Tag Archives: Rukhsana Khan

Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile by Rukhsana Khan

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Dahling, If You Luv Me, Would You Please, Please Smile by Rukhsana Khan

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I’m not sure how I missed this 1999 published YA book by the OG-groundbreaking-industry-changing- Rukhsana Khan, but until @bintyounus mentioned it to me recently I didn’t even know it existed.  The book has so much Islam, ayats, hadith, salat- Islamic fiction self-published often doesn’t have as much as this mainstream book has, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that some of the content was a bit shocking.  Part of my surprise I think comes from the fact that the book is only 206 pages, it takes its title from a game I remember playing in elementary school at recess, the main character is in 8th grade and the cover is soft pinks.  This book is solid YA both now, and nearly 25 years ago, it carries some incredibly heavy themes: attempted suicide, topless photographs, sexual coercion, cigarette smoking, assault, racism, misogyny, toxic relationships, neglect and more (see flags below).  The book is memorable and hard to put down, the Islam is confident and explored, even when weaponized by an older sister, but there is no denying the story telling abilities of the author, and  while I won’t be letting my 11 or 13 year old read it any time soon, I know I benefitted from reading it- reminiscing about wanting Lucky Jeans and standing in awe of how EVERY. MUSLIM. DESI. author making it in mainstream today is benefitting from the path paved by Rukhsana Khan.  On behalf of readers everywhere- thank you.  Thank you for fighting to tell your stories your way, raising the bar, and offering real Muslim characters from a Muslim voice. 

SYNOPSIS:

Zainab has no friends and doesn’t own a pair of Lucky Jeans, she is the only one in 8th grade that doesn’t.  She feels like if she could trade in her polyester pants for the “cool” pants everyone has, she’d be accepted.  When that plan fails and lands her in trouble, she gets tasked with directing her house’s school play.  The teacher convinces her that it will be a way for her to make friends, and earn her classmates respect, but middle school is never that easy.  Everyone is in love with Kevin, including Zainab, but he is a jerk and if he isn’t the lead, no one else will audition.  Jenny is poor, but has a big chest, so even though she is nice to Zainab, she is more in love with Kevin who only wants her for one thing, and takes advantage whenever his girlfriend isn’t around.  Add to the drama Zainab’s very strict older sister who lists off Zainab’s faults every night with Islamic references to try and make Zainab a better person, and this coming of age story will require Zainab to sort through it all and find her own way to be.  There are a lot of subplots that circle around the play, social circles, toxic relationships, and self growth, that while the characters are worried if they will win the competition and break the curse, the readers (at least this 41 year old mama) are hoping that the characters will survive the year unscathed. 

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the family is the same family that will become its own story in Big Red Lollipop just grown up, with names changes, and that the story is summarized.  I’m still a little torn if I love the raw grittiness of the way the two sisters interact or if it goes too far and leaves a bitter taste about Islam.  I really am on the fence about how young readers, both Muslim and non Muslim, in 1999 and in 2022, would view the role of Islam in the dynamic.  I think it reads powerfully, but I had a hard time going back to look at it through my 13 year old eyes and it as an adult it is intense.  I still can’t believe that this book was published with how much Islam it contains, even the play put on in a public school was religiously centered.  White privilege is called out and stereotypes about whites are stated, a Hindu character and the Muslim main character work through their baggage, economic privilege is opined on, women’s rights and expectations discussed, comments about “othering” are present-  it really covers a lot. Quite impressive in a lot of ways. 

The relationship and love themes are not shied away from which caught me off guard.  I expected some making-out and heavy petting, but was surprised it went to topless photos, a character’s mom being a nudist, and that there is a lot of forced touching.  I think for most Islamic school 8th graders, this book would be too mature, in fact I genuinely hope it is. Not to say it is not accurate, but it is very critical to the story and I think would need some discussion.  

I love that the characters draw you in, as much as you despise everyone picking on Zainab, you know she isn’t a pushover and you really pull for her.  I didn’t want to put the book down and kept reading because I wanted to make sure she was ok, see what choices she made, and in a fairly short book, that is remarkable story telling.

FLAGS:

The book is for mature readers in my opinion.  There are relationships, assault, cigarettes’, nudists, kissing, spying, sexual assault, coercion, topless nude photographs, attempted suicide, bullying, teasing, cheating, physical assault, language, verbal abuse, stereotypes, talk of female anatomy, and use of Islam to hurt.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t know that I would shelve this in the library, I would see if perhaps there is a version with a different cover, one that might signal a more mature reader.  I would worry if an early middle schooler read this, I think it would be a lot for them to take in, process, and reflect on.  It isn’t a light read, and would need some discussion, but ultimately I don’t know that a middle school book club at an Islamic school would be the right place for it. It could be for sure, but not the one I’m currently at.

The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet

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The Clever Wife: A Kyrgyz Folktale by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ayesha Gamiet

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It has been nearly 10 years since a new Rukhsana Khan book has been published, and alhumdulillah, she is back with a delightful folktale.  This story starts off like many popular fairy tales, but it doesn’t simply end with a wedding and living happily ever after.  The story is just getting started, once the clever Danyshman and Khan Bolotbek start their lives together.  Over 40 richly illustrated pages brimming with character, culture, and hints of what might happen, the ending will sweep readers aged 5 and up into smiles and giggles and leave them begging to hear the story again and again.

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When the old Khan is on his deathbed, he leaves the future rule to be decided upon by his beloved white falcon.  The bird lands on the shoulder of a young shepherd and the subjects begrudgingly accept him as their leader.  As his kindness and compassion over the years wins the people over, their only concern is that he hasn’t yet taken a wife.

So, many high born maidens gather and try and solve the questions Khan Bolotbek sets before them.  When one poor maiden learns what is happening and accompanies them, they are surprised with her clever answers, and the khan asks her to marry him.

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The khan discusses and consults with Danyshman and they essentially rule together.  There is just one promise the khan asked of his bride, and that is to “not share her wisdom with anyone, but him.”  The story continues, but with a clever wife being held to that promise, it is only a matter of time before her wisdom is shared, and it will take true cleverness for her not to lose everything as a result.

I love the strength of Danyshman, the levelheadedness of both her and the khan in ruling, and in remembering their humble roots.  The story is timeless, and this retelling ensures that more families with be familiar with this tale from Kyrgyzstan.

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Bedtime Ba-a-alk by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Kristi Frost

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Bedtime Ba-a-alk by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Kristi Frost

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I know, I know another book by Rukhsana Khan, but really how great is she.  She writes books with religious references sometimes, cultural ties sometimes, and sometimes just fun books. I love that kids of all backgrounds associate her with good stories, and that she hasn’t limited herself to just one demographic.  img_1893

Bedtime Ba-a-a-lk has no religious or cultural connections and is just about a girl dealing with rogue sheep in her mind that don’t want to be counted.  The AR level is 2.6 but I don’t know that 2nd graders and below would really “get” the story.  The vocabulary is great, with a little assistance: balk, conjuring, deliberate, snub, mutiny, haunches, eider-down, furrowed, etc..  And the concept of a girl creating her imaginary dream world and conversing with the characters in it, is grand, but I look forward to testing out which age groups grasp it, and which ones just think it is a funny story with an obstinate ram.

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The book is 30 pages and beautifully, playfully illustrated.  The pictures are just “fuzzy” enough to give a sleepy feel, and bold enough to stretch the imagination.  The lines do not rhyme, but flow easily.  The font is large and inviting, and well placed on the page.  The book is clean, and the girl in her pleading with the sheep uses “please” and good manners in her firm demands.   It does use the word, stupidly and darn, once each, but overall a silly fun read.

 

 

The Roses in My Carpet by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Ronald Himler

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The concept of “refugees” is not a new one, but with the pervasiveness of the term in the news right now, children are starting to need some understanding of what it means to be a refugee, and how to empathize with what their classmates and friends may have endured.  Books like One Green Apple, The Red Pencil, and Four Feet Two Sandals are great, and I excitedly hoped this one would be a great addition to the theme.

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The book is leveled as an AR 3.2, but I don’t know that many eight and nine year olds would be able to grasp some of the content unassisted.  This is a good example of the limitations of Accelerated Reader.  Yes, diction and sentence length are third grade level, but content is a bit heavy in this 32 page water-color illustrated book.

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A young boy is telling the story of his life in a refugee camp in Pakistan.  The nightmares of jets dropping bombs opens the story and sets the tone of a very frightening reality that this boy, his mom, and his sister Maha face.  His father, a farmer, had been killed, and I think the author does a good job of showing readers that although the characters are now in a refugee camp, food and safety are still not a given.  I think we as westerners tend to think, ok they had to leave their home, and that is sad, but now they are taken care of, and this book clearly shows that, that is not the case. The boy mentions that someone has sponsored him and helps them with money, something his father wouldn’t have accepted, and I’m not sure why this is included.  Perhaps to show that people still can help and need to, or to show that affluent people donate as a way to ease their conscious without working to fix what caused the problem in the first place? I don’t know. It would lead to some good discussions with older children, perhaps fifth grade and up, as the author doesn’t make it a good or a bad thing, but does introduce it none the less.

The environment is drab, “Here, the walls are mud, the floor is mud, the courtyard is mud, too” and the day-to-day chores monotonous, lining up for water, for food, going to the mosque to pray, and going to school.  For some reason, not sufficiently explained in my mind, the little boy hates school.  A sharp contrast to stories that show how appreciative many children in other parts of the world are at the opportunity to study and learn. The boy rather, loves weaving.  He looks forward to escaping his reality and getting lost daydreaming in the weaving of beautiful colorful images where the bombs can not get him.

The characters are clearly Muslim, as they pray and wear hijab and go to the mosque.  They trust Allah when they are faced with challenges, but no details of belief are conveyed and it simply describes the characters. The book does not come across as whiney to me, and while there is some hope that radiates through when the boy is weaving, it really is a sad book.  It is made more depressing when Maha is hit by a truck, she thankfully survives with broken legs, and by the thought that although the boy wants to use his weaving to provide for his family, the future doesn’t seem bright.  In the end perhaps running free on a rose filled carpet where the bombs cannot get them only exists in his dreams, a sobbering thought for the characters and readers alike.

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King For A Day by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Christiane Krome

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Its time for Basant, the Lahore, Pakistan kite flying festival, and Malik and his siblings are ready.  Ready to launch Falcon into the sky, ready to set other kites free, and ready to put the bully next door in his place.  While some kids have huge kites, and some have many, Malik has just Falcon, a speedy little kite that Malik prays can get the job done.

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Once again Rukhsana Khan does a remarkable job of taking a universal theme, adding some culture, and finding artists to empower minorities without making it an issue, all in a 32 page children’s book.  Written on an AR level of third grade ninth month, readers see characters handling a bully by beating him “on the court” so to speak, a character having confidence in his abilities, yet still asking Allah swt for help, and a boy in a wheel chair celebrating a fun spring time festival with his family.

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The illustrations are rich with texture and angles, which contrasts the font and text presentation.  Little kids probably won’t be tempted to pick this book up, but as a read-a-loud first and second graders will enjoy the story and the kite flying action.  Third and fourth graders will enjoy reading the book independently, and find themselves cheering for Malik, appreciating his kindness, and wanting to pick up a kite and head out themselves.  The author includes a note at the back which provides more information about Basant and how it is celebrated.  Although it takes place in Pakistan and is a festival not celebrated in America, there isn’t a “foreign” feeling to the book, as kids can relate to bullies, wanting to be the best and the satisfaction of succeeding and feeling like a “king for a day.”

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Silly Chicken by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by Yunmee Kyong

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Silly Chicken is a story about sibling rivalry, except there isn’t a sibling, there is a chicken.  Rani feels that her mom, Ami, loves a chicken, Bibi, more than she loves her.  Rani is jealous of the attention Bibi receives and finds the chicken in general, silly.  One day when Rani and Ami leave their home by tonga to visit her father’s grave, a dog gets in and when they return, Bibi is no more.  Ami is devastated and Rani is sure she closed the gate.  It isn’t until Bibi’s egg hatches by surprise, that the story comes full circle and Rani responds to Ami’s chiding that she loves the baby chick more than her mother, that the reader and Rani realize how silly that would be.

I really liked this 32-page, brightly and playfully illustrated book.  It is written on a AR 2.3 level and is fun out loud or at bed time.  The story takes place in Pakistan and a lot of reviews online remark that it is a good book about Pakistan or for showing Pakistani culture, critiques that I both agree and disagree with.  Every kid, everywhere, through out time, can probably relate to being jealous of something or someone occupying their mother’s attention.  The concept of a pet and loving it and being sad and feeling guilty, are all universal themes.  That being said, both the author and illustrator do a remarkable job of breaking stereotypes without drawing attention to them.  Ami and Rani are relatable and are clearly Pakistani, subtly removing an us and them stance.   Rani’s dad has passed away, but Ami and Rani seem to be doing well.  Ami seems very self-sufficient in daily activities and brave when they think a burglar may be present.  The two chat with neighbors and travel independently breaking down the erroneous stereotype that women cannot go out or be recognized without a male.  The mother wears hijab and traditional Pakistani clothes while Rani being young obviously does not cover.  Their clothes are bright and colorful and their expressions relatable and inviting.  The way that Bibi’s death is handled is age appropriate and a child could possibly think she simply was run off rather than killed, either interpretation would allow the reader empathy for Ami and be a great topic to explore with a child.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

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Set in Pakistan, Saba has to cross the courtyard to get to the bathhouse.  Fearful of the chickens that seem to have it in for her, she braves the distance in a dashing sprint and slams the door to relish in the safety of a chicken free patch of space.  However, today as she searches for courage to face the chickens after her shower she spots a snake near the door.  She is afraid, and wants to scream for her grandma, her Nani, but worries that the snake will bite anyone that comes through the door.  Realizing she must face this fear and solve the problem on her own, not only empowers her, but puts the chickens in to perspective.

This 32 page picture book written on an AR 2.6 level is a good book when discussing overcoming fear.  It reads aloud well, as the short sentences from Saba’s perspective convey her trembling fear, her determined resolve, and her elation and freedom after she faces the snake.  The illustrations on first glance, and even after the first reading seemed off.  They didn’t seem to compliment the story smoothly, however, after revisiting this book, I think I have grown to appreciate the exaggerated features of the girls face, and the simplistic blurred images of her surroundings.  I think it shows her focus and skewed view when faced with such a fear.

The Author’s website & teaching guide

Wanting Mor By Rukhsana Khan

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SYNOPSIS:

Jameela has a lot of obstacles as the book opens: poverty, her mother, Mor, has just died, a cleft lip, and an angry  father that returns to drugs and alcohol.  As the book progresses however, things don’t get better in fact they get worse.  In war-torn Afghanistan Jameela and her father move from their small village to the bustling city of Kabul, recently freed from Taliban control. With only her faith in Allah and her memory of Mor, Jameela endures being a virtual slave in one home, before being whisked away for her father’s inappropriate actions with the lady of the house.  Desperate for a place to live, Jameela’s father marries a widow for her money and Jameela becomes a slave to her new stepmother.  When her stepbrother Masood, tries to teach her how to read and write her name, her stepmother convinces Jameela’s father to take her to the busy market place and leave her.  Alone, lost, and with no where to go a kind butcher tries to help her, but ultimately she ends up in an orphanage.  Prospects look up for Jameela as she finally is allowed an education, friends, and security, however, issues with her father and stepmother must be resolved and ultimately this serves to be the biggest test for Jameela.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The story in a nutshell, is heartbreaking, yet Khan never seems to diminish the hope felt for Jameela and the belief that she will find a way to have a full life.  Based on a true story, it is hard to put the book down and the 183 pages fly by quickly.  Jameela is very devout in her prayers, her modesty and her imaan, illuminating  a story where so much sadness prevails. Her faith in Allah swt brings her peace and strength and Khan successfully passes that message on to the reader.  Jameela not only has to navigate her family issues, but also the challenge of making friends, dealing with her appearance, taking control of matters regarding her education, and so much more than most student’s coming of age have to endure.  I think Jameela’s strengths and faults will inspire and serve as lessons to the readers, most likely girls who have it much, much easier.  And who after reading the book, inshaAllah, will appreciate how much harder their lives could be.  

This is the second book I’ve read and blogged about by Rukhsana Khan, the first was a children’s fiction book My Big Red Lollipop.  The two books are both well written and I enjoy her voice as an author, this book however, Wanting Mor, while only an AR Level 3.7, I would reserve for a more mature audience.  The reading is easy and fluid, the story is powerful and well told and I think would be fine in a 7th or 8th grade and up environment.  I would be nervous to recommend this book blindly to a young adult reader without context, direction, and some background.  The incident after a party, with alcohol, where Jameela’s father enters a married woman’s room, implies more than I would want a 3rd or 4th grader inquiring about.  Details aren’t given, but it causes a huge turning point in the story and is thus critical.  At one point a character is groped in the street and Jameela laughs, highly inappropriate that it happens and equally inappropriate that Jameela laughs at her friend.

Another point I would want to discuss with anyone reading the book before hand is the concept that, If you can’t be beautiful, you should at least be good.”  Mor tells it to Jameela, presumably because of her birth defect, but I think that a young girl reading the book shouldn’t take it at face value, I would want to explain the culture, the environment, and talk about such a statement on many levels.

FLAGS:

 Implied sexual violence, drug and alcohol use

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Given the right group of older students, this book would make a decent book club selections with plenty to discuss and plenty of emotion.

The author’s website page:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/books/wantingmor.html

Teacher’s guide:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/teacherguides/Wanting%20Mor%20Teacher’s%20Guide.PDF

Wanting Mor Presentation:  http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/teacherguides/Wanting%20Mor%20Presentation%20Guide.PDF