Tag Archives: Muslim Character

Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

Standard
Hamza Attends a Janaza by Shabana Hussain illustrated by Atefeh Mohammadzadeh

img_5141

For years it has been noted how few children’s Islamic books about grief and loss are available, and while numerous titles have come out in the last few years, it wasn’t until I saw this new book, did I realize how desperately we were in need of a book on janaza.  I love that the author establishes on the first page that this book is not focused on grief, but rather about death, the burial, and preparing to meet Allah (saw) in the hereafter with our deeds.  The beauty is that while the topic is critical and needed, the story is also well done.  It may not focus on emotion, but it has a lot of heart and tenderness, thus making it a wonderful addition to all book shelves for children preschool and up as a brief introduction to how Islam views death, the rituals of burial, and the worship that surrounds it. Packaged with clear text, robust backmatter and absolutely adorable illustrations, I am very happily impressed with this book.

img_5142

The book starts with Hamza telling about his favorite day of the week, Saturday, the day he spends with his Nano-ji and cousins, but one day all that changes when his mom gets a phone call about the loss of a community Uncle.  Mom says, inna lillahi wa inna illahi rajioon quietly in to the phone and Hamza knows something is wrong, but doesn’t quite understand why the passing of Uncle Sameer, the owner of the local sweet shop, means he has to attend a janaza instead of going to his grandfather’s house.

Hamza’s parents explain the reward of going, and remind him that we all have to leave this world one day. They recall Uncle Sameer helping bandage his knee when he got hurt and gave him a lollipop.  Once in the car, Hamza wants to know what is going to happen.  His parents explain the ghusl and the body being wrapped in the kafan and the body being put in the ground.

img_5144

When they get to the masjid there are a lot of aunties on the women’s side, including Auntie Salma who everyone is hugging and reassuring.  After dhuhr the janaza begins, but it is a standing up namaz, and is very short, and Hamza is confused. Later outside the long box is loaded into the car, duas are made, and the body taken to the cemetery.

At the graveside, more duas are made, and Hamza worries that Uncle will be lonely.  When his father explains that his good deeds will keep him company, Hamza remembers the kindness Uncle Sameer has shown him and makes duas.

img_5146

The backmatter contains hadith about what still benefits those that have died, reward for attending a janaza, a glossary, discussion points, suggested activities, and duas.  The book is a great starting point to introducing death, rituals, and answering questions any child might have in a gentle manner.  

I bought the book from Crescent Moon Store 

 

Salim’s Soccer Ball: A Story of Palestinian Resilience by Tala El-fahmawi illustrated by Naveen Abu Saleem

Standard
Salim’s Soccer Ball: A Story of Palestinian Resilience by Tala El-fahmawi illustrated by Naveen Abu Saleem

salim

This 58 page rhyming picture book weaves together a tale of a little boy and his lost soccer ball, with larger issues of community, oppression, and perspective for the youngest of readers to older children too.  I am noted to be skeptical of rhyming books, but the large font, the sweeping pictures, and the dropping of occupation, struggle, and resilience really make this book a treat. Add in discussion questions and an author’s note and you have a solid book that deserves space on home, library, and classroom shelves.  My only wish, was that the book was hardback.  The horizontal layout with a soft cover make the book difficult to read during story times as the pages flop back.  The book is long, but the text on most spreads is minimal and while I could not identify the author’s religious identity, their are numerous hijab wearing #muslimsintheillustrations as Salim journey’s around his neighborhood and into his grand father’s memories.

Salim wakes up, brushes his teeth, and is out the door to play soccer with his best friend Qusai, but the ball goes flying and Salim can’t find it. He starts walking down the hill and it seems to have disappeared.

img_5055

He asks the fisherman, Abu Zaid, if he has seen it, and he hasn’t, but he offers to help.  They then go and ask the seamstress, she hasn’t either, but she puts down her tatreez, offers reassurance, and offers to help.  As they head out they bump in to Dr. Bassam.  “‘I will help you look,’ the kindly man said. “I can fix broken bones with very few supplies.  A lack of resources has made me clever and wise. Resilience and courage are plentiful here. We will find your ball. Salim, no need to fear.'”

img_5054

The searching continues, with a small break for khanfeh, and then Qusai is found, and so is the ball.  Like so many joyful items, the barbed wire of the apartheid wall has destroyed the soccer ball. Upset, Abu Omar, calls out to Salim, and his grandpa embraces and consoles the young boy recalling a donkey with wonky ears and life on the farm.  With resilience and joy Salim heads home to a community surprise and a hopeful future inshaAllah.

img_5053

The book concludes with five discussion questions that connect Salim’s experience to universal experiences of people everywhere.  It is followed by factual and personal author’s note about Palestine and the book.  

img_5056

There is nothing religious aside from the hijabs worn, Dome of the Rock, Masjid al Aqsa, and Church of The Holy Sepulcher in the backgrounds of a few images.  I purchased my copy from Amazon HERE and can also be purchased through Shop Palestine HERE.

img_5057

 

“Granny, Where Does Allah Live?” by Yasmin Kamal illustrated by Citra Lani

Standard
“Granny, Where Does Allah Live?” by Yasmin Kamal illustrated by Citra Lani

 

This 32 page picture book for 3-6 year olds takes readers and listeners on a car ride with Granny as questions are asked, sights are seen, and love is spread.  The rhyme is actually pretty decent, the explanation of Allah swt being on a throne above us wherever we are adhered to, and the illustrations are bright, bold, and have a lot to hold little one’s interest.  Overall, the banter between the kids and their Granny, the drive to the mosque being filled with joy and love, make me overlook a lot of little annoyances.  The book packs a lot in, but the voice and tone is easy and I think most kids will see the connection of asking where Allah is, to asking why we have to go to the mosque, to why it is important to talk to Allah swt in our prayers, etc., as a way to have their own questions touched upon.  I do wish the book was a little bigger and perhaps hardbound, to make story time sharing a possibility, the book is 7.5 x 7.5, so good for little hands and sufficient for in lap reading.  The book concludes with three activities that incorporate a few of Allah’s beautiful names.

The book starts out with a young boy and girl excited to be spending the day with their Granny and going on a ride in her special car.  No idea why it is special, but it is purple and has flowers painted on it, so lets go! The kids love to ask Granny questions when they drive.  So after saying bismillah, they wonder why people don’t have tails or shells on their backs, or where they are going, or if they can have ice creams. 

As they head to the mosque to meet Grandad  they wonder if that is where Allah (swt) lives.  Granny tells them no, so they ask if He lives in the sky, when she says no, they wonder about in the trees or in the sea.  Finally she says that they “don’t have to go anywhere to find Allah, His throne is above us where ever we are.”

She then details how we can be reminded of Allah in things around us, nature, animals, land formations and then tells the children Allah is the most generous friend and it is important to talk to Him in our prayers. The children ask what we can tell Him, and Granny shares that we can tell Him everything and anything because He always hears.

Granny then explains that when we do good, we make Allah swt happy and when we aren’t nice we make him sad.  So then the kids want to know why we have to go to the mosque, Granny replies, to be part of a community.

The book is a string of questions, so it doesn’t come across as overly preachy, even though it is Islamic fiction, and the voice is natural.  It sounds like a conversation a grandma and some kids would have, I’m guessing the book was spawned by some real life experiences.  My kids and my mom definitely have this relationship.

 All this though, isn’t too say the book is perfect.  If  you read my reviews, you know there is always going to be a little nudge to try and elevate it from my perspective for the next go round. So with that in mind, the book does read a little long, the tangents get a little away from the simple articulate answer of stressing where Allah swt is, the text runs over the pictures a few too many times, and the people praying are not foot-to-foot shoulder-to-shoulder.  There are no salutations, saw, or asterisks after Allah. The word Jummah is not used although they are going to the mosque on Friday and a lot of people are gathering in the day, and the word mosque is used, not masjid.

The pictures are fun and will appeal to kids, especially when the car goes all magic school bus and starts flying, and going underwater.  I hope this is the first book in the series as it really does have potential to present answers to kids questions in a joyful colorful way.

Book available on Amazon 

 

Iman’s Sunnah Adventures: Mama Once Told Me by Sharifah Huseinah Madihid illustrated by Lakhaula S. Aulia

Standard
Iman’s Sunnah Adventures: Mama Once Told Me by Sharifah Huseinah Madihid illustrated by Lakhaula S. Aulia

img_4560

This adorable 36 page board book had me laughing as a mom watching the increasing exasperation and dishevelment of the poor mother in the book page after page.  The book focuses on the sunnahs of welcoming guests, but the interpretations are the efforts and understandings of a small child being overly helpful, and the toll it takes on his parents.  The humor, the presentation, the introduction to various sunnahs is well done for little ones and their caregivers alike.  The book has not released yet, I viewed an e-version and I’m assuming the final spread is a lift the flap review of sunnahs.  Nothing is sourced, and salutations on Prophet Muhammad ﷺ are denoted by an asterisk throughout the book with a footnote at the end.  There are two books in the series and both share sunnahs, humor, and the main character Iman.

img_4561

The book starts with Iman feeling bored as his parents prepare for the arrival of guests.  Iman then remembers something Mama once told me (him), “That the Prophet* said cleanliness is half of eeman…” and with that the little one is off to help clean. Bubbles and more mess later, Iman is proud of himself and his parents are shocked and the bigger mess that greets them.

img_4562

Up next is recalling that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ “would make a special seat to honor his guests” and Iman decides that glitter will be a great way to fulfill that sunnah.  When Iman is sent to get himself ready, more fulfillment occurs until Mama is exhausted and Iman finds a way to fulfill the sunnah of making his parents happy.

img_4563

The book might be a little above level of a toddler, but I think the silliness makes it a great introduction to sunnahs and will be a joy to read over and over again.

For more information about availability you can check the publisher’s website

Mama in Congress: Rashida Tlaib’s Journey to Washington by Rashida and Adam Tlaib with Miranda Paul illustrated by Olivia Aserr

Standard
Mama in Congress: Rashida Tlaib’s Journey to Washington by Rashida and Adam Tlaib with Miranda Paul illustrated by Olivia Aserr

mama in congress

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this book.  Books by politicians are always suspect, by a politician currently in office- more so, and a book written about one’s self can be a little self promoting to say the least, but when I saw my library had it, I put it on hold and thought to give it a shot.  Surprisingly, the book is really cute.  It is framed as her son (one of the contributors) telling his mom’s story, it owns that while yes she was one of the First Muslim Congresswomen, there were a lot of people before her that ran and paved the way.  What really shocked me was the amount of Islam in the book: Salat-al-Istikharha, actively learning about Islam not just as culture, there is an Ayat from the Quran, etc.. The book says for ages 4-8 and for the amount of text on the pages, there is no way a preschooler will sit through this. I can see this book, however, being used in an elementary classroom to teach about the American political system, and inspiring kids that they can make a difference, that they can rise to positions of leadership without compromising who they are, and that no matter their background, and that they can be successful in following their dreams.  I don’t think Congresswoman Tlaib should be put on a pedal stool for some of the policies she has supported or bills endorsed, but I think even if you don’t support her politically, her story and her accomplishments do show possibilities for minorities to reach the highest levels of government.  The fact that she is a Palestinian Muslim Women and has found success in the context of American government as told from a child’s perspective, really surprised and impressed me, and I can see it being a worthwhile story to share with young students.

The book starts with two boys on the steps of the capitol, Adam and Yousif wondering if the president is their mom’s boss, and mom, saying that no, the 700,000 people in the district she represents are.  The book then pulls back and Adam starts to tell the story of him and his brother going to work with their mom, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib the representative from Michigan.

img_4036

Before she was elected their yama and yaba immigrated from the West Bank to America, where Rashida was born.  Eventually there would be 14 kids born and Rashida would choreograph dances, basketball games, and seek privacy to dance like a pop star, or chase after the bookmobile.

img_4037

Comments toward her well-spoken mother to learn English, embarrassment at the smell of the factory polluted environment, and an offer by a high school teacher to join the debate team, helped pave the way for Rashida to find her voice and make changes.

img_4038

Rashida was the first in her family to graduate high school and from there she went to college and then law school.  She also started to learn more about Islam and the reasons behind her family’s traditions.  Her favorite passage from the Quran became, “with hardship comes ease.”

img_4039

She started working with an elected official from the Michigan House of Representatives and started a family.  When a seat became vacant she was encouraged to run.  No Muslim had ever been elected to the Michigan House and even her own yaba didn’t think people would vote for an Arab, so she prayed Salat al-Istikhara and did a lot of thinking.

img_4040

The book shows what she wanted to accomplish and how she went door-to-door and found both success and hardship meeting with the people.  Ultimately though, she won the seat and held it for many years.  When Adam was 12 she decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, and he and his brother joined in to help knock on doors.

img_4041

She won, and was one of two Muslim women to be elected that year.  Adam and Yousif dabbed in celebration at the inauguration as their mom was sworn in in her Palestinian thobe. On her first day, however, there were threats, and Adam though they should hide the fact that they were Muslims.  Their mom told them it is important to be their authentic selves, “that sometimes it takes many to run for there to be a first.”

img_4042

The book concludes with a glossary, an infographic of the branches of government. Can be purchased here.

Heroes Like Us: Two Stories by Onjali Q. Raúf

Standard
Heroes Like Us: Two Stories by Onjali Q. Raúf

So this book is a little unique in that it is two stories, and The Great Food Bank Heist, one of the stories, has already been published, and the other story is a bit of an epilogue to The Boy at the Back of the Class.  So, I’m just going to review the first story in the book, The Day We Met the Queen, and while you probably can get away with not reading The Boy at the Back of the Class first, I wouldn’t want you to.  It is such a good book and you really should read it, everyone should. Yes, it is that good. So back to The Day We Met the Queen, the first story in the upcoming middle grade 176 page book, about refugees and kids making a difference.

SYNOPSIS:

This charming story shows what happens to Alexa and Ahmet and the whole crew as they prepare to met the Queen for tea.  The group of friends is about to show the entire school their invitations and share the two questions each that they plan to ask the monarch, the list was 52 questions, but because the Queen is nearly 100 years old, they have been advised to shorten the list.  On the day of the assembly news crews are present and Brenden-the-Bully is acting a little strange, as Ahmet starts talking the auditorium erupts with stink bombs and everyone leaves running.  The kids think it is just the bully striking again, but the gossip at the school and reports on the news imply it might be more than that, and the kids might not make it to the Queen’s tea after all.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love getting some closure on the story, while simultaneously showing that refugee treatment and rights is not a thing yet resolved.  The idea of the Queen being at the center of the book definitely adds to the coincidental timeliness of it all, but that she is easy going and relatable to the children is still the takeaway whether you were a fan of the real Queen or not.  I love the voice of the protagonist and the relatability that her concerns are with the target audience. I particularly enjoy the critique about the media and the clarity in which the children understand the flaws and limitations of what they are told in the news both on the school level and on a global stage.  There isn’t anything Islamic in the text, Ahment is Muslim, as is the author.

FLAGS:

Hate speech, deception, bullying

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think there is an author that brings big real issues to children’s stories as well or as consistently as Onjali Rauf. Both stories in this book should be shared with middle grade readers and up to be discussed, reflected upon, and learned from as often as possible.  You can preorder your copy here: https://amzn.to/3Eq2G4M

The Moon from Dehradun: A Story of Partition by Shirin Shamsi illustrated by Tarun Lak

Standard
The Moon from Dehradun: A Story of Partition by Shirin Shamsi illustrated by Tarun Lak

partition

I’ve read this book numerous times: sometimes for the text, sometimes for the tone, sometimes to slowly immerse myself in the pictures. I know the basics of my own family’s journey to Pakistan, and this book added to that understanding. I like that it forced me to slow down and to really appreciate what partition was for both sides, from a child’s perspective. Pakistan and India gained freedom from British rule 75 years ago. Nearly every Pakistani or Indian you know today, has a parent or grandparent that lived through it. It is not history from long ago, it is still very much with us, and no I’m not talking about the lingering effects of colonization, I’m talking family stories, and loss of property and wealth, memories of the journey, the terror, the fear, the relief, the determination. This book is one story, perhaps the first mainstream published in the west, of one family’s experience. There could be a thousand more books and they would all be different, all powerful, all reflective. I love that this book is Pakistani authored, Indian illustrated, I love that it offers pages with no words at all. I love that a child’s perspective for such a monumental event is told for other children. There is a lot there for desi readers to unpack, and consider, there is also a lot there for non desi’s to be made aware of, and I hope that you will seek out this book no matter who you are, and share it.

img_3563

The book starts with excitement from Azra about an upcoming train ride, even though her family has lived in Dehradun, at the base of the Himalayas, for generations. Suddenly though there is yelling outside because people are afraid, and her Abba runs in saying they have to leave now. Ammi, Abba, Azra, and the baby “Chotu,” rush out the door, leaving the cooking dinner still on the stove. When they get to the train, Azra realizes she has left her beloved doll, Gurya behind. They cannot go back for her.

img_3564

Azra blames Chotu, for making her forget her doll, for taking her parent’s attention, yet as the days and nights on the train reveal tired people, sad faces, and fear, Azra finds comfort in her little brother’s embrace.

img_3568

When they arrive in Lahore, they are met with food, and shelter. They are given a house that looks like the owners left in the same manner that they had to flee. There are balls of dough with a rolling pin, laundry strewn about, and even a doll left abandoned under a bed.

img_3565

The book concludes with a map, a glossary, and an informative author’s note addressing pre-partition, partition, and the author’s own family story. There is hardship and frantic upheaval, but peace and welcome too. The illustrations illuminate the text and show the powerful emotion when words sometime simply don’t exist.

img_3566

The book is not political or even religious. There is an Indian flag when they leave and a Pakistani flag when they enter, there are sounds of athan, and packing of a rehl, and a comparison to Eid, and the doll at the end has a bindi on her forehead. The book does not make one side out to be in the right or in the wrong, if you do not know that partition of the subcontinent was a mass migration based on religion and the chaos further exacerbated by the British, this book will not spell it out for you.

img_3567

I preordered mine here and it can now be purchased from all major book sellers.

Ida in the Middle by Nora Lester Murad

Standard
Ida in the Middle by Nora Lester Murad

ida-in-the-middle-9781623718060_lg

Ideal for middle school readers (upper mg/lower ya), this magical realism book takes readers from middle school in American to a Palestinian village outside of Jerusalem through the consumption of some magical olives.  Written by a Jewish author married to a Palestinian Muslim who raised their three daughters in Palestine, the book features a lot of Islam, but is Palestinian centered in its insight, critique, culture, and dreams.  Over 224 pages, Ida starts to find where she fits in both in understanding her self within her family, her place in America, her passion in life, and what it means to be Palestinian.  The story is important, and is told in a way that will encourage readers to learn more about the occupation.  Nuances are shown in characters and groups, but the line that the occupation is oppressive is never compromised.  I appreciate that the author writes from her own experiences and openly acknowledges that she is not trying to take away from Palestinian born and raised OWN voice stories, but she is an advocate, she has raised her children and lived in the West Bank, and her characters reflect a sense of intimate knowledge, love, and appreciation.  Even with Ida having to decide to stay in America or Palestine, the two countries are not pitted against each other or seen as black or white, as to which is better or worse, the middle is where much of the story takes place, and appreciating your culture no matter how much others are trying to erase your existence, is always stressed.

SYNOPSIS:

Ida is the middle child of her Palestinian immigrant family and isn’t artistic like her younger sister, a ballet dancer like her older sister, or a soccer player like her father.  She wishes she was invisible.  Especially when her classmates turn on her every time there are conflicts in the middle east.  When it seems that everyone wants to diminish her heritage, she finds herself at a new school, unsure of where she fits in.  With anti Palestinian attitudes and Islamophobic people, Ida just wants to go unnoticed, unfortunately middle school requires a passion project to be presented and Ida has no idea what her passions are, and how she will face the crowds.

One day when looking for a snack she finds a jar of olives stuffed in a cupboard- olives brought by a family friend from her now deceased aunt in Busala, one bite and she is magically transported to the familial village.  It is an alternate reality of what life would be if her parents never came to America.  Not only is she in a country she has never seen before, meeting family members she has never met before, but even her own parents and sisters are somehow different.  She enjoys the warmth, the communal activities, the extended family.  Her mom in hijab, the athan being heard, the men all going for jummah, but then they sit down for a meal and the same olives are served and Ida accidently takes a bite and is whisked back home.

Once home, she longs for so much of Palestinian life, but relishes in the convenience and ease of America as well.  Her passion project still looms and she finds herself hoping to escape it by going back to Palestine.  When she finds herself back near Jerusalem she ventures out with her Aunt, who isn’t dead in this reality, and learns more about the occupation and oppression, and how the families interact with the various Israelis: some sympathetic to Palestinians, some actively working to help Palestinians, and some settlers- forcefully killing and bulldozing Palestinian homes.

When Israeli military troops enter their village, the families meet to discuss the best course of action, the families do not agree, there is no clear way to prepare, there is no guarantee of survival.  Ida starts to find her voice, and when the soldiers enter, Ida finds herself rushing out to help a small boy. Guns, demolition, rocks, tear gas, fear, so much fear, what can one person do? What can one village do?  What will Ida do?

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book is relatable and moving, not just for those with a tie or interest in Palestine.  It is a coming of age story that shows a girl grappling with forces so much bigger than herself, while at the same time dealing with homework and friends and stereotypes.  Ida has a lot to figure out and the book doesn’t sugar coat a happy ending, it simply provides a moving story based on reality, through a character whose quirks and personality you find yourself rooting for.

I love the presence of Islam and the way it is apart of Ida and her surroundings, even though she makes it clear early on that her family is not religious.  The Quran is mentioned, the athan, various salat, hijab, Hajj, Ayatul Kursi, Ramadan, Eid, wasting food as being haram.  In Boston her friend knows she doesn’t eat pork, she went to Sunday school to learn Arabic at the mosque when she was younger.  It doesn’t gush with Islam, but it is present, for example Ida’s sister and her joke about a good Palestinian girl shouldn’t have a boyfriend, it isn’t tied to their religion. The story is a Palestinian one, and as someone who is not Palestinian, the images, the foods, the smells, the love all seemed to embrace everything I’ve ever heard Palestinian friends talk about, and it feels like a warm hug to read the effects being in Palestine has on Ida.

I love that the author is upfront about her perspective, and I love that she is putting this story out there.  The writing is sufficient: I was invested in the story, and it was an easy read. I don’t know that I’ll remember it months from now for it’s imagery or power, but I’m certain I’ll remember the commentary about life under occupation and the struggle to not be erased by a world that doesn’t seem to care about the settlers still taking Palestinian homes and their way of life away by force.

FLAGS:

Fear, crushes, death, injuries, loss, magic, bullying, racism, Islamophobia, guns, physical assault, threat of force, destruction.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Our school is majority Palestinian.  Years ago when we read Where the Streets Had a Name, I learned so much about the students, their families, their own experience living under oppression, that I can’t wait to present this book with the middle schoolers and take notes on their thoughts.  I would not lead the discussion, I would let them, their voices will not be erased by me.

Preorder available here: Amazon

Freestyle: A Graphic Novel by Gale Galligan

Standard
Freestyle: A Graphic Novel by Gale Galligan

img_3208

I one hundred percent understand that Muslims are not a monolith, but, I’m truly tempted to reach out to the author/illustrator of this upcoming 272 page middle grade graphic novel and ask her why she chose to have the female instigator in this coming of age story- that focuses on a dance crew, said girl tutoring a boy one-on-one in his bedroom, Halloween and a school dance, wear hijab? Yes there is also parental expectations, friend drama, leaving for high school stresses, and yo-yoing, but Sunna Ahmad being presented as a Muslim definitely gives me pause.  There is no romance in the book save a few background characters filling in frames holding hands, and it never articulates that Sunna or her older brother Imran are Muslim, but she doesn’t wear hijab when home with her family, does wear it when she goes out, so it definitely seems to imply it.  The cover and inside pages are bright and clear, and I think the book will be very tempting for young Muslim readers with the visible hijabi on the front.  Additionally the book is published by Scholastic, so if you are a parent whose kids get book order forms and attends a school where the Scholastic Book Fair is a big deal, you might want to read the entire review to see if it is Islamic representation that you are comfortable with supporting.

SYNOPSIS:

The Eight Bitz B Boy band is in their final year of middle school before they all go in separate directions for high school.  They want to win this year’s competition, or at least the leader of the crew, Tess, does.  Tess doesn’t want them freestyling and messing around, she wants the choreography and dancing in-synch and on-point.  Her military dictatorship is tearing the crew a part.  When Cory’s grades are not where his parents want them, he is grounded from dancing and forced to work with a tutor, Sunna Ahmad.  Sunna is weird, always writing intently in a secret notebook at school, and Cory wants nothing to do with her.  When he happens to see her throwing her yo-yo at school, though, he is impressed.  Reluctantly she trades teaching him yo-yo tricks if he agrees to do the work needed to get his grades up. Using yo-yo angles to teach geometry, it doesn’t take long before the two are friends.  It comes to a culmination when he invites her to the Halloween dance and his crew is both shocked and mad that he is hanging out with her, when he should be practicing with them.  As secrets and intentions come out, Cory has to make things right with his parents, his crew, Sunna, and himself.

WHY I LIKE IT:
I love graphic novels, they show context and setting and emotion, that often can’t be conveyed as well with words.  I absolutely love that Sunna wears different clothes on different days, from the hijab to the outfit, she has personality in her clothes as any middle schooler would, and nothing is mentioned about her hijab or her long sleeves, but the reader see’s it hopefully in a positive light. I do like the detail of her not covering at home when she is alone, or in the flashbacks when she is younger.

The story overall is decent and the added hip hop dancing and yo-yo infused details set the story apart, but some of the character building and plot points are a little rough.  When Sunna first starts tutoring Cory she feels like an adult disciplining, and reprimanding him.  She comes across as really arrogant and condescending, that he is somehow beneath her, yet they are the same age, in the same school, and are lab partners.  It reads off for no reason.

Similarly, I understand that the tension between middle schoolers and parents can be a source of contention, but the forced apology from Cory’s parents is incredible demeaning and cringe.  Sure flesh out that he shouldn’t yell at his parents, (Sunna shouldn’t either for that matter), but while the delivery was poor, the message was heartfelt and I think a book like this encouraging young kids to talk to their parents would be a great message, rather than have it almost glorified to not make the effort at all.  Not saying that the effort will always be received, but the forced apology would turn even kids with a good relationship with their parents questioning if it is worth talking to their mom and dad.

Poor communication and the stress it causes is a theme of the book, and I don’t understand why Tess keeps her choreography dreams a secret from the crew.  It seems underdeveloped, had she said that, that was the motivation, I think all the other seven members would have stepped up, not walked away.

FLAGS:

Music, dancing, girl and boys being alone with each other, girls and boys arms around each other, attending a school dance, girls and boys dancing together, Halloween being celebrated, birthday being celebrated, yelling back at parents, lying, secrets.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

In all honesty, I would probably not have this book on the library shelves, and would not display it during the book fair.  It normalizes a lot of gray if not haram actions for a very impressionable demographic because the character is visibly Muslim.  If the character was not visibly Muslim, I actually might be ok with shelving it and selling it.  The rep may be intended to show inclusion, but the character does not show actions that Islamically are appropriate.  If it were one or two actions, I might reconsider, but it is a lot very specific and varied activities.

freestyle3

The Girl Who Lost a Leopard by Nizrani Farook

Standard
The Girl Who Lost a Leopard by Nizrani Farook

leopard

This stand alone middle grade read by Muslim author Nizrana Farook is similar to her first two books about an elephant and a whale in that it is set in Serendib a long time ago and revolves around a beautiful wild animal and clever, endearing, determined young children. This actual story is an easy read at 203 pages (the end of the book is the first four chapters of one of her previously published books).  I think seven and eight year olds will enjoy getting to know Selvi and the beautiful leopard Lakka that she considers a friend.  For me the ending took an odd turn that seemed out of place, but up until then I was enchanted by the lush imagery, sheer determination, and sweet friendship shared within the pages.  The main character is not Muslim, but presumably some of the side characters are with names such as, Amir and Salma.

SYNOPSIS:
Selvi and her mother live in a small home on the mountain.  Most days she runs wild with a golden leopard she has named Lakka.  She keeps her distance, but there is a pattern to their interactions, and when Selvi’s mother finally allows her to go to school, and she finds the other children unkind, Lakka becomes her only friend.  One day poachers are on the mountain hunting not just any leopards, which are protected by the queen, but the rare golden one that is often seen in the area, Selvi tries to interfere.  And before she knows it, they are after her.  She hides near a home, and when the poacher’s come looking for her, she is at the mercy of Amir to lie and say he hasn’t seen her.  Amir is a classmate, a mean one, but he has seen her before with the leopard, and suddenly Lakka is not so alone.

Between making friends at school, battling her uncle’s rules to start behaving more ladylike, and keeping a leopard safe, the adventure is fast paced and the story entertaining.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love kids outsmarting adults and saving the day, it makes for good story telling.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I really felt like it was forced.  I truly do not understand why the children needed to take a drugged Lakka to the port and back.  Why not leave him with the new friends and go to the port without him? He is a wild animal, we have been given reasoning for so much of the human animal interactions to be believable, that this seems to be negligent.  So much could have gone wrong and for what? There was no need.  The kids wanting to see punishment handed out is motivation enough for them to make the journey in my opinion.  Sigh, I don’t know that younger kids will be as bothered as I am, but I think fourth graders and up will definitely question it and be confused.  I also don’t know that I have ever seen the sneak peak of another book included at the end, being for a book previously published.  Aren’t they usually for upcoming releases? Either way, it seemed to make the last portion of the book deflate a bit for a story that was engaging, entertaining, and hard to put down until then.

FLAGS:

Lying, poaching, abuse, threats, killing, animal cruelty, bullying.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a fun read aloud in a classroom or at bedtime.  The short chapters have little illustrations above the headings that hint at what is to come, and the writing style is perfect for short blocks of time.

The book is available on Amazon