I enjoy Hena Khan’s books, I love basketball, and I love that this three book series is written for 3rd-5th graders. I didn’t love the cover, however, which I attribute to the reason I waited so long to start reading the book, I know, lame. But luckily the books were in the public library and I had a few hours on my hands and was able to consume the first two books, and look into ways to get the third one ASAP! Written on an AR 3.8 level the 126 pages fly by, the second book On Point is 130 pages and an AR 4.0, and the third book in the series, Bounce Back comes out in October.
Zayd Saleem is in 4th grade and is desperately trying to move from the D squad basketball team to the Gold team with his best friend Adam. The only problem is he is a pretty scrawny kid, and he has committed a lot of his day to practicing violin. His desperation forces him to be less than honest and the consequences that follow may strip him of the chance to even try out for the team at all. The basketball story is intertwined with a rich cultural Pakistani-American backdrop and familial characters that are relatable and fairly fleshed out. Zayd’s mamoo, maternal uncle, has agreed to meet someone to consider marriage, which brings out some humor as the whole family, including grandma and grandpa, have big roles to play. Zayd also has to figure out why he gets such stomach aches as he makes regular notes in his food diary, and has to balance the universal themes of friends, school, and homework, as well.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The font and spacing is wonderful for the target demographic, sprinkle in the illustrations and the book is not intimidating in length or size. The book is very real and relatable, kids of all backgrounds will relate to the basketball storyline and the video games and players mentioned. I loved the cultural environment. My kids absolutely loved the mentioning of the Pakistani food that they eat, and customs they participate in, and dynamics they know all too well. I don’t know that a non Desi (someone from the Indian subcontinent) will get it, love it, and not be turned off by it. The books are published through Salaam Reads and I would imagine the author and publisher know what they are doing, and the library has numerous copies, so clearly, I’m over thinking it, but I really want to get feedback on the cultural aspect, because it is done really well and I think it would show promise for future books.
I love that the book is about a boy and basketball, but it isn’t limited to being a boy book or a sports book. The story moves seamlessly through all facets of the characters life that makes it pretty memorable for what could have just been a sports story with a moral. The “life lessons” are clear and obvious, but not overly elevated. The little mistakes that Zayd makes are a part of his life, as are the consequences, but his family helps him through them, and help him learn.
There isn’t anything preachy or blatant about Islam in the book, but the characters are Muslim and it mentions that the parents are heading to the mosque at one point to help with a fundraiser.
There is lying, but that is kind of the lesson being worked through.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I recently agreed to help a teacher with her “Lunch Bunch.” Once a week students can opt to eat lunch in the library and have a book read to them. They must commit for the duration of the book and I think for a 4th and 5th grade group this book would be a lot of fun. It would probably only take two sessions to read and with the diverse class I can see if they get the cultural stuff or if it just bogs down the story to them.
Author’s website: https://www.henakhan.com/power-forward/