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.
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.
This 40 page nonfiction biography is beautifully illustrated and informative. I had never heard of Maryam Mirzakhani the Iranian born, first female winner of the Fields Medal. Her life from loving stories and not liking math, to becoming a student and later a professor in the United States is remarkable and inspiring. Second through fourth grade readers that both love and struggle with math will be drawn in to her unique way of looking at the world, and the math she found to serve as her magic wand in explaining it. I don’t know if she identified as Muslim, while in Iran she was forced to cover, but when she left, she no longer did. The illustrator is Muslim and religion aside, I am thrilled that a book like this exists, and that such a brilliant woman and her accomplishments can be presented to young readers.
Maryam loves stories. She reads them to her sister, her best friend Roya and her browse bookstores and dream themselves into plots of their favorite stories. On the weekends she spreads long rolls of paper on the floor to draw and color her imaginary worlds. She wanted to be an author when she grew up and knew how lucky her generation was to attend school after the war that tore her country apart.
Math made her head spin, she would rather be doodling, but when she was 12 her teacher introduced her class to geometry. It was different, the numbers held stories and the shapes were pictures. She made stories about the problems and wondered about them as if they were characters.
In high school, Maryam and Roya entered the International Mathematical Olympiad. The first year they received participation medals, but the next year, Maryam won the grand prize with a perfect score. She finished her schooling in Iran devoting her life to the stories that numbers told and left Iran to start graduate school at Harvard in the United States.
When she had a hard time solving problems she would spread large rolls of paper on the floor and solve them. Her daughter would tell people she was a painter. She wanted to stretch the mind and how people went about solving equations. She became a professor and a lecturer and one of her discoveries became known as “the magic wand theorem.”
In 2017 she passed away from breast cancer and the world lost a remarkable storyteller, mathematician and human. The book concludes with an author’s note, important dates, and books to reference to learn more about Maryam Mirzakhani.