Tag Archives: Muslim Bookstagram Awards

WINNERS ANNOUNCED for the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021

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WINNERS ANNOUNCED for the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021

REPOST From Zainab bint Younus’ Muslim Matters Article

Announcing the Winners!

The Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021 has been quite a rollercoaster for the judges! When the Muslim Bookstagram Awards team first announced this initiative back in October, we never dreamed that we would get such an incredible turnout. We received two hundred and fifty fives titles in nominations, spanning almost every category possible. Reading through the books, we were able to make quite a few observations about the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Muslim publishing (you can hear about them in our podcasts with the judges!). Most importantly, we had an amazing time!

Finally, we had to make some difficult decisions – and though it was harder than we ever expected it to be – we did it! We present… the winners of the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021!

Best Toddler Book (0-3): The Sleepy Farmer by Shazia Afzal

We noticed that there weren’t many toddler or board books in the offering this year. Of those that were nominated, many contained more complex themes than a three year old could handle, used advanced vocabulary, or were too text heavy to keep the attention of our littlest ones. We definitely need more variety in toddler book topics – so many are about Islamic phrases. We’re ready for authors to switch it up and come up with more unique themes; which is why we loved this year’s winner for the toddler book category!

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Book synopsis:

The Sleepy Farmer is about a farmer who almost missed Fajr, and all the farm animals tried waking up the farmer by making different sounds. In this engaging tale, young readers have the opportunity to be involved in the reading by repeating the sounds each animal makes on every page. The Sleepy Farmer demonstrates how important it is to do anything to wake up your family for Fajr.

Best Early Picture Book (4-6): The World is Your Masjid by Kate Rafiq

This category had a lot of self published nominations – but what made the winner stand out was that it stayed at the level of the target audience, while providing meaningful content in a fun way.  It was new, refreshing, and well-done, with a dose of silliness that made it a hit with one of our judges’ 7 year-olds! 

Book synopsis:

Where can you pray when you can’t get to the masjid? Join Rayan and Amelia as they explore all the places they can pray and just a few places where they can’t. With vibrant illustrations and fun rhyming verses, this book is a reminder for all of us that we can find somewhere to pray wherever we are.

Best Advanced Picture Book (5-7): Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz

The sheer amount of nominations we received for this category made us think deeply about the quality of what is being produced in the Muslim kidlit scene. Honestly, most of the self-published picture books just weren’t comparable to traditional publishing when it came to standards of writing and editing. The deciding factors for choosing this category’s winner was the high quality of writing and editing, in addition to the unapologetic inclusion of Islam in the text, the vocabulary, and the illustrations. The powerful Islamic representation, and the Muslim joy featured, truly made our hearts sing!

Book synopsis:

Every Friday after Jumu’ah prayer at the masjid, Musa’s family has a special Jumu’ah treat. They take turns picking out what the treat will be, but recently the choices have been .. . interesting. Week one, Mama made molokhia. It’s perfect for sharing, but gives us molokhia teeth for days! Week two, Baba burned the kufte kebabs on the grill. Week three, Seedi made his favorite riz b’haleeb-creamy rice pudding with pistachio sprinkled on top with an unexpected ingredient. Last week, Maryam brought jellybeans. . . . Finally, it’s Musa’s turn to pick, and he picks his favorite: halal hot dogs! But actually getting to eat this deliciousness turns into a journey riddled with obstacles. Will he ever get his favorite tasty treat?

Best Early Chapter Book (6-9): The Trouble with School (the Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan

The Early Chapter Book category was a difficult one for us, and caused us more than a little stress! Some of the well-written books lacked any meaningful Islamic content – barely even a salaam or alhamdulillah. Though we don’t require that every Muslim story center Islam as the story, we want to see Islamic elements of daily life normalized in Muslim childrens’ stories. We encourage Muslim writers to be more thoughtful and intentional in including Islam within stories for this age group!

The winning book for this category took on a topic that is not often seen in early children’s books, made it relatable, funny, and provided strong Islamic lessons, referencing the Qur’an. 

Book synopsis:

When Musa’s teacher asks him what humans need to live, he blurts out the first thing to come to mind – food, drink, air… and money! Hilarity ensues, and young Musa’s entertaining shenanigans turn out to be a great opportunity for hilarious hijinks and thoughtful discussions about the concept of rizq, halal income, sadaqah, and a healthy spiritual relationship with money. This book is unique in that it tackles big ideas in an age-appropriate way for younger Muslim readers.

Best Middle Grade Chapter Book (8-12): Huda & Me by H. Hayek

All the judges were impressed with the Muslim representation and Islamic content of the middle grade selection for this year – including, surprisingly, mainstream published titles. This category’s winner is a book for everyone, but Muslim kids will especially relate to the anxiety of making wudu in a public restroom and mistaking a nun for a hijabi! Hilarious and full of heart from beginning to end, readers will feel a true sense of kinship with the Muslim family featured in this story.

Book synopsis:

When their parents have to travel to Beirut unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Akeal and his six siblings are horrified to be left behind in Melbourne with the dreaded Aunt Amel. Things do not go well, and Akeal’s naughty little sister, Huda, hatches a bold plan to escape. After stealing Aunt Amel’s credit card to buy plane tickets to Lebanon, Huda persuades her reluctant favourite brother to come with her. So begins Huda and Akeal’s hair-raising and action-packed journey to reunite with their parents half a world away, in a city they’ve grown up dreaming about but have never seen.

A fresh and funny story of sibling love, adventure, and courage, Huda and Me is one of a kind.

Best Middle School Book (12-15): Unsettled by Reem Faruqi

The middle school category blew us away! Both the traditionally published and self-published nominations presented stories and characters that young Muslims can relate to, and be inspired by. 

The winning book raised the bar for the whole industry by presenting an authentic ‘Own Voices’, coming-of-age read. The lyricism, hope, and small but genuine details will move readers deeply. No one can help being inspired by Nurah’s success, touched by her hardships, and disappointed in her mistakes.

Book synopsis:

When Nurah’s family moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, all she really wants is to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, and she’s left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. Stahr covers her body when in the water, just like Nurah, but for very different reasons.

But in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in; she wants to stand out. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in America—yet, when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.

As Nurah slowly begins to sprout wings in the form of strong swimming arms, she gradually gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.

Best Young Adult Book (16+): Huda F Are You by Huda Fahmy

Over 20 YA books published in 2021 fit our original criteria, but unfortunately, only two ended up being content that we would comfortably recommend for the 16+ age group. Although we recognize that older teenagers can handle more mature themes, we were very disappointed at the lack of clean fiction. We don’t expect perfect Muslim characters, but we also want to see Islam as a lived experience for teenage Muslim characters, instead of just an identity label cast off in order to justify haraam desires. 

Huda Fahmy continues to be an outstanding Muslim writer who uses humor as an effective tool for exploring Islamic identity, personal challenges, and learning and growing along the way. 

Book synopsis:

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: she was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t, to figure out who she is.

Best Adult Book: Tied between Better, Not Bitter by Dr Yusef Salaam and Don’t Forget Us Here by Mansoor Adayfi

Originally, we weren’t sure whether to divide the adult category between fiction and non-fiction or not, but it turned out that we mostly received memoirs! In the end, it was impossible for us to choose one winner, and we settled on a tie between two incredibly powerful books.

Better, Not Bitter and Don’t Forget Us Here are both timely and carry universal messages: the journeys of two innocent Muslim men, mercilessly overpowered by oppressive political systems, and the role of Islam and their connections to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in guiding them through the dark path to their final freedom.

We encourage readers to follow and support the ongoing work of both Dr. Yusef Salaam, and brother Mansoor Adayfi, who is affiliated with the organization CAGE

Book synopsis:

Better, Not Bitter by Dr. Yusef Salaam is the first time that one of the now Exonerated Five is telling his individual story, in his own words. Yusef writes his narrative: growing up Black in central Harlem in the ’80s, being raised by a strong, fierce mother and grandmother, his years of incarceration, his reentry, and exoneration. He connects these stories to lessons and principles he learned that gave him the power to survive through the worst of life’s experiences. He inspires readers to accept their own path, to understand their own sense of purpose. With his intimate personal insights, Yusef unpacks the systems built and designed for profit and the oppression of Black and Brown people. He inspires readers to channel their fury into action, and through the spiritual, to turn that anger and trauma into a constructive force that lives alongside accountability and mobilizes change.

Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo by Mansoor Adayfi tells us about how a Yemeni teenager on a cultural mission to Afghanistan disappeared and never returned home. Kidnapped by warlords and then sold to the US after 9/11, he was disappeared to Guantánamo Bay, where he spent the next 14 years as Detainee #441. Don’t Forget Us Here tells two coming-of-age stories in parallel: a makeshift island outpost becoming the world’s most notorious prison, and an innocent young man emerging from its darkness. With unexpected warmth and empathy, Mansoor unwinds a narrative of fighting for hope and survival in unimaginable circumstances, illuminating the limitlessness of the human spirit.

Best Children’s Non-Fiction Book: Stories of 20 Mighty Muslim Heroes by Tamara Haque

Self-published books did exceptionally well in this category! We loved seeing the unique takes and creativity represented in children’s non-fiction books. It was a little hit-and-miss at times, with the good books being incredible, while the others struggled in execution. Remember: any non-fiction, no matter how basic, must be fact-checked, age-appropriate in content, and with engaging illustrations. 

Tamara Haque’s winning Stories of 20 Mighty Muslim Heroes won our hearts with its inclusion of both men and women, and its emphasis on Islam being the primary distinguishing quality of each person chosen! This book is an inspirational resource for readers young and old alike. 

Book synopsis:

Do you know the story of the first nurse? The man who developed the first antiseptics? The woman in charge of the royal library? The female navy commander who defeated the Dutch army…twice! The man who travelled to nearly 40 countries in the 14th century? They all had two things in common – they were Muslim, and they wanted to make a difference.

These are just some examples of thousands of Muslim heroes who helped change the world over the centuries. This book hopes to inspire you with the stories of 20 such Muslim heroes from the 7th-19th Century.

Best Holiday Book: There was an Old Auntie Who Swallowed a Samosa by Asmaa Hussein

This category is meant to highlight all books Ramadan, Hajj/ Umrah, and Eid related! We were delighted at the variety of titles, and we may have spent a lot more time debating on this category than any of the others combined! After weeks of trying to persuade each other, and often ourselves, we went with a book that really just made us smile, and that our children ask for over and over, all year round.

This winner is an original, clever, laugh-out-loud story for preschool to early elementary, and one that parents and caregivers won’t dread reading over and over again! With its funny rhymes, expressive illustrations, religious framework, and hilarious conclusion, this book’s universal appeal will make it a firm favorite. 

Book synopsis:

Auntie Sophia is making her special out-of-this-world samosas for the mosque iftar. But what this samosa pro doesn’t know is that her kitty, Serrano, has some sneaky plans to alter her recipe! What will happen when she accidentally swallows a far too spicy pastry WHOLE?

Most Unique Book: Around the World with Alif and Jeem: An Islamic Scratch Book

Some books were so unique that we had to create a special category just for them, including personalized titles. However, this special book became a quick favorite with all the judges – and more importantly, our kids, who made it hard for us to wrestle the book away from! Scratch art, stickers, and education, all rolled into one – what else could a parent (or a kid!) ask for?

The world’s first Islamic scratch book is crammed with Islamic pictures that you scratch at to reveal a burst of colour, comes with stickers, multiple activity sheets, and educational tidbits about Makkah, Madinah, Al-Aqsa, Zam-Zam, Salah, Quran and Jannah.

The Reader’s Choice Awards: ‘Tis the Night Before Eid, by Yasmin Rashidi

To make the awards a little more exciting, we decided to give readers a voice! In a bid to control the chaos, we had them vote on the handful of titles that the judges were busy trying to convince each other of. With a little (or a lot…) of competitiveness, and much laughter, a victor was declared! 

Book synopsis:

‘Tis the Night Before Eid by Yasmin Rashidi is a delightful, visually rich gem that celebrates the excitement and bittersweet-ness of the night before Eid. The sweet rhymes and detailed illustrations – which show a mixed-race Muslim family, blending together East and West, in a diverse masjid – even featuring a female Qur’an teacher (who incidentally looks a lot like Shaykha Haifaa Younis!) -, creates a joyful reading experience. The book perfectly captures the love for Ramadan, the anticipation of Eid, and the many beautiful acts of worship and traditions involving both.

Judges’ Final Thoughts!

After sifting through over two hundred titles by Muslim authors, we were able to recognize recurring patterns, themes, and issues in Muslim publishing. One observation that really stood out to all of us was how well traditional publishing has stepped up with Muslim content. In both picture books and middle grade categories, we were amazed by the unapologetic Muslim rep – what a beautiful sight to see!

However, there is still quite a ways to go in terms of internalized Islamophobia towards conservative Muslims/Islam, and problematic vs. clean content in the YA/Adult fiction books. For self-published and Muslim-published titles, we urge authors and publishers to invest in producing high-quality content with attention paid to editing, writing quality, and story development. There is so much talent in the Ummah, and we want to elevate the standards of literature that we produce! Ultimately, our goal is to celebrate the field of Muslim literature, in all its genres.

Finally, we strongly encourage readers to check out the Instagram pages of each Muslim Bookstagram Awards judge! You will find detailed reviews of the winning titles, to ensure which books are the right fit for you and your family. Don’t forget to stay tuned for upcoming interviews with the rest of the Muslim Bookstagram Awards judges, where we’ll be talking all things Muslim bookish!

If you are a writer interested in nominating your book for the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2022, please reach out to @MuslimBookReviewers!

Muslim Kids Book Nook: @muslimkidsbooknook

Islamic School Librarian: @islamicschoollibrarian

Shifa Saltagi Safadi: @muslimmommyblog

Zainab bint Younus: @bintyounus 

Nana Asma’u by Aaliyah Tar Mahomed illustrated by Winda Lee

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Nana Asma’u by Aaliyah Tar Mahomed illustrated by Winda Lee

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This book may only have 14 pages of text and be meant as an introduction for early preschool aged children and up, but I learned so much, or rather was made aware of so much that I knew nothing about, that I’m now eager to research her and the Sokoto Caliphate and the impact of Jajis.  The beautiful, bright, engaging pictures, the simple deliberate text, and the inspiring content matter make this a great book to share with little ones, and to keep on the shelf for repeated readings and reminders to learn more about this remarkable woman for older children.  My only wish was that there were some reference notes or sources included to give that extra reassurance of authenticity.

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The book tells about Nana Asma’u’s life starting from being a curious child and asking questions to the wise women in her community.  By the time she grew up she had memorized the Quran and spoke four languages amongst many other things, and Nana loved to write poetry.

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During this time, there was a lot of conflict in Western Africa, and Nana’s father, Shehu Usman resolved the issues and created the Sokoto Caliphate.  With peace, Nana wanted to help educate the people. She thought long and hard about how to do it.

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She eventually brought together women from different regions of the Caliphate and taught them through poetry, she then sent the women back to their homes to share what they had learned.  These women were known as Jajis, and this tradition still exists today.

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I didn’t love the phrasing that she had learned all about Islam, seeing as one can always learn more.  And I would have like Prophet to have been capitalized and salawat given for respect.  Overall, a great book that alhumdulillah I was able to purchase from Crescent Moon Store.

Shems and the Magic Seabream by Alwia Al-Hassan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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Shems and the Magic Seabream by Alwia Al-Hassan illustrated by Ada Konewki

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I don’t know how to review this book, I truly don’t, it claims to be based on Saudi folklore, it has #muslimsintheillustrations, and references Allah swt once, it is by a Muslim author, but it isn’t religious. And it definitely isn’t for everyone. It is terrible, and yet you can’t look away. Every stereotype about appearance and trope about step-mothers, it is all there, but EVIL CACKLE, the book is delicious, and not in the cooking the children and eating them sort of way, that is in the book too, but in the laugh-out-loud, gasp in disbelief, and be shocked at the complete disregard for political correctness, moral messaging, and lesson teaching that leaves a brightly illustrated dark tale for kids, and adults, to thoroughly enjoy. It pulls you in, it suspends reality, it makes good and bad so black and white that you accept the attempts at murder as justified, and it ultimately reminds you of the horrors that all fairytales build upon to entertain. I remember the first time as an adult I was asked to read Hansel and Gretel to a young niece. I knew the story, and started not thinking much of it, and then I froze: children are lost, they seek shelter in a home where they are not allowed to leave, the owner of the home wants to cook them and eat them. Yeah, this book is like that.

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Shems and her twin sister Shareefa live in a small town with their fisherman father. They are poor, but happy, until their father remarries and the stepmother is horrid. She is ugly and fat and covered in greasy spots, negative connotations that reflect her personality. (FLAGS: superficial judgement and body shaming). She hates children. (FLAG: Yes it uses the word hate, and calls children fat while contrasting them with cute children).

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She especially hates Shems and Shareefa. She tries to get rid of them: she puts them in the oven, abandons them in a field, tries to drown them in the night. But the girls somehow always escape and their father believes that it was all a misunderstanding. (FLAG: attempted murder).

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Now that the girls are older, they are forced to serve Mama Ouda, and when food runs low, she considers eating them. (FLAGS: abuse and threats). Luckily they are much too thin. One day when Mama Ouda is craving fish, Shems heads out to catch some seabream, yes that is a real type of fish. And the only one she catches is a magical one. (FLAG: magic).

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The next day Shems dressed as Shareefa recalls the fish’s promise near the water, and a basket of fish appears with pieces of sparkling gold. The girls eat like queens, hide the gold, and keep Mama Ouda fed. This carries on until they get caught and a murder and mermaid and moving out of their mud hut conclude the story and set up a potential sequel.

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The dad is pretty clueless and that has its own negative assumptions to counter, but if you and your kids can handle the over the top darkness, the story written in playful rhymes is sure to entertain and be asked for repeatedly. (FLAGS: stereotypes about fathers and stepmothers).

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.

Turning Back to Allah: Sulaiman’s Caving Calamity by Aliya Vaughan illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Turning Back to Allah: Sulaiman’s Caving Calamity by Aliya Vaughan illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Good early elementary books can be tricky: the voice needs to read authentic, the lessons not preachy, and the scenarios relatable, all while not talking down to the reader or talking above their comprehension.  As fabulous middle grade books seem to be popping up at record speed, I find myself reading the same old books with my fourth child who is six.  Alhumdulillah, this book was nominated in the Muslim Bookstagram Awards 2021 competition and I was able to purchase and receive it quickly from Noura at Crescent Moon Store.  My son can read it, although because of the British terminology, he did better when I read it to him, none-the-less, he could explain it, he genuinely understood and related to the main character, and was emotionally connected to the outcome of the story.  The 49 page, color illustrated story is perfect for independent readers first or second grade and up.  The book also contains comprehension questions, etiquettes for du’a, a list of times and places when du’as are answered, and evidence for the story from hadith.  Additionally there are ayats from the Quran at the beginning and end of this well sourced book, alhumdulillah.

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SYNOPSIS:

Sulaiman is getting ready for an overnight scout trip in some caves.  He is nervous having been stuck in his apartment elevators the summer before and being lost at a park with his family.  His stress has him being mean to his little sister, and his dad tries to mediate, but you can sense that their normal bickering is heightened because this is going to be hard for Sulaiman.  The scouts meet up to board their mini bus and Sulaiman is acting weird, he wants to sit by the window, he wants to read signs, finally he tells Jacob about his worries and the two boys agree to stick together like glue while they are in the caves.  Foreshadowing is set, and when Sulaiman’s batteries roll away and he stops to retrieve them he gets separated from the group and he will have to rely on his faith in Allah swt to feel less alone and brave what is to come.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that when Sulaiman is arguing with his sister he doesn’t have hadith quoted at him.  Sure it is ideal, but really, as parents we just want the bickering to stop most times and our kids to be nice.  It is often easier to instill morals and lessons in calm times, not in the middle of an emotional kerfuffle.  At the same time, when he is scared, he falls back on the lessons he has been taught from the Quran and sunnah.  I love how it reads realistic.  We want our kids to turn to Allah swt for all things, but sometimes to teach that we encourage them to seek Allah swt in times of happiness and times of hardship.  Sulaiman is scared, really scared, and he turns to Allah swt, and it is heartfelt and emotional.

I’m embarrassed to say, but I was a little confused by the being lost in a park prior story thread.  It either needed more detail, or maybe just more context, but I thought it was the same park they are heading to with scouts, then realized it was a completely separate park and incident, so I would like a bit more framing of that story line.  Also the stress of being stranded in the elevator, doesn’t directly connect to the rest of the story, perhaps bringing up some claustrophobia fears would have helped tie it all together.  As it is, it just seems that Sulaiman seems to be tested a lot and rather traumatically.

The illustrations being in full color and full page are a welcome surprise in the book.  However, there is one two-page illustration that shows the kids laughing before boarding the minibus, but it isn’t derived directly from the text, and I initially thought Sulaiman was being laughed at for his fears.  I went back, and it doesn’t seem that is the case, but I wonder if I was the only one confused by that illustration.

All-in-all the book physically is appealing to children with the open font, colorful pictures, size, and length.  The story is relevant, and the islamic tie-ins powerful, alhumdulillah.

FLAGS:

Some teasing, possible bullying among siblings.  Some scary moments mentioned and explored: being stuck in an elevator, lost in a park, left alone in a cave.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a fun read aloud in a second grade class.

Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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Pepperoni, Pitches (and Other Problems) by Shifa Saltagi Safadi illustrated by Upit Dyoni

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I absolutely love how smart this book is, and how it allows for elementary aged readers to feel that “aha moment” when they read it, get it, and realize that they need to remember the lessons because it could happen to them.  The illustrations are an added bonus and are perfectly aligned with the tone and text of the story.  My only issue, is the title.  Pitches reads as a euphemism for another word and since the book involves girl drama, teasing, and misunderstandings, it really is hard to not have that thought zap your brain when you see the title.  Perhaps if the “and Other Problems” would have used a bigger font on the word “Problems” the alliteration would have been more obvious, and hidden the word “Pitches” a bit.  If I’m alone in this, I apologize to the author and publisher, (I’ve mentioned my concern to them), but for others that saw the word and questioned the content, rest assured it is about baseball and the book doesn’t have even a speck of questionable content.

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Amira is at a new school, and luckily it is Tuesday, Pizza Tuesday to be exact, and she can’t wait to dive into a cheesy slice.  Unfortunately, Olivia takes the last cheese piece and when Amira asks if she will let her have it, Olivia says she had it first.  Stuck with an egg salad sandwich that smells, Amira sits alone and broods.

In gym they are playing baseball, but no one knows how good Amira is, and she is picked last.  When Amira is up to bat, Olivia is the pitcher and her pitches are terrible.  Amira still mad about lunch and afraid that the others will blame her for not hitting the unhitable balls, shouts, “you’re supposed to aim at my bat.”  Everyone laughs, but Olivia runs off clearly upset.  The new pitcher sends a decent throw and Amira hits a home run.  The captain of the team praises her, and Amira is hopeful she’ll have someone to sit with her at lunch.  After class, Amira sees Olivia crying in the bathroom and no one asking her if she is ok, Amira doesn’t feel so well, and doesn’t ask either. On the bus ride home Amira is greeted with cheers for her home run, but Elena the captain, isn’t among them.

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The next day is picture day, and Amira trips and rips her shirt.  Everyone laughs, Elena says, “it was an ugly shirt anyways.”  Only one person offers her help.  Could Amira have misread the whole class dynamics?  How should she move forward?

Sorry, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but the message about owning up to your choices is stressed, along with making kind decisions, and sometimes needing to take a step back and understand things from someone else’s perspective.

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Like nearly all Ruqaya’s Bookshelf books, the story is universal, but the characters, illustrations, and point of view is a relatable Muslim one that allows our young Muslim readers to feel seen and celebrated.  The reliable large glossy pages make the book a great deal for your money and is available on the publisher’s website: http://www.ruqayasbookshelf or from my favorite bookstore http://www.crescentmoonstore.com

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