Tag Archives: Muslim Characters

The Sleepy Farmer: The Farmer Who Almost Missed Fajr by Shazia Afzal illustrated by Ingy Hamza

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The Sleepy Farmer: The Farmer Who Almost Missed Fajr by Shazia Afzal illustrated by Ingy Hamza

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This adorable board book combines animal sounds, team work, appreciation, and getting to the masjid on time for fajr.  Oh ya, and it is silly too.

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Farmer Salman stayed up late and doesn’t wake up in the morning when the rooster crows. The crowing wakes the hen who starts to cluck, the clucking wakes the horse who starts to neigh…and before you know it, it awakens the entire farm.

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But, Farmer Salman still doesn’t wake up, so the animals get louder, and louder, and finally the cat in the house wakes up and meows in the farmer’s face.  The meowing wakes Salman up and he makes wudu and heads to the masjid, just in time for fajr salat.

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He returns from the masjid, thanks the animals and gives them their breakfast, alhumdulillah.

The book is only 10 pages and some pages are text heavy.  I think a few more pages to reduce the text on some of the pages would really make an already fun book, incredible.

Hakim’s Odyssey: Book 2: From Turkey to Greece by Fabien Toulme’

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Hakim’s Odyssey: Book 2: From Turkey to Greece by Fabien Toulme’

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It is easy to assume that refugee stories are all the same, but in my experience, the more I read about the journeys people take in desperation for safety, the more I realize it doesn’t matter if “parts” are similar, the individual experience should never be dismissed or become commonplace.  I try to make a point to read them, and spend time with them, and be affected by them, so as to not grow apathetic.  I have not read the first book in this series, but this book, the second book can stand alone, and I hope that you will keep an eye out for it when it is published, and spend time with Hakim and his son Hadi.  In much of the way the middle grade novel When Stars are Scattered, swept me up and consumed me, this book also enveloped me in the characters’ emotions and left me sobbing and heartbroken more than once.  The framing of the story, gratefully shows that Hakim survives, but the power of the words, illustrations, and experience, still physically move you and make you imagine how truly horrific situations must be that force people to risk it all to leave their homes and start over.  This 264 page book focuses on the part of his story that takes Hakim from Turkey to Greece, but references to Syria and his life there allow for a fleshed out understanding and appreciation for the trials he has faced, and continues to face, subhahAllah.  Suitable for mature teens, at least 16  or 17 and up.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts out with the author/illustrator heading off with his daughter to interview Hakim.  His young daughter has heard a lot about Hakim and his family, but never met them.  They “recap” the first part of his journey, the first book, and settle in to hear more of his life and the extraordinary circumstances that he has faced to reunite with his family since fleeing the war in Syria.

The birth of his son Hadi is a definite high point in Hakim’s life and the daily struggle of selling enough goods on the streets of Turkey to provide for his son keep Hakim looking forward.  With his wife, Najmeh, and her family around them, they crave stability, but are managing.  As the days stretch on though, Hakim is prevented from selling without the proper permissions, and his father-in-law is still unable to find work. Hakim’s wife and family are granted permission to relocate, but Hakim and Hadi cannot legally join them.  The tearing apart of the family is devastating.  And carrying for his young son alone while trying to earn enough to survive is incredibly challenging.  When Hakim has exhausted all the legal ways to join his family in France, he considers illegal methods.

An Iraqi neighbor offers him the money needed to hire smugglers, so Hakim is faced with deciding what risks he and his young son are willing to take to “start living.”  The step in to the unknown, the crossing of the sea in an inflatable life raft, brings them closer, but with one more book in the series, and not knowing who the children are in the present time scenes, your heart will be made incredibly fragile as you hope that young Hadi survives.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that you get to know the characters and can see why they make the decisions they make, or rather why the choose to do what they choose based on the information they have, and the impossible choices before them.  I also love that it shows so much humanity.  You see Hakim’s story brought to life and you see him and his family as whole people, not just numbers or nameless, faceless victims.  You see the joy and devastation, the testament to human strength and mental anguish, it is moving and powerful.  I also love that you see the side characters, see the little mercies, and the horrific injustices, often in the same scene. The graphic novel format allows the subtleties to show without the words, it adds to the connection of emotions and truly putting yourself in the character’s shoes.

I like that it should how happenstance much of the journey was for Hakim, at times he didn’t know who to talk to, where to go, what to expect.  I was a little confused about the payment to the smugglers, and how it had to be handled after he arrived.  I don’t know if my own understanding of how shady the smugglers are based on the media is making it muddled, or if I just missed something in the telling.

There is not a lot of Islam in the book, they don’t stop and make salat or say Bismillah, but they reference thanking Allah swt, and praying to Allah in desperation.  Hakim’s mother in law and wife wear hijab.

FLAGS:

Fear, smoking, cheating, lying, illegal immigration acts.  There is nothing obscene, the older audience recommendation is because of the weight of the subject matter, and the lingering effects of war and escaping.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be an amazing high school book club read.  The characters, the relatability, the empathy, it would be great to share it with a group of students that might have similar experiences and provide them with a platform to share with those that might not.

My World of Hamd: A Reflective Book on Gratitude by Lateefah Binuyo

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My World of Hamd: A Reflective Book on Gratitude by Lateefah Binuyo

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This thick hardback 46 page book is a great next step after teaching your kids to say “Alhamdulillah” to helping them to understand what it truly means.  Meant for second graders and up, this book is text heavy and encourages deeper thought, reflection, and practice.  It is not a quick read, and some children may struggle to sit through the entire book, but any time spent, I think, will be incredibly beneficial as it strives to move from the habit of just saying “Alhamdulillah” to being intentional in our appreciation and gratitude.  The thick inside pages, warm large illustrations, and colorful reflections are well done and enjoyable.  I only wish the cover better conveyed the content within.

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The book begins with ayat 18 from Surah Nahl stating: “If you tried to count Allah’s blessings, you would never be able to number them.  Indeed, Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. With the tone set, the fictionalized story begins with Ibraheem and his mum having breakfast.

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Ibraheem is a curious boy that is only ever quiet when he is sleeping or eating.  When his mum reminds him to say Alhamdulillah after he finishes eating, he gets to wondering, “What does Alhamdulillah mean?”

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Mum explains that the hamd in Alhamdulillah means praise and gratitude, and it is for Allah swt alone.  Ibraheem then wants to know how can he feel “hamd all the time?”  He and his mum discuss that hamd has to be felt within the heart, and it isn’t just saying it after a meal, but appreciation that you have food to eat.  Appreciation when you wake up in the morning, because many do not, etc.  The two discuss small and large aspects in a day that provide opportunities to truly appreciate the gifts of Allah swt.

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The book covers topics such as: sneezing and appreciating your muscles, getting dressed and recognizing the blessing of clothing, awards at school, losing your backpack, happy times and sad times too.  Along the way mum passes on information about how when we are grateful Allah swt gives us more, about how even in sad times we have so much to learn about patience and asking Allah for help, that we can fill our days with hamd.

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The book touches on never feeling sad in Jannah, Allah’s name Al-Hameed, and explaining how we have to still thank people and show appreciation to them because Allah sends his blessings through people as well.

The book concludes with teaching duas about hamd one word at a time, a glossary, and tips for using the book.  There are a lot of hadith and ayats explained on a child’s level and overall really answers and provides insights about saying Alhamdulillah and feeling Hamd.

The Unexpected Friend: A Rohingya Children’s Story by Raya Rashna Rahman illustrated by Inshra Sakhawat Russell

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The Unexpected Friend: A Rohingya Children’s Story by Raya Rashna Rahman illustrated by Inshra Sakhawat Russell

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I have mixed feelings about this book. On the surface I am thrilled that there is a story highlighting the plight of the Rohingya for children and that it includes some character depth and relatability to global readers. On the flip side, the book is very vague and could be any refugee in any camp and is not Rohingya specific. Additionally, I feel that it is too idyllic. I am no expert by any means, I wouldn’t even say that I am well-versed, but the book paints an impression of a thriving organized camp with medical help, orderly food lines and a vibrant school. Yes, it talks about the lines being long, and naturally if you are out collecting firewood, it is a bit rugged, but I don’t know that the lasting impression is a humanitarian crises. I understand that in a 36 page, kindergarten to 2nd grade book, political complexities and horrors are not a natural platform, but I worry that the aim of bringing attention to the situation will miss its mark by not capturing its truth more clearly.

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Faisal has just finished his afternoon prayer and while outside the mosque he hears a faint chirping and discovers a small bird with a hurt wing.  He and his friend Rahim take the bird to the learning center to be cared for while the boys head to the forest to collect firewood.

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The forest can be dangerous, but in order to cook, they must have wood to burn.  While in the forest, the boys encounter an elephant and remark on how they are depleting the animals’ natural habitat.  When leaving Faisal trips and falls, scattering his collected firewood and breaking his arm.

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Rahim offers to share his firewood with Faisal and the two head back to camp to get Faisal to the doctor.    Like the bird, who’s wing has been bandaged, Faisal now too has a hurt appendage.  The two spend every minute together for weeks, and when both have healed, Faisal admits he doesn’t want to let the bird free. He knows it is the right thing to do and alas allows the bird to go.

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The book has an afterword regarding Cox’s Bazar and information about the author and Save the Children Foundation.

Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with School (The Story of Halal Money) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra bint Absar Kazmi and Urooj Khan

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This delightful 70 page early chapter book is filled with humor, Islam, and a sweet story that ties it all together.  The book definitely has a teaching agenda, but it carries it with hilarious banter and relatable examples, all while covering a topic not often discussed in children’s books: money.  The book has a few grammar, vocabulary, and consistency concerns, but they are easy to overlook for readers 2nd grade and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Twins Zayd and Musa are very, very different.  Both boys enjoy cricket, but Zayd is more focused and enjoys homework, whereas Musa tends to daydream and often says something funny, but unintentionally.  When Musa makes the case in Science class that food, water, shelter, and money are all needed to survive, the class finds him hysterical.

Musa knows not to argue, his teacher is his elder and he knows he should have taqwa and be respectful, but he doesn’t give up on his idea either.  When the boys’ mom talks about halal money and gives them Islamic references for how money should be handled, Musa has a great idea: kids should be paid to go to school.

Once again, the whole school finds him funny, but Saeed Uncle, a neighbor who helps feed the poor at a roadside stand, doesn’t dismiss Musa’s idea and tells him, in some places kids are paid. And offers to take him and show him.

With references to sahabas who had great wealth and examples of how wealth can be used for good, Musa and Zayd learn numerous lessons, and share them with those around them, in a fun, engaging manner.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I get that the book is preachy, but in my mind, it is a story built around a teaching concept, so it doesn’t bother me.  I love the jokes and the tone.  At times the book is written quite formally, but being the author lives in Karachi, Pakistan, I assume that part of it, is just different standards.  I appreciate the Quran Circle table that lists where the Quran mentions wealth and the glossary.  I didn’t quite get all of the random facts included throughout, as some were about money, others about school, but I think kids will enjoy them none-the-less.  The illustrations are enjoyable, the text bubbles often hilarious (once again, a few I didn’t get).

I liked that it mentioned not drawing faces, and not going somewhere alone with someone you aren’t close with.  It is said in passing, but I love that those little nuggets exist in a book that is about something more, but normalizes and takes advantage of the opportunity to remind children of basic safety and Islamic concepts.

There are some awkward tense changes, and a few gaps in the story, but overall, I really enjoyed it and need to find the first one in the series.

FLAGS:

None

TOOLS TO LEAD THE DISCUSSION:
This would be a great book to use in a middle grades Islam class as a starting point to having students research the Quran and Sunnah to find information on a topic.  The humor will keep kids engaged, and the concept is an important one.  I plan to make all my kids read it, so that we can discuss as a family, and benefit from the lessons presented.

Eliya’s Explains Miracles by Zanib Mian illustrated by Daniel Hills

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Eliya’s Explains Miracles by Zanib Mian illustrated by Daniel Hills

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It is quite remarkable how my standards and expectations have grown and evolved.  I anxiously have waited for the next book in the Eliyas series, having loved the Angels book that came out nearly two years ago.  Zanib Mian’s voice makes the reading of nearly all her books enjoyable, whether it is a fictionalized tale or an Islamic knowledge book with fictionalized framing.  This book disappointed me however, because I now expect and crave references and sourcing for books that present facts or at least qualified and named scholarly approval to be mentioned.  I also was not comfortable with the depiction of Buraq on the cover, on a full page illustration within the book, and on the back cover.  The text itself is lovely and informative, and nothing “seemed” off factually in this 92 page early chapter book, but the lacking reassurance of the content contained within prevented me from truly loving the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

Eliyas has finally convinced his family to go camping.  With a late start and a lot of chaos they will have to set up the tent in the dark, alhumdulillah there is a full moon out.  As they drive to their campsite and marvel at the moon, they begin to discuss the miracle of the moon being split in to two.  As they find a place to settle, they discuss miracles about water, as they collect firewood they talk about the tree where Rasul Allah gave khutbahs from crying when he moved to give the khutbah from elsewhere.

The family of Eliyas, his younger brother, older sister and parents learn and discuss the miracle of the Quran, Prophet Dawud and Prophet Sulaiman peace be upon them both speaking with animals, Buraq and the night journey, Prophet Ibrahim (as) being in the fire, Prophet Musa (as) dividing the sea amongst other things, Prophet Isa (as)’s ability to heal the sick and with Allah’s permission breath life in to a clay bird, and the she camel miracle of Prophet Salih (as).

The camping trip, the siblings bickering and then helping one another, and Eliyas having to admit to forgetting the food, all tie the miracles together in an easy to read and engaging manner.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I really love Zani’b Mian’s books, and I genuinely hope that she will consider removing the illustration of Buraq and having the miracles sourced, or the book “approved.”  Kids will read this book over and over again, long after they have grown out of the early chapter book demographic and inshaAllah it will inspire deeper knowledge to be sought.

I love the quiz at the end-with answers, playful fonts and doodles throughout the book, the short chapters, and relatable banter between the characters.

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FLAGS:

Depiction of Buraq

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Even with the depictions it could possibly be used as a read aloud story to first and second grade and up.  If you were a teacher or in a capacity to read the story to the students, so that they might not dwell on the illustrations, the book could be shared.  For reassurance, have someone more knowledgeable than I verify the miracles shared for accuracy though, before sharing.

This book, like so many of the books I review was purchased from http://www.crescentmoonstore.com and no I do not promote the store because it benefits me in any way, I just really the store, the service, the selection, and the prices.

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).

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

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Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

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I think everyone has heard about this book by now and how fabulously fun, real, and relevant Huda’s life  is for so many.  I am happy to jump on the praising bandwagon, as this teen/YA 192 page graphic novel really is a great OWN voice unapologetically Islamic mainstream tale.  It does mention periods, relationships, hate crimes, and finding yourself, so probably 14 or 15 year olds and up.  My middle school boys read it, so it isn’t that it is inappropriate, just the target audience is more teen girl.  I know a lot of people, including Huda’s mom according to the inscription, have issues with the title, but I think it is brilliant.  She takes ownership of her name and it isn’t just for shock value, the book is about figuring out who you are, how you feel about Islam, establishing your friend circle, and growing and learning along the way.  My public library has it, as do major outlets, so what are you waiting for, go read, laugh, and feel seen.

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SYNOPSIS:

Huda has just moved to a new school and she is no longer the only hijabi.  She has moved to Dearborn, Michigan and there are A LOT of Muslims.  She is no longer defined by the cloth on her head, she has to figure out who she is.  Who she really is.  And sometimes the best way to do that, is to figure out who you are not.  

Huda tries different clubs, and different circles of friends, both at school and at the masjid.  Along the way she learns how much she craves approval and who is always in her corner.  When a kid at school is targeted for being Muslim, Huda will have to see how much internal hate she carries as well.  Her clothes change, her outlook changes, she tries new things, and she grows, all while the laughs help the story bounce from one serious topic to the next without coming across as arrogant or stereotypical.  This is Huda’s story and we are just along for the ride.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that there is nothing to critique, it reads autobiographical even if parts are exaggerated or only based loosely in reality.  By being so real, and so well done, you are excited when you see yourself staring back, but you feel like you’re a friend learning about Huda even when you can’t relate exactly. Her comics online and her previous two books are all amazing, and I love that she is continually creating new material for us all to enjoy and benefit from.

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FLAGS:

She tells a boy she likes him that she doesn’t really like.  Periods are referenced and blood and a pad are shown, not graphic and gross, but the sentiment is there.  Discrimination is present, as is Islamophobia and stereotypes.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Just keep the book out and around: it will be picked up, read, and mentioned, no tools needed.

One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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I don’t think that Hena Khan is necessarily a controversial figure, but some days her work feels very polarizing as some praise her ability to share OWN voice desi American Muslim stories while others feel like she waters down the very stories she is sharing to appease the majority.  Irregardless of our nuanced views, many of us first were made aware of her when we we were swept away in 2012 by the mainstream book, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.  Since then she also has published a book about shapes in the same format, and now this counting book that reminds me how beautiful and powerful it is to see Islam so unapologetically presented to all children.

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The author’s note at the end is important:

There are many significant numbers in Islam.  They include one for God, five for the pillars of the religion and daily prayers, seven for the circles pilgrims and visitors walk around the Ka’aba during hajj and more.

Mathematics and astronomy were among the intellectual pursuits of early Muslims.  They helped to develop algebra and used geometry to create the elaborate patterns found in Islamic art.

For this book, I chose concrete and illustratable terms rather than abstract concepts.  The representations for each number focus on things we can count in the world around us.

The book counts the diverse and global parts of a practiced faith.  The unique and the mundane, all beautifully illustrated and richly conveyed.  From cups of tea and shoes taken off for prayer to two hands making dua and four lines of a surah being memorized.  The book counts up to nine and then marvels at the countless stars that we see each night.

The first page is possibly a bit problematic in accuracy.  The tone and framing of starting the day with the sun rising and the sound of the adhan is warm and beautiful, but the adhan is not called at sunrise for the first prayer of the day, fajr.  Fajr begins at dawn.  There are only 21 words on the first page, so I’m inferring a lot about the correlation of the sun and athan that may or may not be present.  It is something frequently misrepresented, so it catches my attention. And yes, the seven tawafs mentioned in the author’s note would also apply to umrah, not just hajj.

Overall, the book is lovely and will remind many of us what made us all celebrate Hena Khan and her stories so many years ago.

Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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Room for Everyone by Naaz Khan illustrated by Merce’ Lopez

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I started to read this book to myself, abruptly stopped, gathered my children around, and began again aloud.  This 40 page early elementary picture book isn’t just counting up and down with silly scenarios and outrageous details, it is familiarity with a culture often not represented with universal humor, appeal, and anticipation. This rhyming book begs to be shared: one-on-one, at story time, or in a classroom.  There is so much joy and connection that I’m ready to felt-board the story, march into my kid’s school and demand an audience.  I found mine at the library, but I think I am going to order it because it definitely deserves a place on the bookshelf to be read again and again.

Musa and Dada get in a daladala and are off to the crystal blue waters of Zanzibar.  But it is hotter than peppers out and the kind driver is offering everyone a ride.  First is the old man with his seatless bike, then it is two little goats and their herder, next is vendors with their three baskets of fruits.  Each time Musa cries and protests that there is not room for anyone else, let alone their stuff.  Yet when everyone wiggles and scoots and smooshes, there seems to be room for everyone.  This continues until there are ten scuba divers joining the smelly fish and stinky chickens, umbrellas and milk pails.

Alhumdulillah, they reach the beach.  Then one by one they all get out at Nungwi beach.  Giggles and wiggles and Musa and Dada are off the minibus and swimming in the cool waters. Alhumdulillah indeed.  The book concludes with a glossary and an author’s note.