Tag Archives: Muslim Illustrator

Tittle Tattle Talia: A Story about Gossiping by Salwah Isaacs-Johaadien illustrated by Zeyneb Yildirim

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Tittle Tattle Talia: A Story about Gossiping by Salwah Isaacs-Johaadien illustrated by Zeyneb Yildirim

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I really enjoyed this Islamic moral book about gossiping.  Over the years I’ve taught a few Sunday school lessons, class lessons, and even hosted story times on the Islamic cautions regarding backbiting, and honestly I don’t think kids really grasp how easy it is to commit the act and be a part of it.  They understand they shouldn’t do it, what the punishment is, and that it is bad, but I don’t know that the materials I’ve used and seen, have really connected with younger kids without a lot of supplementing; and this book highlighted that we really can be messaging better on a child’s level.  The pages are incredibly text heavy, but neither I nor my audience seemed to mind until close to the end, because of the comedy and relatability of the story up to that point.  I think the coach getting overly involved took it back to being a lesson from adults and broke the child perspective tone.  I do love that the kids that listen to the gossip are also held accountable, the importance of the coach’s message clearly is important, but the story telling quality would have benefitted from a few tweaks.  The illustrations are cute, unfortunately the font is not very appealing.  I do like that the salwat is given in Arabic, and that Hadith are mentioned in the text as well as in the backmatter with an author’s note.

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The story starts with Talia owning that she loves to share tales about the people around her, before telling one to her older sister.  Her sister tries to stop her and tells her that she needs to watch what she says or she might one day have to eat her words.  Talia wonders what eating your words means.  Similar situations occur between Talia and her brother, her mother, as well as her father.  Each time the story is reprimanded and a funny euphuism remarked upon and then giggled about by Talia.

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At school she does the same, telling stories, often at the expense of a boy named Ahmed, and the more interest the other kids show, the more outrages her tales become.  She soon starts telling them about everyone, and her classmates and friends grow weary and fearful that they might be next.

It all comes to a climax when Talia’s classmates say enough is enough and stop talking to her, and go as far as refusing to pick her when picking teams, and playing with her at all.  The coach concludes then that the match should be cancelled and Talia should apologize.  The cancellations seems extreme, and the forcing to apologize almost takes away from the emotional realization that her “tales” have become bullying.

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As Talia leaves, her classmates gather up and she sees Ahmed not joining them.  When she gets to her front gate, her friends catch up to her and apologize and acknowledge their roles in perpetuating the gossip.  Talia then goes to find Ahmed and get him some ice cream to apologize.

I don’t quite think the friends needed to apologize, I think they should have just realized their role, I think with discussion it might be clarified, but I worry that it defers Talia’s ownership of wrong doing, and could send some mixed messages.

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It is also a little pausing that Talia makes up a story about why a girl wears hijab, when her own mother wears hijab and she is clearly Muslim.  On the one hand, I like that it shows how ridiculous her tales have gotten, but it also could seem like she is falling for a stereotype as well.  There is good rep in the illustrations of those that cover and those that don’t, there is a child in a wheelchair and lots of shades of skin colors and hair types.  The text also contains traditional Islamic names and some that are not.

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The book helps our children to be better and the story engaging enough to be memorable, that while I wish it was cleaned up a better to strengthen the writing, I do find it a benefit on a shelf to be shared at bedtime, in classrooms, in story times and as a reminder to not participate in gossip or listen to it.

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Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure by Nouha Deliou illustrated by Kadhima Tung

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Mona’s Scrapbook Adventure by Nouha Deliou illustrated by Kadhima Tung

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Algerian culture, as far as I’ve seen, is incredibly underrepresented in western literature and not represented at all in children’s books.  I love that this author, who felt the same- did something about it.  This 40 page colorful story incorporates Algerian traditions and culture with universal themes of sibling love, wedding excitement, and being sad about change.  The OWN voice warmth shows Muslim characters in America holding to traditions and making new ones.  The book is long, but is not text heavy.  For toddlers and preschoolers up to second grade, I can see readers enjoying the detailed descriptions of the dresses and foods, and feeling the feelings of little Mona as her beloved older sister prepares for her wedding and ultimately leaving with her husband.

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The book starts on the morning of the big day, Layla’s engagement.  Mama explains to Mona that the Imam will do the kitab and that her older sister is excited because she has known Ahmed since school and likes him a lot.  Once dressed Mona watches Layla get ready in traditional Algerian clothes.

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When Ahmed and his family arrive, he and Layla announce that after the wedding they will be moving from New York to Arizona.  Mona is devastated, as the women start to zaghreet in celebration. She wonders if she can go with them, but decides she can’t leave her parents.  Later that night, Layla and Mona chat and decide that Mona will help plan for the wedding and they will make a scrapbook.

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Over the next few months, clothes are bought, cakes are tasted, flowers are decided upon, and Arayech is made.  The night of the henna is fun, but then it is the wedding, and then time for Layla and Ahmed to go. Happy tears and promises to always be connected conclude the story before a scrapbook page for the readers is revealed to make their own designs.  That is followed by a glossary, and information about the author and illustrator.

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I love the detail about the different cultural and regional Algerian dresses in the illustrations, the Algerian traditions shared through the text, and the connection between the two sisters. The book is available in hard back or paper back and I got mine from Crescent Moon Store  

Mona's Scrapbook Adventure

Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story by Malak Mattar

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Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story by Malak Mattar

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I hate that this book is so timely.  It was written by the author/illustrator recalling the 2014 airstrikes, but alas, has anything changed for the Palestinians’ suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupiers amid the  apathetic silence of the world?  This 32 page picture book shows family love and daily life while Gaza is under siege.  The heartbreak of a young girl’s reality and perception shows the reader, in a simple empathetic, heart-wrenching, real-life example how her dream was limited and caged because she is not free.  The book is not sensationalized, nor graphic, it is written by someone who endured this as a child, and has written the book for children. The theme is not even political, but more hopeful as art is found as a respite and way to keep dreams from completely dying.  May Allah swt ease the suffering of those under occupation and free Palestine, ameen.  

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The book starts with a little girl and her parents going to Sitti’s house for the best maqlouba.  Sitti has a beloved bird, Malak wonders if she too is in a cage.  Her grandmother encourages her to fly in her dreams.  At school she is happy with her friends, playing games, listening to stories, but when an explosion sends them all home, she won’t get to return for 51 days.

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Constant airstrikes keep the family home and in fear.  Malak finds some paints and starts to create.  Sitti’s bird is lost when Sitti’s home is destroyed, but somehow shows up at Malak’s home.  Eventually Malak returns to school and she shows her teacher all her paintings. Her teacher decides to host an exhibit. 

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People show up and marvel at her art work.  Months later an international exhibit invites her to attend with her parents, but sadly she must decline.  Gaza is closed.  She cannot leave.  

The book is hopeful, but does not have a happy ending, and I think the weight of that makes this book all the more powerful: because it is timely, because occupation persists, because dreams cannot be made into reality, generation after generation, this story inshaAllah will inspire some change and lots of compassion.

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There is nothing Islamic in the book, save some #muslimsintheillustrations, the author is Muslim.

Available here at Crescent Moon Book Store https://crescentmoonstore.com/products/sittis-bird?sca_ref=1601585.fIPhoqtScY  

Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with Videos (The Story of Riya) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra binte Absar Kazmi

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Zayd & Musa in The Trouble with Videos (The Story of Riya) by Hafsa Ahsan illustrated by Yusra binte Absar Kazmi

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This illustrated 64 page Islamic fiction chapter book is meant for early readers, but it was a good reminder for me as well.  Tackling the rarely covered topic of Riya (to do good deeds only to be seen by others), the book has been checked by a religious scholar (and his name included), features Quranic references at the end of the story, and the book is entertaining, relatable, funny, and adorably, albeit simply illustrated, by a child no less.  Like the first book in the Hiba’s Readalicious Series, there are a few grammar errors, and the Mommy/Daddy references read childish, but the story has interest, heart, humor, and both myself and my children found the book engaging on its own while also lending itself to worthwhile discussion around the dinner table.

SYNOPSIS:

Twins Zayd and Musa don’t have a smart phone and their friend Isa not only has one, but also has a YouTube channel.  Isa’s desire for likes and followers gives Zayd and Musa a variety of feelings, and with the context of their involved parents, friendly neighbor, and their own conscious, they learn about riya, and that often things in life are not just good or bad, but one’s intention that matters.

The illustrations not only illustrate the text, but also include talking bubbles with additional comedy or facts about screen usage, internet availability and study results as pertaining to the topics raised.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the topic isn’t just handed down from the adults in the story, the boys and their point of view flesh it out and make it so the reader will actually understand the concept and hopefully recall it later in life.  The humor makes it relatable and the lessons while preachy, it is that type of book, are not presented as good/bad, right/wrong, it shows different scenarios, and how we all must constantly check our intentions, not just the “antagonist” of the story.

FLAGS:

None

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book lends itself to discussion with older children than the intended audience.  While the book is meant for say a six year old, the discussion using the examples in the book, at least for my children, was much more relevant to the middle schoolers.  Naturally, teaching early readers about intention is still a valuable lesson, but I’d encourage 10 and up to also read the story, so that discussion from their perspective can occur.  It is an easy read for older kids, but a beneficial one- just give them a heads up that the kid parent relationship is notably cringe and babyish, the lessons however are food for though.

Hana’s Hundreds of Hijabs by Razeena Omar Gutta illustrated by Manal Mirza 

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Hana’s Hundreds of Hijabs by Razeena Omar Gutta illustrated by Manal Mirza 

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I love the idea of this book and I can see me reading it at story time to KG-2nd graders with great success. The illustrations are rich and detailed, the over the top bedazzling is fun and extra, the plot however, is non existent, surface level at best, the Islamic representation incredibly shallow, and the inconsistencies puzzling.  I’ve read this book a lot of times trying to articulate why it just rubs me the wrong way, and I think it is because it really reduces hijab to a fashion piece.  You can change the word “hijab” to hat or t-shirt or sock and the story would be EXACTLY the same. There is no connecting hijab to Islam, no showing or telling why a woman would even where it.  It presents hijab as being a costume or a decoration.  If you don’t read the author’s note at the end, you would have no idea that hijab is an obligation on Muslim women.  Even at story time in an Islamic school I don’t know that the author’s note will make the case clear enough, and I do plan to discuss with the classes how important it is to realize that hijab means something and is an act of worship and faith, and not something frivolous.  The 24 page book is cute, no doubt, but I wish it had just a bit more substance.

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A few other readers have shared that they found the story “offensive” and “triggering” for the main character’s judgmental and snooty attitude of criticizing others’ fashion sense.  As someone who doesn’t care much what I wear, I didn’t feel attacked, but their points are valid, so I share them. Hijab is incredibly personal and many women struggle with dressing for the sake of Allah swt with the messaging all around and pressures to compromise in one way or another, and this book for some could definitely add fuel to the fire of telling a woman how to dress.

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My plot concerns mainly pivot around Hana’s mom.  Why is the mom presented as irritated at the beginning and then so supportive at the end, what changed? Why doesn’t the mom remind her daughter about why one wears hijab when given the chance?  At least add the word “Muslim” in the above page between “strong” and “women.” I know the book is supposed to be fun and surface level, but connecting hijab to Islam isn’t preachy, it is logical. It is a key piece to the premise of the story.  Also, how does offering her services of styling solve the problem- wouldn’t it in fact make it worse?

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The fun illustrations and the extreme decorations really could have made the book a little girl favorite, but as it is, I don’t know that it will be requested more than once, or lend itself to being remembered once story time is over.  It draws on Fancy Nancy extremes, and thinking outside the box, but because of the faith based article at the core, it seems to miss the importance and true beauty that hijab represents.  I think Muslims will pick it up and be excited on first glance, but be left wondering what the point was, and non Muslims will probably be left with more questions than answers.

Lina, the Tree and the Woodcutter by Eman Salem

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Lina, the Tree and the Woodcutter by Eman Salem

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I’ve enjoyed another book in this bilingual series, Little Tree Goes for Hajj,  and was excited to see little tree all grown up and the focus of a book on the environment.  The 22 pages in Arabic and English start out promising, setting the stage, establishing the familiar characters, discussing caring for trees and not harming them for no purpose, but then the book just kind of ends.  It is wordy, the English anyway, I cannot comment on the Arabic, but it is sweet and warm in its own Islamic fiction way.  I didn’t feel like a glossary was needed, it mentions Allah in the text and seems meant for Muslims, so why the definitions of Allah, Hajj, and Mecca are included is a bit odd especially when it uses Christianity and Judaism in the explanation of the oneness of Allah.

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Little tree is now an old tree and was a friend of Lina’s grandfather, they had traveled to hajj together.  As they sit chatting, they hear a horrible noise and discover it is a woodcutter chopping down a tree.  When the young man stumbles upon the talking tree and Lina they question his motives.

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He wasn’t chopping wood for fuel, or to build a home, he was just chopping it because he could.  Lina and the old tree explain what was lost with the destruction of the tree and teach him that Allah swt has made people the earth’s caretakers.  The woodcutter learns from his mistakes and apologizes.

I wish the book maybe would have made a stronger point that trees take a while to grow and that sorry is well and good, but not enough to restore what was lost.  I like that the woodcutter wants to learn more, but a few lines detailing what he learns or that he came every day to sit with them or some sort of ending would have been nice.

Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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Hassan and Aneesa Go To a Nikaah by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Rakaiya Azzouz

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The latest installment in the Hassan and Aneesa series caught my attention because there just aren’t a lot of books about an Islamic marriage process (it is Desi tinged).  Cultural weddings you often see, but despite the misleading title of them just attending a Nikaah, they actually walk the reader through the steps from wanting to get married, to getting to know someone, praying Salatul-Istikhara,  agreeing on a mahr, signing contracts, and a walima.  The idea and premise is brilliant and greatly needed, the finished product, not so much.  Somehow I had forgotten how tiny in size the books in the series are (6.5×7.5), making it all visually cluttered and the text often hard to see over the illustrations.  And while I love how the concepts and terms are defined, the point of view of having it witnessed and detailed by the brother sister duo is often awkward and wordy.  I wish the author would have ditched the familiar characters, and just written a book about the marriage process for kids.  The vacillating between a fictionalized story, factual requirements, kids witnessing their parents helping their cousin get married, makes for a tangled book that fails to connect to readers seven and up, let alone two and up like the book claims. If you’re kids are asking about how Muslims marry or seem curious about a halal way it can be done, I suppose this book would provide a way to understand some of the key facets in broad strokes, but it needs editing, and more space to show joy and excitement in a book about families and a couple coming together.

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The very first page set the tone for me, the overly dressed girl at a barbecue and the way her name seems to be so formally introduced.  Perhaps it is a difference of culture, but the book never bounced back from the heavy handed tone.  Aisha wants to get married and asks her parents to help her find someone.  They ask her what she is looking for and she tells them.  I like what she includes kindness, love of Allah, funny, etc.  I wish it would have suggested that she had given it a lot of thought before answering though.

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Aneesa and Hassan’s mom and their aunt are discussing Aisha’s want to marry at their painting class and a friend over hears and suggests her son Uthman.  The families agree to have the two meet in a cafe with Aneesa and Hassan’s dad and uncle so that her mahram is nearby.  Uthman and Aisha both enjoy sports and Uthman interacts with a baby at another table impressing Aisha.  They both pray istikhara and decide that the families should all meet.

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It is then time to pick out a dress and hand out invitations, which at least involves Hassan and Aneesa, but the pages are so cringe and awkward from the phrasing, to the structure of the concepts.  The spread is disjointed and you’ll catch yourself shaking your head and making a face every time you read it.

Mehndi is next and I’m not sure why it focuses on Aneesa not sitting still and looking sad when her design is ruined.  It seems like an odd inclusion in what should be a joyous book.  Hassan is entrusted with gift to hold on to by Uthman for Aisha, and the Imam gives a khutbah about marriage.

Contracts are then signed with Aisha her wali, uthman and the imam and each party is asked if they agree.  They have already decided on the mahr and then Hassan hands over the gift.  The walima feast is delicious and the reader is encouraged to go back and find the cat in the illustrations.

As for illustrations I do like that the main females are shown out of hijab at home, and in hijab while out.  At the wedding there are different shades of brown, different loves of covering and not covering, there is a guest in a wheel chair and the couple and their families seem happy.  I found it odd that it says they are in love, since there isn’t a lot of emotion mentioned before the last page and I wish the text on numerous pages wasn’t mixed in with the pictures.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms.

The Most Exciting Eid by Zeba Talkhani illustrated by Abeeha Tariq

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The Most Exciting Eid by Zeba Talkhani illustrated by Abeeha Tariq

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I was really excited for this book, I even contacted Scholastic USA and the author to see how we could get it here in America, but once I received my copy from the UK, I was disappointed.  It offers nothing new to the available Eid titles aside from the pretty illustrations. It is a rather forgettable story, with nothing more than surface level growth, predictable emotion, and a formulaic retelling of a basic Eid day.  Meant for preschoolers (3-4 year olds) the story will suffice as an introduction to Eid and reinforce the importance of sharing with others, but anyone older will find the story lacking unfortunately, and question why they didn’t go for Eid salat, if the cousin was even upset about not getting to ride Safa’s new bike, if the neighbors are poor and needy, and if they have gifts for neighbors or are just giving out random leftovers. Five years ago when reasonably priced brother sister duo books celebrating Eid were popping up everywhere, this book would have warranted excitement of representation and Eid joy, but the quality has elevated and while there might not be anything “wrong” with the book, it still feels like it sadly falls short.

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Safa and her parents see the new moon and that means it is Eid.  She is so excited as her mom puts henna on her like every year, and her dad brings out the box of decorations.  At night she is anticipating presents, gifts, new clothes and food that she can hardly sleep.

The next morning she comes down in new clothes, prays, asks Allah for a new doll, a colouring pencil set and a bicycle.  Guests come over, even Alissa her cousin. She opens her presents revealing she got everything she asked for.  Alissa calls after Safa, but Safa doesn’t want to share, she’s been waiting for this bike forever. Since sharing is the point of the story, it is worth noting that Alissa in the text shouts after her and in the illustration is shown to be calling out, there is no reinforcement that Alissa even wants to ride the bike.  I suppose I’m glad that Safa feels it, and regrets it later, but it is subtle and I don’t know that a 4 year old will even register that, that is implied.

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Mom then calls to Safa while carrying two huge purple bags to come with her to share joy and food with those in need.  Safa adds some of the treats she has received in to the big purple bags and they hand the items out to their neighbors. I love that they are visiting their neighbors and it brings the giver and receiver joy, but the set-up is that neighbors and those in need are one in the same, and I think that is conflating two different things.

Some neighbors get small gifts, one a potted plant, another homemade looking food, and then there is one bag left, somehow the purple huge garbage bag sized bags have shrunk to being a shopping bag size and the next recipient is a surprise: grandparents.

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The mom and daughter join the grandparents for desi cultural foods of samosas, kebabs, biryani.  Dad does not join them, and I’m not sure why the grandparents didn’t come to the party at Safa’s house? I also wondered if the party at the house was still happening, because once Safa realizes she enjoyed sharing, her parents and Alissa are seen outdoors, with the little girls on bikes and Alissa asking her cousin where she went.

There is a two page spread glossary at the end which defines words that are not in the text, but is informative.  It mixes “cultural” words such as Allah Hafiz being defined as being a common way among Muslims to say goodbye, which technically isn’t wrong, but it is an Urdu word and only used by Desis.  It isn’t in the story, so it seems off to me as well.

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The illustrations are the highlight in the book.  They are vibrant, expressive and engaging.  The mom seems to have a dupatta on her head, it might pass for hijab, but she has wavy tendrils showing on the side, even the grandma shows much of the top of her hair.  Neither the father in the story or grandfather have beards.

My Dad is Always Working by Hafsah Dabiri illustrated by Arwa Salameh

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My Dad is Always Working by Hafsah Dabiri illustrated by Arwa Salameh

This sweet 26 page story addresses a universal feeling with Islamic flavor.  The Black Muslim family in the illustrations is adorable, the sprinkling in of Islamic terms is lovely, and the concept of dad working unseen for the benefit of his child is touching, (I hope a Mom book is forthcoming).  The text size changing for no reason bothered me though, as did some of the wordiness and possible contradictions.  Ultimately the story will resonate with many children and mirror a common feeling that is not often addressed for young children, and I’m glad I have it on my bookshelf.

The book starts with Abdullah waking up for class and noticing his clothes laid out on his bed, and his dad with a dirty shirt rushing off to work.  He misses his dad and muses that his dad is “always working,” As he eats his favorite strawberry and chocolate pancakes.  He then jumps on his bike with his clean cleats and heads off to Sunday class with his friend Khalid.

In class they learn about “JazakhAllah Khair,” and homework is to make a card for a person who deserves our thanks.  When Abdullah’s mom, not dad, picks him up he decides to make a card for his mom who has woken him up, set out his clothes, made him breakfast and picked him up for class.

At dinner however, when he discusses class with his mom and the homework the mualimah has assigned, Abdullah’s mom shares with him all that his dad has done and Abdullah reconsiders why his dad is “always working.”

I don’t quite get why the next night when dad is cooking the food is burned, nor am I sure why it said Arabic school, when it seems it is Islamic school, or why he rode his bike to class but then his mom picks him up.  I do like that in the praising of the dad, the mom is not diminished, but rather both are elevated.  An important book, but as I often say, I just wish it was edited better, or more.   It has a lot of potential, the story idea is great, but the writing isn’t polished and it makes it hard to share repeatedly or with a wider audience because of it.

Purchased at Crescent Moon Store also available on Amazon

Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale retold by Kathleen Moriarty illustrated by Amin Amir and Somali translation by Jamal Adam

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Wiil Waal: A Somali Folktale retold by Kathleen Moriarty illustrated by Amin Amir and Somali translation by Jamal Adam

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This bilingual (English and Somali) book tells the folktale of a wise leader challenging the men in his province with a riddle, and it being solved by a poor farmer’s eldest daughter.  Based on a real Sultan from the mid 19th century, the book does not claim the story to be true, and leaves it up to the reader to form their own impression.  The lesson however, is rich with culture, insight, charm, and perhaps surprise.  There is no Islam present or hinted at, but the illustrator’s and translator’s names suggest that they are Muslim as the majority of Somali’s are, and the picture at the back of the book of members of the Somali Book Project show multiple females in hijab- so I’m sharing it on my platform to inshaAllah encourage often rarely seen, in western literature, cultures and traditions to be brought to more peoples’ attention.

The book starts with an author’s note explaining the tradition in East Africa of having a nickname and that Wiil Waal was the naanay of Garad Farah Garad Hirsi, a man who was a sultan for a brief time.  He was known to be a great leader who was brave, and clever, and used riddles to unite people.  Like all folktales though, this doesn’t claim to be a true story, but one filled with wisdom.

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Long ago Wiil Waal set forth a riddle, “bring me part of one of your sheep.  The sheep’s part should symbolize what can divide people or unite them as one.”  The one who can do so will be honored as a wise man.

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The men pick different parts to bring to the sultan with little success:  a rib, a liver, a shoulder of meat.  In a distant province a poor farmer who had few sheep and many children half heartedly prepared to slaughter his finest animal to present to Wiil Waal.  His oldest daughter comes to help him, and he tells her the riddle.  They work through it, and she thinks she is certain she knows the answer.

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Trusting his daughter the farmer presents the sultan with what his daughter recommended.  Quick to see that the farmer is not confident, he asks who solved the riddle and the story of the daughter’s intelligence is conveyed.

The book ends hinting that she is a future leader of Somalia.  And no, I’m not going to tell you the answer.  Go read the book!

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