Tag Archives: preschool

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.

Let’s Think about Allah’s Great Garden by Ali Gator

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Let’s Think about Allah’s Great Garden by Ali Gator

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At 22 pages this book’s title aptly describes the contents within: at times factual, sometimes breaking down the fourth wall and asking readers to do something engaging, at times fictionalized, and often meandering and reflective.  The book is all over the place and only cohesive in theme.  It has sat on my shelf untouched by my children for quite a while, but when I needed options for the library during Earth Day, this book did a great job in facilitating discussion with pre k to 1st grade.  It isn’t a story time book so to speak, but it gets kids thinking and can be tailored to their level of discussion.  I don’t think that is how the book was intended, and as it is written it is rather unimpressive, but when pulled apart it did serve a very specific purpose.

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The book starts out with a few lines about Allah’s blessings of all things particularly trees and plants and gardens.  I wasn’t sure if it was trying to rhyme or not, but I think the first lines are just incidental rhyme as the flow and words quickly unravel. It talks of climbing trees and the narrator’s father telling him to be careful. It then discusses watermelons and how they grow in the ground, not on a tree and asks readers if they can see the watermelon seeds in the illustrations.

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The book focuses on the life cycle of plants: seeds, flowers, trees. Drawing on that information it then shows the little girl collecting seeds to plant.  It then talks about the planting process and the needs all growing things have to prosper if Allah so wills it.

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Then the book gets interesting and starts to discuss the plants mentioned in the Qur’an before returning back to the half hearted narrative remarking on how the flowers complement the color of their house.

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The story seems to then end, but it isn’t denoted that the remaining pages are factual or set aside as back matter, it just pivots and begins discussing rain in Surah an-Nahl, Trees in Paradise as mentioned in Qur’an and Hadith, and then again, but this time in table form, the fruits and vegetables mentioned in the Qur’an, and highlighting dates specifically.

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The book is all over the place, and I doubt it will be read again until next year.  There are a few other books that have come out about his topic, and I plan to look in to them to see if they work better for story time readings and child engagement.

Mr. Men Little Miss Happy Eid by Roger Hargreaves

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Mr. Men Little Miss Happy Eid by Roger Hargreaves

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The nostalgic cast has reassembled recently, and now have an Eid title available.  Whether you grew up with Mr. Men and Little Miss or have never heard of them before, this book covers the basics of an Eid day celebration with (familiar) characters such as: Mr Greedy, Mr Bump, Miss Splendid, Mr Funny, Little Miss Scatterbrain and more.  The characters’ friend Aleena is fasting for Ramadan, the colorful crew help her to plan, and finally they all join in for the celebration.  The 32 pages are silly and random at best, but with a little discussion to help bridge the British to American English (if needed) ages three and up will enjoy the funny characters, seeing Aleena in hijab, and relating to the activities mentioned.  I love that generosity and forgiveness are included in the messaging, but was really irritated that a musical band is how they celebrate Eid night, and that Eid is compared to Christmas with gift giving.  The book is not written by a Muslim, so perhaps I should be forgiving about the Christian holiday comparison, but why write a book about Muslim joy, if you won’t let the Islamic holiday be enough on its own?  Thank you to Shifa @Muslimmommyblog for gifting me this after making fun of me for being old!

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Mr Greedy’s friend Aleena is fasting, and Mr Greedy breaks his fast nearly every hour so he is helping her.  Little Miss Inventor is out with her telescope and sees the moon, it is time for Eid.

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The days before Eid had been spent cleaning and decorating with the help of Mr Rush and Mr Bump.  They weren’t very helpful.

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Ramadan is also a time of generosity.  The football club receives donation, but what will they do with Mr Silly’s grandfather clock donation.

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Aleena puts mehndi on and is smart enough to not let Little Miss Naughty help, Little Miss Scatterbrain was not so wise.

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They all get dressed up, they give each other gifts, and share a meal. They then all settle arguments and forgive each other.

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Finally, they head to an Eid fair in town and eat treats while they watch a music show.  The book concludes with some factual information about Ramadan, Eid, and Zakat.

Title is available on Amazon.

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.

After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

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After Iftar Tales arranged by Bismillah Buddies

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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.

My First Book About Ramadan: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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My First Book About Ramadan: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan illustrated by Ali Lodge

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Once again, Sara Khan pushes the standard of what can be conveyed and presented in a toddler board book.  This book on Ramadan not only introduces concepts of the blessed month to our littles Muslims, but also provides details that will allow the book to stay relevant even as a child grows.  The soft, yet colorful pages allow the book to be engaging and attention holding for ages 2 and up, and provides a great way to get young children looking forward to Ramadan, as well as be read repeatedly during the month.  The 26 thick pages have a facts and questions about Ramadan at the end which make the book shareable with non Muslims and the many shapes, colors, cultures, and ages that make up our Muslim communities fill the pages that radiate with joy and love.

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The book starts out expressing the excitement of Ramadan, the new moon, and the anticipation.  It then talks about how Allah swt wants us to fast from dawn until sunset.  It mentions the five pillars, and fasting in Ramadan being one of them, and what it means to fast.

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It focuses on doing good deeds to make Allah swt happy.  It also dedicates a two page spread to showing who doesn’t have to fast, which answers that inevitably next question that people ask.  The book then says that even if you aren’t fasting, there are still blessings everyone enjoys in the month and spends a few pages detailing those activities and acts of worship.

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It mentions that Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an and that Laylat al-Qadr is the night of power, but doesn’t give much detail about either. Eid is celebrated at the end and a dua is made referencing a hadith in Bukhari about entering through the gate of Ar-Rayyan.

I love that the book’s tone is that this is what Allah swt wants us to do, and this is what makes Him happy.  Even with numerous Ramadan books out there, this one still manages to find a way to be unique, and truly the entire series is enjoyable and beneficial, alhumdulillah.

 

Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

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Jamal the Giant and the Largest Lesson by Mariam Hakim illustrated by Nesba Yoosef

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My initial thoughts of this 32 page Islamic fiction, fable-style book, is that it needed to be tested on children, lots and lots of children.  It should have been read aloud to catch all the grammar, syntax, and diction errors, and young readers and listeners should have been asked what they learned or understood from the story, BEFORE, being published.  The message is sweet, the illustrations cute, but it feels unrefined and reads underdeveloped: pictures and concepts are not enough to carry a book if the writing is poor.

I have looked forward to obtaining the book since its launch, so as soon as it was available from a US stockist (@crescentmoonstore), I didn’t even hesitate to purchase it.  I knew the book was available for free online as a read aloud on YouTube, but because I truly love supporting Muslim authors and publishers, I wanted to wait until I had a physical copy in my hand.  These opinions are my own, all my reviews are.  I mean no malicious will to anyone, I’ve spent my money on something, and once I’ve done so, I am completely justified to have an opinion.  You don’t have to like it, or agree with it, but it isn’t personal.  I’ve given reasonings for my opinions, and I stand by them.

Jamal the Giant isn’t necessarily mean, but he is careless, young, and selfish.  He scares the animals in the woods, destroys their homes, ruins farmers’ crops, and steals from the village.  One night, he wants to steal some juice and in the process overhears the community members discussing how different he is from his kind parents, and that he must be forced to leave.  He tries to mend his ways before he is driven from his home, but to no avail.  Unsure how to fix things, it is the advice of a tiny mouse that sets his reform in motion and conveys the message from the Quran, surah 11 ayat 114, “Good deeds cancel out bad deeds.  This is a reminder for the mindful.” He learns he must apologize, make amends and be kind.

The message is accurate, but I have some concerns at how it is conveyed.  Why was the responsibility on the giant to learn how to behave.  Yes if he knew better, he should do better, but it is made clear that he is the last of his kind and his parents died when he was really young.  If the villagers aren’t going to try and teach him, who is?  It isn’t necessarily victim blaming, but if you don’t know better, and have no one to teach you, you definitely are a victim of neglect in some ways.  To have them going from enabling him out of a promise to his parents to threatening to kick him out from his home, is a little abrupt.

Story-wise there are some points that gave me pause.  Why is there an owl flying off in the daytime, sure there are some diurnal owls, but most kids are taught owls are nocturnal, why not change it to a woodland bird that is active in the day, don’t confuse kids.  It doesn’t specify a timeframe that the story takes place in, but it feels like a fable with talking animals a giant and a clear message.  There is a baker, a farmer, an imam, a greengrocery, it is all very quaint, but then the imam is holding a cell-phone, wait what? I do appreciate that the farmer is female though, and that some of the women cover and some do not, it seems representative.

I’m curious who taught the giant to read, and how come he writes his “s” backwards, there seems to be a bit of disjointedness to the upbringing of the giant, his age, even in giant terms.  A lot it seems the author assumes the reader knows about giants or their stereotypes perhaps, because the book doesn’t address them, and the result isn’t a fun moral story, but one that seems to miss things.

The little mouse teaching the big giant, carries some Lion and the Mouse-Aesop fable vibes, but really it is the proof-reading of the book that is disappointing.  When you read it aloud, commas are abundantly missing (even in the online reading pauses are placed where commas are not written).  Why is the B in Baker capitalized, and if it is the Baker’s house, as in last name is Baker, then an apostrophe is missing.  Many of the lines are just awkward and halting, even if not particularly erroneous.  The diction is questionable at times, Jamal “always” thinks about that day at the lake, woah, doesn’t reflect on it, but it haunts him “always.”  Jamal “‘really’ didn’t have to steal,” seems to imply he was justified in stealing a little, this should be a black and white issue in a children’s book, no?

There are questions at the end of the book, and a whole page of information about the author and illustrator as well.  In a case like this I don’t know if the publisher didn’t do justice to the author’s work, or if the author should have refined it more, before coming to the publisher, but it is unfortunate because clearly a lot of effort went in to the illustrations and promoting of the book.

What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

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What if Dinosaurs Were Muslims? by Rabia Bashir illustrated by Laila Ramadhani

This rhyming Islamic tale wonders what dinosaurs would do if they were Muslim and alive today.  For littlest Muslim readers this repetitive tale ponders how they would eat, pray, love their mothers, respect their neighbors, dream, and feel, by tying all those things back to how Muslims behave.  The adorable illustrations kept my 6 year old glued to the story and the simple text held my 2 year old’s attention.  A fun book with wonderful supplements at the end to engage children in activities that everyone does compared to those that just Muslims do, a Fun Fact about (Muslim) dinosaurs and mums in Islam.  As well as extra activities, valuable information, and details about donations made with the purchase of this book.

The book takes place in London and imagines if dinosaurs were alive and if they were Muslim what day-to-day life would be like.  The refrain starts out “If dinosaurs were alive today and if they were Muslims too,” before stating what they would do and having it conclude with “just like me and you.”

In a similar vein as the ever popular How do Dinosaurs series by Jane Yolen, the book teaches kids how to behave by teaching the dinosaurs.  The book is short, and the humor comes from the illustrations, primarily the facial expressions of the parents, more than from the text, but I think the wildness of Dinosaurs living today will get most little kids smiling.

The only real concern I have with the book is the text when they are in the masjid praying and it reads, “they would try their best to pray five times a day.”  I know we don’t demand our littlest ones to pray all five salat, but I don’t know if it would imply that trying to pray is sufficient even when you are older.

From start to finish I found myself smiling while reading this book aloud to my kids, even after the fourth time in a row, alhumdulillah.

Inventors of the Golden Age (Just like) by Umm Laith and Muhammad Khaider Syafei (Proud Little Muslims)

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Inventors of the Golden Age (Just like) by Umm Laith and Muhammad Khaider Syafei (Proud Little Muslims)

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Usually when you purchase a personalized book, the charm is that you get to see a name of your choosing in the story, and that you can make the main character look a certain way.  So imagine my surprise when this book arrived, and yeah sure my son’s name and likeness was included, but the story and information contained was also really well done and engaging.  This book, even without the personalization, is a solid story highlighting Fatima al-Fihri, Abbas ibn Firnas, al-Zahrawi, al-Idrisi, and their skills of generosity, persistence, kindness, and adventure as they shaped the world as we know it.

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The fourth wall is broken as the book speaks to the reader encouraging them to come on an adventure in to the Golden Age.  A time when scientists, engineers, explorers, doctors, and astronomers were making remarkable advancements.

The first stop is Morocco to learn about Fatima al-Fihri and how she established the first university.  Her generosity in building and creating a place of Islam and learning is what set her apart and made her so remarkable.  It is then on to Abbas ibn-Firnas in Spain and his attempts at flying.  He failed often, but his mistakes helped him as he persisted and continued to learn and understand and make flight of humans possible.

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Al-Zahrawi, the surgeon, is who is detailed next, as his knowledge, skill, and inventions he made are still used today.  His regard for his patients fear and nerves and his kindness is what the book stresses before moving on to the mapmaker al-Idrisi.  Al-Idrisi was adventurous as he traveled the world making his maps and switching the poles.

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The book then focuses on the reader encouraging them to be generous and adventurous, kind and persistent, in making the future better like those mentioned from the past.

The book is horizontal, the pages thick, the faceless illustrations warm and detailed and the rhyming text flowing and appropriate for preschool aged children and up.

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One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

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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.

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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.