Tag Archives: Muslim Characters

It’s Springtime! by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Azra Momin

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It’s Springtime! by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Azra Momin

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This sweet 18 page board book introduces seasons to our littlest Muslims through rhyming lines, Islamic gratitude and activities enjoyed during certain times of the year.  It even has a “spot and talk” activity at the back and a way to explain “Alhumdulillah” to children.  The text is simple and the illustrations engaging for ages infant to pre-k.

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The book starts with spring and dedicates four pages to praising Allah swt by appreciating the flowers and baby animals before looking forward to summer, that is on its way.

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Summer is also four pages of saying Alhumdulillah for the sunshine, ice cream, the beach, and sandcastles, before heading off to autumn.

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The book covers all four seasons and mentions that after winter is spring again.  The book’s size and the thickness of the pages makes it great for toting around for little ones, and the flowing lines make it a quick read that you don’t mind reading over and over again, Alhumdulillah.

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Songs and activities available at www.preciousbees.com

Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Rapunzel: An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani illustrated by Sarah Nesti Willard

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Having read the other “princess” retellings by Fawzia Gilani I didn’t rush out to acquire this book, but when a friend said it was available at the public library, I was surprised and admittedly curious.  This book just like the others in the series are very much in my eyes “Islamic fiction” for how centered Islam is for the characters and how it is used to frame the story toward a religious message.  The fact that a small city library in a Southern state purchased and shelves it, is pretty impressive.  As for the story, well it is really long, and wordy, and every page is filled with tiny text filled lines that I doubt most kids will be able to sit through.  The Islamic content is very present, the Uyghur setting appreciated, but wow do the 41 pages pack a lot of text in to a fairytale re-telling. There is a lot of Islam and Quran and at times it fits well, at other times incredibly forced.  The book claims it is for ages 5-8, but truthfully I don’t know that any age would be able to sit through it and be engaged.

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In a tangled forest lives a wife and her husband, a clockmaker and a woodcutter.  Before they married, the wealthy and cold Shuna Leng had hoped to marry the woodcutter, but he never asked, and she never forgot.  As a result seeing her neighbors happy keeps her jealous heart plotting and conniving to bring the couple misery and pain.

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One day, while pregnant, the wife has a strong craving for rapunzel greens.  Some just happen to grow on Shuna Leng’s property.  The husband is nervous to ask, but when his wife falls weak he makes an effort.  She doesn’t answer, so he picks some growing along the path and leaves coin for payment.  This wife regains her strength and then begins craving them again.  He decides to do what he did last time, but is caught.  The evil woman agrees that he can have all the rapunzel greens he wants but if the baby is a girl she shall be given in payment.

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Once born the baby is taken and kept hidden from her parents.  Various governesses are employed over the years to tend to Rapunzel and who teach her Islam and kindness.  Ever so often they have to up and move and abandon their routine when people start asking questions, but the lessons learned from the Quran stay with Rapunzel and she endures what she must.

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Eventually she ends up in a tower, she offers to help a stray boy recite Quran, and the evil plot of keeping her locked up unravels.  Yes SPOILER she is returned to her parents.

It is a decent retelling in theory, it just is really long, and there isn’t quality character building to invest the reader to the side stories being presented.

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All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

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All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

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The hype is correct: this book is moving, impactful, powerful, reflective, all the feels.  The writing superb, the plot gritty, the characters seem real, so real.  One of my all time favorite authors is John Irving because every word seems deliberate in his books, not every plot point or every paragraph, every. single. word.  And it has been a long time since I’ve read a book that strikes me in that same vein of the author being so in control of the story, and my (the reader’s) emotions being so completely at the mercy of the words to come.  I think I could read this book five more times and each time peel back a new layer and see something I hadn’t seen, or understood, or felt before.  I cried, I cheered, I sighed and unclenched my jaw, and I am still haunted by the lives of the characters.  Not just the “main” ones.  All of them, they all are real and fleshed out and have character arcs and live in shades of gray.  There are no checkboxes for skin tone or religion or sexual preference they each are more than a label, they are complex and real.  I could easily be convinced that they are in fact real people and that their world and stories are not fiction at all.  That is how well it reads, that is how hard it is to close the window on the world they let us see.  The book is YA (374 pages) and with the drugs, abuse, alcohol, relationship, complexities of it all, I would think 16 year old’s and up can, strike that, should, read this book.  The characters are Muslim, but it never even goes near being preachy, these are complex characters and stories, and remarkably there is no internalized Islamophobia or watering anything down, each character deals with faith, like everything else, in their own way.

SYNOPSIS:

The story bounces between the past in Lahore, Pakistan and the present in Juniper, California.  In Lahore it is Misbah’s story and in the desert it is her son’s, Salahudin and a girl she has taken under her wing, Noor’s.  When the book starts we see Sal with a drunk father dropping him off at school where his girlfriend is waiting, and his best friend, Noor, not speaking to him for the last few months after she confessed to bein in love with him.  Noor lives with her uncle after her entire village in Pakistan was destroyed when she was 6, and he wants nothing to do with Pakistan, Islam, or Noor going to college.  He owns a liquor store and makes Noor work there.  Sal’s mom is sick and has always been their for Noor, so when she takes a turn for the worse, Noor and Sal are brought back together, Noor’s uncle is enraged that she is missing shifts, and Sal’s father is constantly searching for the bottom of a bottle.  Things are bad, but they are about to get a whole lot worse.  Sal’s mom dies, the motel Sal’s family owns is in severe debt and the options for saving it are less than ideal.  The small town starts to feel familiar as everyone’s stories are fleshed out in Juniper and Lahore and two star-crossed narrators are forced to confront both the stresses of high school and impending adulthood, and deep, dark realities of abuse, loss, and generational trauma.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book could have been a thousand pages, and it still would have felt too short.  Much like her fantasy writing, the book seems to start with world building and roping the reader in to thinking that they can handle what is about to come, then much like a band-aid being pulled off, the pain hits, and the wound starts bleeding again.  Somehow despite it all, you can’t look away, you can’t stop reading, there is hope.  Hope for the characters, hope for happy endings, hope for survival and peace.

I absolutely love the quality of writing, things dangled early on, come back, often with subtly and restraint that you could easily miss them.  When discussing the book with @muslimmommyblog, I felt like we both were finding threads we had possibly not considered and connections that added nuance and staying power to the plot.

So often, the more religious a character in literature is, the stricter they are presented, the less kind they are seen, but in this book it was the opposite, the loving couple were the imam and his defense attorney wife, the glue that radiated kindness to Sal, Noor, and so much of the town is a hijab wearing strong woman.  So many tropes and stereotypes were uprooted, tossed aside, and reimagined.  There is compassion for a Muslim alcoholic, a liquor store being the employment of a Muslim, consequences for dealing drugs, yet nothing “haram” is really ever glorified, it is gritty and repulsive, but there is no judgement, there is only understanding and sadness.  Palpable despair that rattles your bones and makes you wish the world was different.

I don’t want to spoil the book, I was able to read it largely not knowing what the plot would delve in to. In many ways the trigger warning at the beginning was the only thing that braced me for what was to come. The level of religion and how it was woven is through the gentleness of some of the characters and hatred of others, was expertly done.  There are not ayats in the Quran quoted or speeches given, there is love, and faith and hope that manifest as duas and longing and finding ways to be Muslim in action, not just in appearance. When the characters start to make-out their Islamic conscious is drawn in, when they grapple with their hope and future- trust in something bigger is considered. It is not a Muslim book, not even an Islam centered book, perhaps Muslamic, but really about characters who are Muslim and dealing with the cards they have been dealt.

FLAGS:

Alcohol use, drug use, relationships, kissing, touching, longing, language, physical assault, physical violence, domestic violence, hate, racism, stereotyping, Islamophobia, there are mentions of a lesbian relationship and a bi relationship, a child out of wedlock, death, addiction, sexual assault, repressed trauma, bullying, teasing, lying, music,

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I have a 15 year old daughter, and I probably will have her read the book this summer, I think there is a lot to discuss and I think in the right hands the book could be used for a high school book club.

One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University by M.O. Yuksel illustrated by Mariam Quraishi

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One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University by M.O. Yuksel illustrated by Mariam Quraishi

one wish

This book is so long overdue, yet at the same time it was worth the wait.  The writing is simply superb: Fatima al Fihri is celebrated, Islam is centered, there are references, and the story compelling.  We, Muslims, as a whole know so little about the beautiful impact fellow Muslims have had on the current world and our way of life, that to see this book being celebrated in public libraries, in Islamic schools, at masjids, and retail bookstores, truly makes you sit up a little straighter, and reach confidently to get this book in your hands to share with those around you.  Thank you Mindy (@moyuksel.author) for these 40 pages of absolute delight, ages 5 and up will read it to learn, read it again to enjoy, and inshaAllah read it repeatedly to be inspired.

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The book begins with a Hadith regarding seeking knowledge and leaving knowledge behind.  It then begins the biography of Fatima as a small girl curious about the world around her starting with the word Iqra, read, from the Qur’an.  It sets the stage of her living in the desert in the early ninth century, a time where some boys went to school and some girls learned at home. Her connection to Islam and it teaching her the value of knowledge caused her wish, to build a school, to grow stronger.

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When war destroys her town her family flees to the busy city of Fez, Morocco.  She begins to accompany her father to the souk and enjoys listening to talk of planets, distant lands and different languages and wishes these scholars could educate everyone. She grows and gets married and her and her family become wealthy merchants.

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Tragically, her father and husband die, and Fatima must decide what to do next for her family.  She decides to help her community as a form of sadaqah jariyah and make her wish a reality.  She sets out to build a school where everyone can live and study for free.  She purchases land, and the building begins.  Fatima oversees each detail and names it the al-Qarawiyyin after her hometown in Tunisia.  It takes two years to build and it still functions today.

The back matter is just as compelling as the story with an Author’s Note, information on The University of Al-Qaryawiyyin, a Glossary, Bibliography, and a Timeline.  The only complaint I have about the book, are the illustrations.  I really don’t understand why half of her hair is showing when based on the time and her connection to her faith, she most likely was a niqabi.  I don’t understand the continuity of the hijab from a young child to adulthood.  I get that it shows her influence moving forward at the end, but it could have been a small print on an outfit for token representation of symbolism, I don’t get it as being a complete outfit her whole life.

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I absolutely love the role of Islam in both Fatima’s life and in this book.  It is so much a part of her and her wish, that every reader will recognize how connected her faith and the creation of the University were and I’m confident both Muslim and non Muslim readers will be in awe of her devotion and accomplishments, inshaAllah.

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

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Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

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This 320 page YA book is hard to put down and middle school readers and up that love words, a good mystery, and fantastic writing are in for a treat.  I can’t recall the last whodunit that had me absolutely sure that I knew who was guilty, while simultaneously doubting myself until the reveal.  I mean, maybe there wasn’t even a crime to unravel? And fear not, I’m not going to spoil anything in this review.  Just know that this Muslim authored, Muslim character filled, Malaysian set, Scrabble feast is worth a space on your shelf as it will undoubtedly make a place in your heart and beg to be read again and again to see what you missed.

SYNOPSIS:

It has been one year since Najwa has competed in a Scrabble tournament, one year since her best friend, Trina Low, died playing Scrabble at the very same tournament, at the same hotel, with many of the same participants.  And with Najwa battling her angry negative thoughts, splotchy memory, nerves, and grief, she is walking a fine line of functioning and faltering.  When Instagram posts and messages start popping up from Trina’s account, everyone becomes a suspect in unraveling what really happened and doing it fast enough to prevent it from happening again.

The backdrop is the Scrabble games that are still taking place, the play on words, the scoring, the plotting, the twists, the scrambling, and unraveling of so many characters that are more connected than they first appear.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love Scrabble, my mom and I used to play weekly when I was in junior high through college, and while the games were “friendly,” and neither us very good, the game holds wonderful memories. Usually chess is referenced for strategies in real world approaches, so to see Scrabble on a competitive level and have it being in many ways a metaphor for the larger storyline truly had me giddy.  I’m still grinning in fact as I write this review.  The mixing of the two story lines is flawless, with the word play, and scoring, and definitions, that I am just beyond impressed with the writing, the clarity, the intensity, and the way it holds the readers attention.

Many of the characters are Muslim and they mention their hijabs, waking- or rather trying to wake each other up for fajr. At one point Najwa and Mark, Trina’s ex-boyfriend are meeting to talk and she acknowledges the halal gap left as they sit down and how they are both always mindful of her Muslimness and his non Muslimness.  Islam is there, but is not a big part of the story. I beamed when it popped up, but if doesn’t influence the story much, for example one night Najwa plans to sleep in her hijab incase she has to run for her life, so you know, she won’t be slowed down by trying to cover her head.  Yeah, the book has some dry humor too.

There is a large mental health role in the book, as it seems in all of the author’s books: The Weight of Our Sky and The Girl and the Ghost.  Najwa is coping with her grief and trauma and working closely with her doctor to improve her situation.  Other characters mention going to therapists and likewise getting professional help.  I love that it isn’t just a character trait, but that it is a big part of the story, and not in a negative way, but in an actively working to manage it way.

I like how the gender neutral character is handled and pronouns are used.  It is not opined upon, it is not in your face, it is a side character, they have a preference of how to be referred to as, a quip is made that if they win they don’t want to be queen of the tiles, but a more less gendered term perhaps monarch, and that is it.  It is not a judgement, it is not a big part of the story, and no one makes it a huge issue, the character isn’t fleshed out much, but they are respected and have more to their personality than this one facet.  I think that provides a great approach in seeing something in literature that can perhaps spark important conversations in real life in need be.

The only slight pauses the book gave me were when it talks about how incredibly wealthy and distant Trina’s parents were, but then for much of her life she lived in a modest town house style house.  Also, despite Mark and Najwa’s awareness of boundaries, and Najwa being called out for crushing on Mark, at one point he hugs her and I don’t know if that is an oversight or was intentional.

FLAGS:

There is death, murder (?), poisoning, deceit, plotting, cheating in multiple ways, kissing, crushes, relationships, multiple mental health threads, intense competition, danger.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to do this as a book club selection.  I think as long as no one spoils the outcome there would be so much to chat about: the twists and turns, the way Islam and Malay culture is shown, the influence of western culture, concept of competitive Scrabble, pronoun sensitivities, and healthy friendship.  Girls and boys in middle school will be drawn to the story, and I can’t wait to share.

The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

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The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury illustrated by Lavanya Naidu

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This 40 page picture book for preschoolers and up shows connection to family, memories, and Bangladeshi culture as a little girl explores the quilts made from her Maa and aunts’ worn out saris.  This book has been on my radar for a while and while there is nothing wrong with the slow and thoughtful story, it didn’t sweep me up in a hug and wow me, as I had hoped it would.  The illustrations are as critical as the words in conveying the message, and the illustrations are indeed beautiful, I guess I just needed more.  More connection to the emotion the little girl was feeling recalling the strong women in her life, more impact to the fact that her Nanu is no longer with them, and more understanding about the history of Bangladesh that seems to shape the memories.  I worry that most readers simply won’t get anything other than the surface level of the book, which is ok, the memories woven through generations manifesting in quilts, is tangible and perhaps enough.  I feel like, however, the framing of the story and the textless illustration pages attempted to add more layers to the story, and I think to anyone not Bangladeshi, those layers might not be understood.  I wish their was an afterward with notes about the pictured references, inclusion of such backmatter would really open the book up to a wider audience, and give the book discussion and staying power in my opinion.  If you are Bangladeshi this book will be a treasure I’m sure, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Asiya loves going to her Nanu’s house, there are treasures there.  Her favorite treasure is the katha chest.  An old trunk full of the quilts made from the old worn out saris of her Nanu, Maa, and khalas. She snuggles in their warmth and listens to the stories they tell. Stories of hardship, joy, skills learned, moves made, loss, death, love and family.

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Boro Khala’s looks like Khalu’s medal, from a sad time when he was away.  Mejo Khala bright oranges and yellow like her fingers.  Shejo Khala’s is stiff and neat, she is never messy.  Choto Khala’s has a white streak like the white saris she wears since Khalu died.  Maa’s katha is patchworked and different than the others, and Nanu’s is paper thin and smells of tea, old books, porcelain and wood.

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There is an author’s note and illustrator’s note detailing the construction and value of kathas, but nothing about Bangladeshi wars, wearing white after a husband’s death, or the textile skills and artistry shown.  The book would read well with context or activities about family heirlooms, connections, and traditions.

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

after iftar tales

This book’s beautiful dark blue cover with sparkly stars feels good in your hands and looks lovely on the shelf.  It is a collection of 10 short stories presumably to be read by an adult to a child or children during Ramadan and has its highs and lows.  As often is the case in anthologies, some are written better than others and while I particularly liked two of the stories contained, I couldn’t help wishing that the entire collection would have been better edited.  I don’t know any of the authors, or their ages, and there is not an intro or conclusion detailing how the stories were selected or compiled, but as a whole, the grammar errors (spaces before and after commas and periods), failure to spell out numbers less than ten, and the overall plot holes in so many of the stories, makes it hard to love this book.  Something about judging a book by it’s cover would seemingly apply here, the illustrations are decent, the topics and themes covered are important, but the finishing is lacking, and the book really had a lot of potential.

SYNOPSIS:
The ten stories cover Ramadan in different ways, and do not get repetitive.  With different authors and illustrators and pictures on every other page at a minimum, the books presents well.  Many of the stories are adequate, but largely forgettable as the plot holes just made me and my kids dismiss them.  A few are too lengthy and wandering, but there are two that even despite writing obstacles, thematically were memorable:  “A Ramadan Surprise” by Malika Kahn and “Iftar in Space” by Tayyaba Anwar.

“A Ramadan Surprise” is written in rhyming verse and discusses the need for wheelchair accessibility at masjids.  Focusing on a young girl it also hints on the importance of accessibility for the elderly.  This is such a needed and important reminder and I love that it is present in a book that is positioned to be read and thus hopefully discussed.

“Iftar in Space” similarly opens itself up to be discussed and marveled at between a child(ren) and an adult: how would you fast and pray if you were on the International Space Station. This connection could then be made for people that live near the poles, and how science is valued in Islam and so much more.  I love that Islamic information is seemingly sourced, but I would have loved a line or two at the end clearly articulating that in fact this is what this scholar or these scholars have declared.

WHY I LIKE IT:

At first it didn’t bother me that the text was so small, but mid way through, it started to because the pictures are so inviting and regular.  If a child is snuggled up with a reader looking at the pictures it is impossible for them to follow along. I get that that is kind of the point, but with huge margins, the text size can easily be increased.

I don’t know why the book doesn’t seem to have been edited.  The cover and illustrations and binding are all decent to high quality, the cost of the book for consumers is high, so I don’t know why an editor was not (seemingly) involved in the process.  Sure I am picky, but it isn’t one or two grammar errors, it is a lot, and when it is a regular concern, it ruins the flow and feeling of the book.

Overall, honestly there is also very little Islam present in most stories except for the timing of Ramadan, and many of the stories seem to have gaps.  In the first story, a boy is found by a stranger and gifted a lamp, and the family never even tries to find the person who saved their son to thank him? They live in a small village?  In one of the stories where a little girls is fasting for the first time she is also making a salad independently and pulling a cooked tray of lasagna out of a hot oven. A child in one story eats moldy candy, and in a contemporary story kids donate their money to an orphanage.  Are there still orphanages? In one story it opens with a banner being made that is crooked, but the accompanying illustration does not match.  One error or two is easy to overlook, but again, when it is every single story, it is incredibly disappointing.

FLAGS:

Clean

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think while reading it you would find plenty to discuss with your children.  On stories where your children seem bored you could skip them, if sentences don’t make sense you can alter them.  I doubt children will read the book independently, so there is some wiggle room to add or subtract from the text to make the points you want to make and keep the stories engaging.  There are a few stories that discuss Covid and the frustration that it has caused to daily activities, which might help add another layer of connection to the text.

Ramadan Rocket by Emma Halim illustrated by Stephen Tucker

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Ramadan Rocket by Emma Halim illustrated by Stephen Tucker

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The banter in this 36 page Ramadan moon book is fun and engaging, and as the mom of five kids who was once a kid herself, the struggle is real to try and spot the Ramadan moon.   Most years, frustration abounds and nothing is seen. Haarith has the same problem, but last year he did something about it.  In this 36 page book for preschoolers and up, the faceless pictures will have kids giggling and their imagination’s soaring as they try and determine if Ramadan is about to begin.

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Haarith loves listening to stories about Ramadan, but always has trouble seeing the Ramadan moon. Last year, he decided to get a closer look.  He set out to build a rocket, but his best friend Hakeem had one he could borrow, so Haarith recruits two other friends, Jawaad and Khaleel, and plans are underway.  Jawaad will pilot since he flew out of a swing last week, and Khaleel will be in charge of food because his mom makes awesome cakes.  The boys head to space, passing, satellites, drones, and NASA rockets, before they see the moon and head back home.  After maghrib the community heads to search the sky and when they see nothing, it is Haarith that can locate exactly what they are looking for.

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I wish the moon was shown as super thin and hard to see in the illustrations, instead of as a thick crescent so that kids that might not have personal experience could at least understand why Haarith is struggling.  Also, I’m not sure why the line spacing on one page is double what it is on the others.  Many of the pages are text heavy and could have used some editing to tighten it up, but overall the story is fun.

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The premise though sent my head spinning, and yes I’m going to show my ignorance here, you can judge me. If you go to space, the moon is spherical, the earth and shadows are no longer at play right? So wouldn’t a new moon, a full moon, or a waxing gibbous all look the same? Clearly my confidence in this matter is non existant, and while I have no problem with the characters borrowing a friend’s rocket, it has been sitting unused for a year after all, I’ve been struggling to get this point clarified in my head.  And I believe it would all depend on where the rocket is and thus the boys’ point of view.  According to the University of Maryland, “The reason that we do not always see a Moon which is half lit is because of our position relative to the Moon and the Sun. As the Moon moves in its orbit, different portions of it appear (to us!) to be lit up as we look at it from Earth. This is why we see lunar phases.” So I suppose that depending on the rocket’s position in space would determine if the moon looked like a “Ramadan moon” or say a third quarter moon.  I’ve linked a NASA video that explains that the International Space Station sees the same phases as earth, so umm yeah, maybe I should take a break from fiction and go read some nonfiction basic science books. 

Eid Empanadas by Wendy Diaz illustrated by Uthman Guadalupe

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Eid Empanadas by Wendy Diaz illustrated by Uthman Guadalupe

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I love books that show, not tell how diverse Muslims are and celebrate the unique ways that Islam and culture come together.  This early elementary chapter book beautifully blends, Islam with Spanish words and phrases that all come together to celebrate Ramadan and Eid in America.  At 79 pages, with illustrations sprinkled in, this is a great book to share all year long.

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SYNOPSIS:

Omar is in 5th grade and when his teacher assigns the entire class to write an essay about their Ramadan and Eid traditions he is nervous that his family’s way of celebrating is very different than everyone else’s.  Omar’s mom is from Puerto Rico and his dad’s parents immigrated from Ecuador, even after a year and a half at the Islamic school, though, he still feels like the new kid, and doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.

Sensing that Omar is nervous, his teacher Ms. Khan offers ways to brainstorm and organize his thoughts.  Once home, in his casa, his little sister and parents join in to give him enough ideas, if only he can be brave enough to share them.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that there is so much joy and love in this little book.  The twist of having a kid not feel like he is fitting in at an Islamic school, is also so fabulous to read.  The OWN voice narrative and recipe at the back will help kids like Omar everywhere feel confident to share their culture, and those that know kids like Omar (even if only fictiously) anxious to learn more about Latino Muslims.

The only thought that did cross my mind, when Jummah was being explained as the congregational prayer on Friday, was why not use the word Jummah, just like all the Spanish words were used, and then defined.  I would love to ask the author who the intended audience is, and how that shaped her word choice, what was defined and what wasn’t.

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FLAGS:
None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I’m hoping to get copies to the first grade and second grade teacher to read in Ramadan to their classes. This book has the potential to really excite kids, expand their understanding, and show them how beautiful and diverse Islam really is.

Wake Up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim and Dalia Awad

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Wake Up! It’s the Ramadan Drummer by Mariam Hakim and Dalia Awad

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The beautiful shimmering cover of this new Ramadan book drew me in from the first few pages with the emotional impact of the father in the story losing his job.  Unfortunately the fun illustrations and overall story are not quite enough to make the book an enjoyable read over multiple readings.  By the time you read the book a second time, the missing punctuation, the assumptions and continuity holes, make the book unravel.  It has merit and highlights, I just really hope that an editor is brought in before a second printing takes place to clean up the sentences, patch the holes, and polish it to make it shine.  It has so much potential, but it is disappointing especially if you have been waiting, perhaps a bit impatiently, to share this with children to get them excited for Ramadan.  Even more so if you had hopes of reading it again and again throughout the month.

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The book summarizes Ramadan on the first page, presumably making the ideal reader a Muslim already familiar with Ramadan significance, and then jumps into revealing that the Baba has lost his job.  The optimistic mama isn’t deterred and sends the Baba and kids to the store so she can cook up something special.

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While at the store an elderly woman greets the kids and their father as, “Abu Tabla.” The son dismisses it until later that night when Baba has gone to the mosque and Mama surprises Adam and Anisa with the story of their Baba’s baba walking the streets before dawn to wake people up for suhoor.  She even digs out an old photograph, and with that, Adam is determined to get his father to revive the tradition.

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I love that Adam and his Baba work together to figure out lyrics and a beat.  I also like that it isn’t an instant success, but rather takes some grit, determination, and perseverance.  I also like that the whole family and eventually neighborhood come together, and that men and women go to the masjid for fajr.

There are some concerns I have though as well.  There are a lot of missing commas, the text uses mosque instead of masjid which reads inauthentic, and the whole old lady character, Hannah, is all sorts of underdeveloped.  She has to introduce herself, yet she knows where Abu Tabla lives, a drum magically appears in her hands, and her prodding is based on the premise that she knows what is going on inside people’s homes, what they are thinking, and what their intentions are.  I get that it is a kid’s story, but by the second or third reading it is hard to unsee how erroneous the logic is.  Especially when fasting like so many acts in Islam, are between a person and Allah swt, not for everyone else to judge.

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Presumably the story takes place in an Islamic majority setting and the neighbors are all Muslim, which offers a great discussion starter for readers in non Muslim majority places to find ways to maybe share Ramadan or to imagine living where everyone is fasting.

I feel like the last few pages about the drummer going viral is unnecessary, and the story could have, and probably should have, ended with the family and parade entering the masjid.  I particularly found it odd that a line reads, “News of the Ramadan drummer tradition starting up again reached as far as Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia, Turkey and even Indonesia,” why is Indonesia called out like that? Seems off putting somehow, not inclusive. The book concludes by circling back to the Baba getting paid to wake people up and finding jobs through the people also coming to fajr, which seems a bit raw for a children’s book.  A simpler, “even though Baba found another job, being the drummer was still the one he loved most,” would have tied everything up a little better for the demographic.  I’m hoping to include this story during one of my weekly Ramadan story times in my local community, and will probably skip the last few pages and just read the hadith at the end about waking up for suhoor.