realizing that the bump saved his life, Cranky Kareem expresses his appreciation to Allah swt by saying Alhumdulillah.

I love the illustrations and the horizontal layout of the book.  The book is cute and I can’t wait to share the rest of the series with my kids.  Thank you to Crescent Moon Store for having this, and so many wonderful books available.

 

 

 

Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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Omar & Oliver: The Super Eidilicious Recipe By Maria Dadouch illustrated by Aly ElZiny

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This super cute Eid book works great for ages 5 and up.  Written in both Arabic and English, not just translated in to both languages, the book features a Muslim celebrating Eid and a Christian boy working together to try and get Omar’s sister’s cookie recipe so they can be the best cookie cooks ever!  The book would work for either Eid and with the adorable illustrations, and included recipe, the book will get lots of requests all year round.

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Omar is excited that his friend and neighbor, Oliver, is sleeping over the night before Eid.  They boys are playing when Omar’s sister Judy brags that her friend has given her the best cookie recipe in the entire world.

Naturally, Omar and Oliver want to be the best too and offer to help Judy.  She refuses, and the quest to get the recipe is on, so that Omar can make them for Eid and Oliver for Christmas.

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The boys try to steal it through the kitchen window.  But Judy catches them and slams the window shut.  They then try binoculars from the stairs, but the boys can’t write fast enough and Judy grabs an umbrella to shield the recipe.  Undeterred the boys pull out a drone, but the zoom on the camera isn’t quite good enough.

The boys then see Judy rushing out of the kitchen and run in to see if she left the recipe.  They don’t find it, but they peek at the cookies and see that they are golden brown and if left in any longer might burn.

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Tempted to let them burn, a sign on the fridge saying, “Eid: a time to share and show we care,” makes the boys realize saving them is the right thing to do.  Judy says she too saw the sign and rushed out to copy the recipe for the boys.  They then all work together to make lots of Eidilicious cookies and share them with everyone on Eid.

The book starts with some tips for parents on how to present the bilingual book and ends with a cookie recipe, as well as some information about what Muslims and Christians celebrate.  I love the illustrations and that they are two page spreads, but the page with the note is the whole resolution and the note is split on the folded binding and honestly I missed it when I read the book myself and when I read it at bedtime to my kids.  When I opened the book wide to take pictures it was crystal clear, and if you were reading it to a group you might not have an issue.

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I also didn’t love the word, Mashallamazing, I obviously get what it is trying to do, and I feel like it works with Eidilicious, but that Mashallamazing is a stretch.  Additionally, if it is claiming to be an interfaith book, a word like that might need some explaining.  I got a bit hung up on it, so I had my 13, 11, and 9 year olds read it and they did as well.  I also didn’t think the pulling out of the story to ask the reader if the boys were successful in getting the recipe was necessary after each attempt.

Disclaimer: I don’t speak Arabic and cannot comment on that, sorry!

 

Go On, Zap Shaytan: Seeking Shelter with Allah by Razana Noor illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Go On, Zap Shaytan: Seeking Shelter with Allah by Razana Noor illustrated by Omar Burgess

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In rhyming couplets spread out over 32 pages with adorable illustrations, this book is a great introduction to the whispers of shaytan that encourage us to be naughty, and how to counter them without frightnening young listeners.  Meant for preschool age children and up, this is the second book by the author discussing an important religious concept in an easy to understand manner (the first book was about Kiraman Katibinthat empowers children to make great choices and find strength in doing so, even when mistakes are made.4CB95EFD-0B5A-4725-B110-4361E48CD9A4

The “Note to Parents” at the beginning provides great framework for the takeaway message of the book.  That yes, shaytan whispers to us and we will make mistakes, but the power is ours to overcome such temptations and inshaAllah do good.

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The book starts out a bit shakey for me as the rhyming is a bit off on one page, and the blame for the little boy with the great hair’s naughtiness is blamed solely on shaytan.  As a former teacher, this is always a tricky concept when trying to teach children to take responsibility for their actions, but then knowing full well that shayateen are real too.

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Once the flip side, of how to protect yourself from shaytan, starts: by saying aoudhu-billahi minashaytanir rajeem, bismillah, salam, reading Quran, calling athan, etc.. the book flows really well.

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I love how much information is conveyed about the jinn and their purpose and how they cower and put their fingers in their ears to not hear the praise of Allah swt.

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There is a glossary for the Arabic words and Islamic references, some kids might need some additional understanding about jin and responsibiltiy, but a solid book that I have read over 20 times to my 4 year old in the last week, alhumdulillah.

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Thank you again to Crescent Moon Storefor their incredibly quick fullfillment of the order.

Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

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Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

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This delightful little folktale is beautifully presented in 32 pages on an AR 1.7 level.  Perfect for little ones to listen to and early readers to tackle on their own.  The pictures are fun and engaging and the story teaches a great lesson of right and wrong in a silly memorable fashion.

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A childless woman asks Allah to bless her with a child, even if it is just a cooking pot, and “Willa! She had a child! And it was a little pot!”

At first taken aback, the little pot professes her love for mama and thus the woman decides to take care of the little pot.  Every day the little pot bumps against the walls as she rolls and jumps around making the sound, Tunjur.

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One day the pot wants to go to the market by herself.  Mama refuses as she is too young and doesn’t know right from wrong, but alas she talks her mom in to it, and off she goes.

She meets a rich man who wants to fill her with honey for his wife.  The pot loves honey so she doesn’t protest, but she refuses to release her lid when the man gifts the pot to his wife.  Angrily he throws the pot out the window and the little pot finds her way home. Mama assumes the honey seller sent it as a gift and little pot says nothing at all.

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The next time little pot heads out she finds herself filled with the queen’s jewels and when she returns Mama is not happy that her little pot has taken things that do not belong to her.

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When little pot heads out again to apologize, the rich man takes her to the king and queen for a reward,  and they fill her with something to teach her a lesson.  When she comes home to Mama, she has definitely learned her lesson.

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The women in the story seem to wear hijab, most notably the wealthy man’s wife.   The Mama asks Allah swt for a child, but other than that there is nothing religious in nature in the book and seeing as I checked it out from the public library, I think it appeals to all kids.

 

Miss Never Pleased by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

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Miss Never Pleased by Ayesha Marfani illustrated by Aisha Aamir

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I’ve been accused of being brutal in my reviews.  And while I don’t enjoy being mean, I do take some pride in the attribute, as I am paying for these books myself (unless I get them at the library) and it takes time out of my day to write these reviews.  I don’t get paid, I do it because I love books, I like supporting Muslim authors and those including Muslim characters in their stories.  I take recommending books to others serious, and can’t remember things if I don’t write them down, so here I am.  With this review I don’t want to be rude, or overly critical nor do I want to sound pompous and arrogant and privileged, but at the same time, I ordered the book off of Amazon for $7.99 so a fair review shouldn’t hold punches to spare what the author is trying to do and appreciating that she is writing for a cultural audience. 

Please believe me it isn’t personal, I am reviewing it based on my same criteria I review all the books through, my own personal bias.  That being said, if the reader is living in Pakistan, or has recently lived in Pakistan and English is a second or fifth language the 70 page story with games and activities at the end is decent.  Meant for ages 7-12 in that situation, that are intrigued by the moral lesson presented, I think the plot holes can be forgiven.  For those without ties to Pakistan, or with loose ties like me (I’m half Pakistani and grew up spending my summers visiting family) the book will be choppy, culturally specific, confusing and lacking.

SYNOPSIS:

The book opens with Habiba being distraught over her world crashing down on her and the pain she has caused her relatives consuming her.  She then opens her diary that she has kept for six years, starting back when she was seven recounting how she as Miss Perfect justified her self in incident after incident.  Thirty-one incidents to be exact, detailing how she would rat out her cousins, or critique elders food, or her tell her friends how to dress and what to study because it was the honest thing to do.   How she would decide who should be friends with who, if her family should go on picnics and how she didn’t want gifts but didn’t want to not get gifts either.  All-in-all Habiba is a self righteous awful, awful girl, I don’t think it is her trying to be perfect, I think she is just awful.  At the beginning she attributes it to praise she received as a child from her mom and grandma, but for this behavior to have gone on for so many years, I don’t think it was their praise, it was their lack of discipline that leads up to her catastrophic moment.  She fails her exams and then learns what her family really thinks about her in a poem, with a way too forced rhyme scheme, left lying around.  The story then returns to her undoing and a faqeer coming to cure her and her parents taking the blame for her poor upbringing.  She crosses out the title on her journal from Miss Perfect to Miss Never Pleased, to presumably denote how nothing could satisfy her.  The story then skips forward to her returning after University as the best international psychologist.  

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the concept of the book, that a girl thinking she was so perfect could realize in fact she is not.  The idea is great.  I think it is a bit sad that her parents and involved extended family took so little interest in correcting her behavior, but at the same time I didn’t think it believable that she was absolved of all responsibility either. 

I feel like this book was a great first draft.  It needs some fleshing out, and some continuity corrections.  Incident #3 makes no sense, it starts with a party, then her ruining the mood of everyone at the party, and then her crushing her cousin’s dream of being in a play for her own twisted reasons.  But the jump from one idea to another seems like something got edited out and the rest of the four-and-a-half-page story didn’t get altered to reflect the missing details.  I have no idea what the party was for, what a wish gift is, and why anyone in their right mind would take a child’s opinion regarding someone else’s life so strongly. 

There are also contradictions, for example on page 14 she makes a big huff about her cousin wanting to study to be a teacher saying she wouldn’t be good at it, then on page 49 saying she would be marvelous, and this is before her climactic change of heart.  There are some awkward passages as well, that I had to read a few times, which could have been do to a different style of English, but sometimes I think it was confusing on its own.  Page 24 was all over the place with her not wanting to thank people for giving her a gift because she deserved the gift, but then telling them she appreciated it, along with her saying the gift, a dress, appealed to her, but that they should not have gotten it because it was an inferior quality.  Inferior to what we don’t know. So she didn’t say thank you, but said she appreciated it, isn’t that the same thing?  She didn’t like the dress, but it had appealed to her? Very confusing and just one example.

I say it is for Pakistani’s because I don’t know that anyone outside the subcontinent would know what a faqeer is, yes there is a glossary at the back, but it seems assumed in the story as a religious practice, which I find some issue with.  When Habiba was trying to dress everyone she says that a fishtail would look nice on her cousins and she gets a blue one.  I have no idea what a fishtail is.  It is not really explained, an illustration would have been helpful, but is not provided. She also once refers to her cousin as “dark” in a negative connotation, and that seemed very out of place and inappropriate to me.  And ultimately, if you don’t know the Pakistani school system I’m not sure you would understand how important the exam she failed is, nor why the scores are in the newspaper,  or that they have to pick their fields of study so early.  That being said, how did she get to University and do so well? If at 13 they had to choose their college and she didn’t pass wouldn’t she not be allowed to continue? I am so confused. And then she comes back after University, but is already being written about in the papers as if she has had a long and successful career.

The book doesn’t tell how she makes things right with all those she wronged either, after so many incidents, I think a little self reflection and humbling should have occurred to those that felt her wrath for so many years.  There isn’t really even a solution, her dad comes and talks to her, she reads what people think about her and then boom, happily ever after.

The illustrations are sporadic, but not consistent in the book.  The style seems to be different in each sketch.

 

FLAGS:

The girl lies and is incredibly mean but there isn’t anything inappropriate in terms of language or violence.  Islam is mentioned at the end when she thanks Allah swt for His help.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club because it is so short, and I don’t know that kids would be compelled to read past the first few pages if it was in a classroom library.  

Book Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWoCiEnvg5U

If this book would have been written 20 years ago or so, I think readers everywhere would have given it a try as there was so little to choose from in Islamic Fiction, but there are options now, and much better ones.  I feel awful that I didn’t love the book, but I can’t suggest it either.  I plan to read one more book of the author’s to see if this one just didn’t work for me, and I’ll let you know what I think.

The Blessed Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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The Blessed Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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 A fable with lessons of kindness centered around the Salawat, definitely is a great premise and for the most part I really enjoyed the book. 

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The 8.5 by 8.5 hardcover, 50 page book feels great in your hands and the illustrations are sweet and expressive.  The book is long, and is text heavy so I’d say the target audience is maybe 6 to 10 years old.   The font is incredibly small and irritating.   It should have been larger and more inviting to children in my opinion.  It doesn’t match the size, binding, and illustrations, and actually becomes a distraction if trying to read it in a group setting.  

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The story itself is smooth and intentional.  Rico, a blessed, yet ungrateful monkey, lives atop an ever abundant banana tree.  However, he attributes his blessings to his own hands and does not thank Allah swt.  He is mean and greedy toward people and animals alike.  Yet, something is missing in his life and he doesn’t know what. 

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When a little mouse, Chico, comes to him to ask for a banana and gets scolded at instead.  Chico makes dua for Rico asking Allah to guide the monkey to goodness.

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Tucana, a toucan, then stops in Rico’s banana tree after a long flight to be rebuffed by a foul tempered monkey who wants to be left alone.  When Tucana  leaves she forgives Rico for his rudeness and asks Allah to be merciful to him as well.

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Rico then makes signs to keep people and animals away.  Which works for a while, but along comes Simon, an elephant, one afternoon to ask the monkey to climb his tree and help direct him back to his herd.  Rico of course refuses, and Simon reminds him that they are brothers in Islam and to please help. He begins shouting at the elephant to leave, and as Simon is pacing back and forth, he slips on the banana peels, grabs the tree to support himself and shakes the tree back and forth in the process.

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Rico begins hollering for help and sure enough the animals he had turned away previously, return to help him.  They had forgiven him as they hope Allah will forgive us all.  To calm the monkey, chico shouts, “Salawaat’alan Nabi!” in Simon’s ear and when he recites “Allahuma sali’ala Sayyidina Muhammad,” peace and calmness is restored.

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With all the bananas on the floor, many mushy and trampled, Rico has to decide if he learned a lesson, and how he will put his new knowledge into action, or if he will resume his life of ungratefulness.

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The book ends with each animals favorite banana recipe, information about the author and illustrator and benefits of reciting Salawat and an ayat from the Quran.

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The story and how it weaves Islam into the lessons is beautifully done, my only hiccup is the constant refrain of Rico counting his bananas.  I realize it is a fable, and maybe with talking animals interacting with humans, reality is notably suspended.  But, it seems misplaced to me.  How do you constantly count a perishable item? Does Rico only eat a certain amount a day? How many new ones grow a day? What is the number that he is adamant to have at all times? So, many questions, that I didn’t get why he was counting them, why he was irritated when he lost count, and why this detail was in the story and a big part of the story none-the-less.  Like the font, its a minor detail, but a distracting one for me unfortunately.  Clearly, however, I’m in the minority as the book has won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Islamic Writer’s Alliance Creative Story, so give it a read, and let me know your thoughts, jazakhAllah kher.

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