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.
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.
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.
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.
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.