Tag Archives: school

The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan

The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale by Aya Khalil illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan


This follow-up picture book to The Arabic Quilt, takes readers back to Kanzi’s school, but also works as a standalone for ages 7-10.  Addressing the hot topic of book banning, the fictional story brings the discussion down to an elementary level and shows kids speaking up and pushing back against something they don’t agree with.  The main character finds a connecting thread to events in Egypt, and with her class and family behind her, she finds her voice and takes the lead.  The story bounces around a bit and feels a little rough and underdeveloped at times, but the subject matter is important and can be used to help guide discussions, encourage peaceful protesting, and taking action.  There is nothing Islamic specific in the text, the main character’s mom and teita wear hijab and are in the illustrations (#muslimsintheillustrations), in a memory of Egypt there is a man holding a cross.  The author is Muslim and mentions it in the Author’s Note at the end.


The book starts with Kanzi leading the class to the library, she passes the Arabic quilt she helped bring to life and walks a little taller.  She has promised her Teita she will bring home a book with Arabic words from the library, but when she walks in to the library, the “bookcase where the new diverse books were displayed has been emptied.”  The librarian explains that the books have been banned.  That the school district, like many others around the country, have decided certain books are not allowed. Kanzi is upset, but her classmates “gather near (her) in solidarity. They want her to know that they care, too.”

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Back in class the teacher opens up the discussion, and Kanzi can’t find her words.  Kareem says it is unfair and when the teacher explains that people are responding by protesting, writing letters, and buying more copies of banned books.  Kanzi finds her voice and suggests a bake sale.  Kareem suggests they raise money to buy books that are banned and call it “The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale and Protest.” Molly adds that they can put the books in Little Free Libraries. The class agrees that Friday will be the day, that baked foods inspired by books that are banned will be sold to raise funds to buy more banned books, and the local news station will be invited to broadcast the protest.

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Kanzi helps Teita make baklawa from a book they once read, while her grandma tells her stories of protesting in Tahrir Square.  Teita held a banner and demanded rights for the people of Egypt. Friday comes, and the kids are determined to be heard, as the crowd grows, Kanzi’s nerves also grow, but her strength comes from those that support her and who have also spoken up to be heard.

I enjoyed the illustrations and the backmatter.  The inclusion of a baklawa recipe and insight to how this story came about with the banning of The Arabic Quilt, definitely adds to the book’s appeal.  I felt a little disconnect though from the emotions of the book, and oddly enough, little connection to the characters.

I wish it would have shown her joy when she first saw the diverse book display.  How it made her feel seen and valued and included to see books that reflected her and her classmates.  Then we, the readers,  would feel the pain too, now that they are gone.

I also was a little unsure of the scene when all the kids gather around Kanzi in solidarity, why is she the only one upset? Is it that they care about her or that they care that the books are no longer available? Sure it can be both, but again, as it is written, it isn’t particularly strong.


I’m not sure why the three characters named in the book Kanzi, Kareem, and Molly, do not have their names shown on the Arabic quilt pictured in the illustrations, and I also don’t know why it bothered me that the book banned that had baklawa/baklava was not named.  I don’t care that it isn’t a real book, but I wanted a title to make the case of how ridiculous this ban is more articulate.  Additionally, I love Little Free Libraries, but it seemed tossed in without much fleshing out. The book doesn’t explain what Little Free Libraries are, so I’m not sure that kids will even understand the plan.

The book is a decent read, I don’t know that the climax or characters will be memorable on their own, which is unfortunate because connection with the success or failure of this fictionalized book ban really could have radiated out of the book and deeply inspired kids.  The reversal of the boards decision doesn’t directly link to the kids’ actions.  I had to provide that link to my own kid when I read the book to him (he is almost 8).  It is implied, but a line or two about how the kids protest encouraged other people to also speak up, or write letters, or that the school board attended the bake sale, would have shown that when voices amplify it is hard to ignore them.

The book has value on the shelf and can be preordered here https://amzn.to/3C5Baaj

When a Brown Girl Flees By Aamna Qureshi

When a Brown Girl Flees By Aamna Qureshi

when a brown girl flees

I was both nervous and excited to read this contemporary book having loved the author’s fantasy, but unsure how a Brown Muslim Pakistani American girl running away from home would be presented.  Alhumdulillah, the author approached the story from a place of love.  There is no internalized Islamophobia, self othering, or in broad strokes even an identity crisis. The protagonist has made decisions, drastic ones, and is trying to piece her life back together on her own terms, but the love of culture, family and faith, is always upheld.  It reads like Islamic fiction, with very didactic passages and moral positioning, I’m still quite surprised that it is traditionally published.  The version I read had grammar errors, so I’m hoping that they will be corrected when the book releases in a few weeks.  The story is engaging, nut the writing a bit monotone.  Much of the story is telling, not showing, and because of the surface level spoon feeding of so much of the plot, when the catalyst or rationale is not provided, the book seems underdeveloped, or lacking, unfortunately.  I would not recommend this book for the target audience of YA readers (12/13 and up) it contains sex, slut shaming, self harm, depression, suicidal thoughts, physical and emotional abuse, profanity, and mentions drug use.  I do think though, early college age readers will enjoy and benefit from reading the book.  At a time in the reader’s life when they are defining themselves on their own terms, owning up to their own mistakes and laying out a future path, this book will provide relatability amplified by religious and cultural touchstones.  The heart of the story is the connection of a girl with Allah swt after she has sinned, the guilt and regret she feels, and how she finds herself, and returns to try and fix things with her family.  The characters are flawed and the overall messaging beautiful, hopeful and uplifting.  Unfortunately, it just reads like an early draft and I wish it had a bit more refinement.  Keeping that in mind though, it does have a place, and I’m glad to see our “new adults”  can find reflections of  themselves in a piece of literature that amplifies their Islamic identity instead of criticizing or questioning it.


The book starts with Zahra deciding to run away from home.  She parks her car, leaves her phone and catches a flight to New York from California.  The reader doesn’t exactly know why she is running, only that a few days after high school graduation she is escaping a toxic home life, an impending wedding, and a misery.  As the story peels back layers we start to see some of the nuance of what she is running from as characters from her past find her and physical space allows her some perspective to see her own role in her “old” life.  When she arrives in New York, it isn’t the city life that she seeks, but rather the nature and pace of Long Island that offers her a fresh start.  She heads to the masjid, makes a friend, and starts to put her life together without parental obligation, outside interference, and self loathing.  She cannot run forever though and she cannot escape herself.  She must confront her past, own her mistakes, be honest with her new friends, and find peace with her family, not because she has to as a Brown daughter of immigrants, but because she trusts Allah, loves her family, and wants to “fix” things.


I’m a sucker for books that show redemption through the love and mercy of Allah (swt).  Yeah her new friends were idyllic in their family life, relationships and worship, but we all want friends that make us better Muslims, so I let it slide. Islam is centered, she wears hijab, she reconnects with salat, it is her identity even when she is just going through the motions. The author at times conflated culture and faith, but it never issues blanket statements or falls into universal stereotypes for Desi culture or Muslims.  She does a good job of keeping the negatives to the people and the critiques to the failure to push back on dangerous expectations. My issues weren’t the character flaws either, I’m onboard with the messiness of being human and the ability to seek and receive forgiveness from our creator.  I just wanted to feel things more.  So much was just told when it should have been shown.  I wanted to see the stress and anguish of her family life, not simply told it was depressing.  I wanted to see her cutting life long friends out and being isolated, not told she had lost her friends.  The book focuses on her running, and why she ran, but a big plot point for why she ran, having sex, needed more fleshing out.  Why was she driven to such an act? I know that she was depressed, I’m not belittling that, but what pushed her to such a strong stance, when she was already allowed on the school trip, she hadn’t yet been given the ultimatum and over and over the book says “I miss my family,”” I miss my home,” “I miss my mom.”  I didn’t feel the connection or understand what she was feeling, thinking, and it seemed like a huge hole in the book.  For all the themes of mental illness, faith, generational trauma, misogyny, abuse, expectation, depression, lying, culture, life choices, higher education, family dynamics, self harm. the book never quite felt rich with emotion or deeper than the surface level story.  At the beginning the author says she first wrote the book when she was a senior in high school, and while that may have made the main character’s perspective and voice ring true, as a successful author now, I wish she would have added the nuance, the insight, the subtlety that would have drawn the reader in and allowed them to get inside Zahra’s head and heart to see her and perhaps even themselves.


The author and book identify triggers in the book “please be mindful of TWs: depression, anxiety, emotional abuse, physical abuse, self-harm, suicidal ideation, slut-shaming, PTS.”

There is also music, boys and girls alone in cars together, lying, cursing, generational trauma, misogyny, abuse, expectation, depression, anxiety, guilt, life choices, higher education, family dynamics, cutting, a brother who is often high or smells like weed/pot, it mentions partying, a sexual event, deceit, physically assaulted by a parent.  Nothing haram is glorified, but it is there and it is detailed, and not everything is resolved.


I would not be able to shelve or teach this book in an Islamic school library, but in a college MSA book club or a youth group of a similar age this book would be incredible to read and discuss.

Salat in Secret by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Hatem Aly

Salat in Secret by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow illustrated by Hatem Aly


It is quite remarkable in the course of 40 pages that so many themes, layers, emotions, windows, mirrors, and relevance can radiate with ease and entertainment for children four and up.  The authenticity of the text and illustrations create tangible feels in this book, that months after reading it for the first time, I am still moved to tears, both inspired by joy and as a cathartic release of being seen.  The true mastery is that even if you are not Muslim and cannot relate to the nervousness of praying publicly, you understand Muhammad’s hesitancy and feel for him as he battles not just finding a place, but watching onlookers reactions to his father, police proximity, and being brave enough to push yourself even when you are scared.  Usually when asked what my favorite book is, I stumble to narrow it down to just one, but truly this book has raised the bar of not just traditional publishing representation, but Islamic/Muslim literature across the board.  It is a gift to read, to share, to enjoy, and a blessing that such an unapologetic book is available so widely for our children to connect with, and our non Muslim friends to see us through.  Please spend time with this book and make it available to your children, your students, your community, it really is that good, alhumdulillah.


It is Muhammad’s birthday and he is seven, “Old enough to pray five times a day,” his father gifts him a prayer rug, and  Muhammad is ecstatic.  He makes wudu that night and offers salat with full attention.  He says the Sunday school words and shares his most wished for wishes to Allah swt, not even letting little sister, Maryama distract him.

After Fajr the next morning, he is determined to find a secret place at school to pray Dhuhr. Daddy doesn’t need secret places, if prayer time comes he pulls his ice cream truck over and prays on the sidewalk, “never delay salat.”  At school, Muhammad heads to Mrs. Baker to ask for a place to pray, but his confidence waivers and he returns to his seat.


Anxiety about where to pray has him looking for spots throughout the morning, but when recess comes he finds he can’t take the prayer rug out from under his jacket.  He lingers when everyone returns to class and rushes through the words and motions in the coat closet.

That evening he is with his daddy in the ice cream truck and the sunshine and smiles pour out of the two.  When the sun sets it is Maghrib time and Daddy heads to the sidewalk to pray, reassuring Muhammad that he can pray at home.  Muhammad watches his dad and various events spur him to make his decision.


I love love love the way salat is approached with love and excitement and that the dad embodies safety and joy and does not pressure or force Muhammad.  The relationship is beautiful and allows for worship to be seen as both personal, as well as obligatory and merciful.  The duo also show a great parent child dynamic that warms the heart.


I like that there really isn’t any “hate” given to anyone praying, it is hinted at, people do not understood, but the focus is not on the outside bystanders- it is what Muhammad thinks and feels.  I’m fairly certain every Muslim who has prayed in public has encountered a wide variety of responses, and this book keeps the gray to reflect and spark conversation.  It is often met with ignorance, with hate, with aggression, but it is also met with respect, apathy, and curiosity which the text and illustrations allow for.


There is so much love and joy in the book as well as identity, that I don’t mind one bit that my littles ask me to read it over and over.  It is perfect for groups, one-on-one, and I cannot wait to share it in a story time, there is also an incredibly informative and heartfelt Author’s Note at the end.  If you haven’t preordered it yet, the book releases on June 6, 2023, please pre order it and signal the support for this book and future books that center authentic Muslim joy, Black Muslim representation, and OWN voice author and illustrator accuracy.  Request it at your library, put it on hold at your library, check it out, read it.  If you cannot preorder it, still purchase it when you can, inshaAllah it will be a beloved book in your home as well.

Girls Rock: Indonesia by Claudia Bellante illustrated by Josefina Schargorodsky

Girls Rock: Indonesia by Claudia Bellante illustrated by Josefina Schargorodsky


This book is part of a series that claims to want to bring the world closer to American children.  It is based on a true story, with noted liberties taken regarding the protagonists, and yet the Author’s Note says she went to Indonesia and was unable to meet with the characters whose lives the book is about.  I am not against non Muslims and non Indonesians per se writing a book about Muslims in Indonesia, nor am I naïve to the fact that music inspires many and radicalism is a real threat, but to conflate ideas without explanation, and not containing that OWN voice authenticity or biography feel, really leaves this book fighting against self made stereotypes and trying to seem woke and relevant while maintaining a very Western American paradigm of what it means to be happy and fulfilled.  The book (and series) may have had good intentions, but it just felt off to me, and with a publisher suggested reading age of 5-8, I think this book assumes too much about the readers prior understanding of hijab, Quran, Indonesia, music, heavy metal, radicalization, small village life, culture, Islam, Quran, imams, and prejudice and fails to assist in connecting the concepts, opting to use them interchangeably and ultimately making the 32 page book rather pointless.  I think if older children read it, it is one of those books that makes one feel like they are cultured and supportive of those breaking stereotypes, but I think Indonesian and Muslim readers will just be confused about why a book is supporting sneaking and lying and why music is ok, but loud metal is not, and why a Muslim teacher could have a band years before, but the current characters are receiving backlash now, amongst so many other things.


The book starts with basic information about Indonesia: Java, Jakarta, religion, and the motto.  It also includes hijab as something some Muslims wear but does not detail why or what it entails.  It then introduces the reader to three girls that go to school and study Quran, as the pride of their parents and village. The girls feel something is missing and while they are “studying” they in reality are often secretly watch YouTube videos after learning about the heavy metal band Metallica from their teacher.


The girls want to learn to play, but fear their parents will get mad, why they would get mad is not articulated, so they go to their teacher and whisper their passion for heavy metal “as if they are confessing a sin.” Their teacher, Pima, says she used to play in a metal band, and that they can use the instruments in her garage to learn and practice.


So while their parents think they are studying, they are playing music.  The book says music is not against their dreams, not against Islam, they choose to wear hijab, they start to write their own lyrics, and their teacher arranges for a producer to come listen to them. The girls worry the imam will get mad and so will their parents. When a local interview airs, the teacher asks negative folks, “who says a girl in a hijab can’t play loud music? Does the Quran forbid following your dreams?”


Pima regrets letting the naysayers deter her from her music dreams, but earlier said her band broke up when the members moved or got married.  The parents seem fine when a festival in Jakarta is about to happen and presumably they live happily ever after.


The backmatter then throws in radicalism and Muslim feminist groups, and I’m not sure what the takeaway would be for Muslim or non Muslim children reading this book.  I admittedly haven’t read the other books in the series, but I would be skeptical of their portrayal of cultures and religion after reading this one, it isn’t so much that it is wrong, but it just seems to water the reality down to make it more “palatable” and “acceptable” to American children which results in strong themes of “othering” and dismissal.

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib


I was hesitant to read the book, afraid it would pit the author’s two cultures (Egyptian and Filipino) and faiths (Catholic and Muslim) that her parents identified with against each other.  Raised as the daughter of immigrants from very different backgrounds in California I was very pleasantly surprised that the book leads with heart and positivity for the unique, yet universal feelings she experienced in her life.  The short 156 page red, white, and blue filled pages are funny, poignant, and reflective, that I think high school readers and up will enjoy spending time in Cerritos and Egypt through the eyes of Malaka.  It is easy to say that you can’t be Muslim and Catholic, but she doesn’t opine on the right or wrong of it in large terms, she discusses her life and her own situation.  As a teacher I would see students that would attend Islamic school five days a week and then go to church on Sundays, whether you agree with the choices this author/character makes is not what I intend to review, it is her life, but rather the manner in which it is shared.  There are many kids out there from “conflicting” backgrounds, and to see someone take the love and benefits offered to forge their own path in creating their own American dream, was a nice twist on the immigrant identity finding narrative.


The book starts with introductions to the characters, her family members that influence her, and then begins the tales of what brought her Filipino mother and Egyptian father to America, how they met, married, started a family, and divorced. Malaka exists outside her family in school, balancing her heritage and coming of age.  Raised during the school year by her mother and extended Filipino family, she spends summers in Egypt where her father resides with his new wife and children.  Coming of age as an immigrant, balancing cultures, religions, school, and dreams, the book concludes with her marrying a white Southerner and adding to the mix.


Even though she identifies more as Filipino American and goes to Catholic school, there is a fair amount of Islam and Egyptian culture included in the book.  I love that she loves her step mom and step siblings and finds beauty in Islam, learns to pray, read Quran, and mentions her love of Prophet Muhammad saw.  Sure as an Islamic school librarian, I wish she chose Islam, lived it and centered it in her life, but this is not a character, this is a real person, and to see her lovingly showing the goodness in Islam and how it has positively influenced her, is nice to see nonetheless.  There are a few storylines I didn’t quite understand, the skateboarding in Egypt a big one, but the quick pace of her narrative life-story flows well and is easily consumable.  Often stories like this are overly dragged down by dated pop cultural references and over criticizing “othering” paradigms, but this book contains enough to keep it grounded without it alienating contemporary readers.


Stereotypes, lying, relationships, periods, music, dancing, nothing really stands out, there might have been some language, I read it a few days ago and honestly don’t recall anything overly problematic, but content wise it is a mature teenage read with retrospection and marriage being a part of the narrative.

I don’t know that I would shelve or teach this book, but I think it is one to file away in my head for people I might encounter looking for a book about blended faiths and cultures benefitting from the many worlds they have one foot in and one foot out of, and those ultimately looking for a place to see their experiences mirrored.

I found my copy of this book at my local public library and it is also available here from Amazon.

The Together Tree by Aisha Saeed illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The Together Tree by Aisha Saeed illustrated by LeUyen Pham


Being the new kid, not having friends, and being teased are not new themes in literature (or life), so if you are going to write a book about them, take a lesson from Muslim author Aisha Saeed and make sure the story is heartfelt, emotional, and well-told.  There is no Islam in the book, no foreign culture, or teasing because of skin color, it is a boy named Rumi who has moved from San Francisco to the other side of America and his shoes, with their drawings and colorings, that cause the kids to stare and start bullying.  Rumi seeks solace under a willow tree and fellow classmate Han has to be brave to put a stop to the mistreatment by finding his voice and not simply staying silent.  The text and illustrations provide a lot of opportunities for children to see themselves in the story, in the various characters, and ruminate over the actions and feelings from different points of view.  The book is lyrical, it is not heavy handed or preachy, and the Author’s Note at the end is equally touching and hopeful.


Rumi is quiet, and on his first day in Ms. Garza’s class the kids stare at him as he stares out the window.  At recess he wanders off to sit beneath the willow tree when Asher, Ella and Han leave the swings to see what he is up to.  Asher and Ella start to make fun of Rumi, Han is uncomfortable, but stays quiet.

Rumi recalls coloring his shoes with his friends, and how different it was to where he is now, he picks up a twig to twirl as the hurt grows. In music class when the giggling starts, he tries not to cry.  At recess he retreats to his refuge under the tree.

When the bullying escalates, and tears fall, Han speaks up and breaks the cycle. Others follow and see the world Rumi has created with his twig and are drawn to it and to Rumi.  Forgiveness is asked for, and granted and the tree becomes a place of friendship and togetherness.


The Author’s Note shares the real life observations of the author about her son in kindergarten and how while heartbreaking, there was also hope in the concern shown by other kids that simply weren’t sure what to do.  I love that even though Rumi is being teased for his shoes and being different, he doesn’t stop wearing his shoes or try and clean the drawings off.


I think this book is a must read in classrooms and homes were kids can slowly peel back the pieces and see where they can relate, how they can plan to act, and what parts they identify with.  The book is deliberate and slow, and while a child could read it on their own and enjoy the story and illustrations at hand, the real power it has, is being a catalyst for discussion and empathy and speaking up.

Pre order/order here on Amazon



The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

The Night Before Eid: A Muslim Family Story by Aya Khalil illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh


This 40 page early elementary picture book is set the night before Eid and radiates with love from a boy to his Teita, traditional ka’ak, and the family’s Egyptian culture.  The robust and personal backmatter shares a glimpse into the threads from the author’s real life that the story touches upon, and makes the book extend beyond the pages.  It is worth noting that this book does not articulate if it is for Eid al Fitr or Eid al Adha and thus works for both.   There is nothing religious in the book except a reference to something happening after Eid prayer in a memory, and the shape of the cookie being round like the Ramadan moon, Eid day is not mentioned, it is simply the catalyst for this warm family story about a boy and his grandma making a special treat for the first time and sharing it at school.  The large hardback book with fun illustrations is ideal for both story time and bedtime readings alike.


It is the night before Eid and Teita has arrived from Egypt.  Zain can’t wait to make ka’ak to take to school and share with his friends.  The beloved powdered sugar cookies are steeped in tradition, both in Zain’s family and in Egyptian history.  Once the suitcases is unpacked and the special ingredients found, Teita and Mama share memories of baking with cousins, painting henna designs on hands and putting eidiya in envelopes.  The family recalls singing together on the balcony while Geddo played the tabla and lights and lanterns filled the streets below, after Eid prayer they would hand out the ka’ak.


Zain wants the ka’ak to turn out perfectly so his teacher and friends will like them.  Teita tells him that ka’ak is as old as the ancient pharaohs, and that recipes were found in the pyramids.  At one time rulers would even put gold coins in the cookies.  Zain and his Teita mix and add the required ingredients, and drink iced apricot juice as they wait for the dough to be just right.  Getting the cookies pressed with the molds though is harder than it looks, and Zain gets frustrated. Teita’s love and patience and Zain’s clever thinking get the treat making back on track.  The ka’ak doesn’t have a gold coin filling, but they are filled with tradition.


The timeline is a bit off for me with the grandma coming before Eid and then the cookies going to school on Monday, and then Monday evening when Zain is writing down the recipe with Teita he is telling her Eid Mubarak and that it is the best Eid ever.  So, it seems that he went to school on Eid, not to Eid prayers, which is fine, just a little sad that there was no Eid celebration or prayers.  I don’t know that kids will be bothered by it, but the lack of mirroring and stressing how joyous Eid is does somehow get lost and mitigated, in my opinion, by skipping acknowledgement of the religious holiday.   In the backmatter the author remarks that she has “outgrown the magic of Eid,” so perhaps it is intentional that the day is not included in the text.


The last six pages of the book are filled with informative and engaging information about What is Eid, Ka’ak Time Line, A Note from the Author with photographs of her and her family celebrating Eid, a Simple Ka’ak Recipe and Additional Resources.

I purchased my copy from Crescent Moon Store where if you put my initials ISL (Islamic School Librarian) in at checkout you will save 10% or is available here on Amazon where the book currently has a coupon for $3.80 off.

The Ramadan Shield by Fadelah Mahmood illustrated by Ayun Sekar

The Ramadan Shield by Fadelah Mahmood illustrated by Ayun Sekar


This new 32 page rhyming book focuses on a boy who gets frustrated and often loses his temper and how the onset of Ramadan has his father imparting the lesson that fasting isn’t just staying away from food and drink, but also about behavior and controlling your anger.  He shares the hadith of saying “…I’m fasting, I’m fasting,” which is shared in its entirety and sourced at the end.  The book has a lot of text and scenarios in its moral framed telling that creates a bit of a disconnect between the presentation and the target audience.  The characters are fasting, there is no discussion about why they are fasting or that it is a first time fasting (thank you). the child’s art assignment is pretty advanced, and friends are seen independently out and about, but the rhyming lines and illustrations at the end of the kids on the rug seems aimed at a much younger reader/listener.  For my purpose of story times to children 4-9 it is a great choice, because it can appeal to the large range of relatability and attention spans, but for repeated readings in a home, it might need some shortening or additional explaining to connect as intended.


The story starts with Nuh working on an assignment to draw and paint a picture of the Kaba, but it keeps coming out tilted and he crumples and throws page after page.  His dad snuggles him close and explains that Shabaan is over and Ramadan is about to start which means that he needs to go without food and water, but also work on his behavior.  He explains, how to use the advice of saying, “Fasting is my shield; I will not be defeated! I am fasting, I am fasting.”


Empowered by the words, Nuh starts his next morning remembering his father’s advice.  When he spills water on his painting he remembers the advice. When a grocery cart collision at the store with his nemesis gets his fist clenching, he remembers his father’s advice.  He even gets a chance to share his knowledge with his friends.


When the day is over he is eating iftar with his family and determined to keep his temper at bay throughout he whole month and beyond, inshaAllah, starting with him trying his drawing of the Kaba again.


I like that the focus is on behavior, I think that is a good reminder for older kids, and something younger kids that may or may not be fasting need to implement in Ramadan.  I also like that the parents are encouraging and invested, but not controlling the individual situations.  The book is preachy, and when the kid takes the lesson and starts preaching it to him, it is a little heavy handed, but I think it fits with the nature of the book.  I appreciate that the kid knows what Ramadan and fasting is, so that the lesson can go a bit deeper in this Islamic fiction story.

I got my copy from Crescent Moon store, and you can get yours there as well by clicking this link here.  If you use code ISL (Islamic School Librain initials) at checkout you will save 10%,

Nayra and the Djinn by Iasmin Omar Ata

Nayra and the Djinn by Iasmin Omar Ata


Set in Ramadan this graphic novel for middle grades has a coming of age theme brought to life with fantasy, religious practices, and storylines of bullying, acceptance, and folklore.  Nayra is fasting, she prays, she says bismillah and Assalamualaikum, her  practice of her deen is never in question and by and large I don’t know that anything is “haram” in the Islamic representation.  Yes, she says bismillah in julus, the sitting position of salat, there is sihr, magic. done by the djinn, and a lot of liberties about the ghayb (you can’t really disprove them), but honestly my biggest problem with this book is that somehow even though it is a graphic novel, more visual than text, there is way too much telling and not enough showing.  The reader is told that there is bullying, but only shown that one girl calls her “baba ghanoush,” we are told over and over that she is friends with Rami and that she needs to fix the relationship, but we never see what the friendship was before, only the forced awkwardness that it is now. The inside flap of the book stereotypes the “strict family,” but we never really see them being overly demanding or difficult, and the conclusion is very naïve with both the two girls and the two djinn resolving everything on Eid. I wanted to care about the characters, but never felt a connection to their stresses, traumas, and relationships, and many mirror my own life.  In full transparency though, I must acknowledge to you all, that I do not read a lot of fantasy graphic novels or even comic books, if the choppiness, and lack of depth is what makes the genre work for others, then this book will be fun with its pink and purple pallet and tracking of the Ramadan moon.  I really might just be the wrong person to review this OWN voice djinn fantasy authored by a Palestinian Muslim who like her fictitious djinn goes by they/them pronouns.


Nayra is being picked on by Tanya for messing up in volleyball in PE, and gets to calling Nayra “baba ganoush.”  When the book opens Nayra fasting for Ramadan is what Tanya chooses to attribute Nayra’s lacking skill too, and Nayra is ready to find a new school.  Her family offers no support, her older siblings set the bar high and got through by ignoring the bullies, and expect her to do the same.  The one other Muslim at school is Rami, and Nayra needs a break from her, they meet to break fast every evening, but Rami is exhausting.  When an online forum somehow gets a visit from a djinn, Nayra offers to be the anchor that Marjan needs to escape the ghayb and exist in the human world.  Marjan’s past comes back to haunt them, and when Zirkouniya arrives, there is only so much protection the month of Ramadan can offer as Eid arrives and the djinn are returned to full strength.  Djinn and human alike will have to own up to their mistakes, forgive others, and rebuild the relationships that matter.


I like the Ramadan centering, and appreciate that the coming of age story line was not an identity crisis about Nayra’s faith.  I  finished the book feeling like I didn’t understand much.  There was a lot of build up for a strict family, and djinn wisdom, that just didn’t exist.  The conflict with the friends was superficial and the resolution the same.  Maybe I missed the visual resonance as I tend to enjoy lyrical writing and relatable text, but the story seemed really simplistic, and the characters flat.

I honestly don’t know if the liberties of the djinn world and djinn themselves goes too far or if folklore, mythology, and fantasy give it fictional protection.  There are details that perhaps come from culture, or are completely made up, I don’t know.  Djinn in Islam are real, they are made of smokeless fire, some are good, some are bad, they have genders, and families, and feelings, and communities.  Outside of that, I don’t know much, and do not presume to, when I sent @bintyounus some of the pictures from the book, she remarked, “Djinn are part of the Ghayb/unseen, So it’s not like we say oh none of it is true, but we also don’t take it as 100% true.”

The magic is minor just a fixing of a flower and flower pot, so in reality the only fantasy are the details about the djinn and the journey to the djinn world.


Lying, bullying, magic, sneaking out.


There is not enough in the book to discuss in a book club, and because of the lacking resonance, I don’t know that most kids would read the book or be interested in it. I can see it being thumbed through, but I don’t think it would be finished by Muslim kids at the Islamic school, or by my own children.  Those that know the Islamic view of djinns won’t find that enough of a hook when the story inside is about a friendship, and not a particularly deep or fleshed out one.  They might see the bullying as relatable, but being called baba ganoush doesn’t really seem that bad compared to what many endure and pining for friends, when you have a very loyal friend, also will probably be met with some confusion.

A Bit of Earth by Karuna Riazi

A Bit of Earth by Karuna Riazi


This Secret Garden retelling mixes the heart of the original with a dash of modernity, the flavor of desi culture, and the lyricism of a good writer.  Over 368 pages the slow plot but rich imagery will draw readers in, hold their attention, and leave them thinking about the characters they have been fortunate to spend time with on Long Island.  Islam is practiced and normalized and naturally woven into the Muslim characters’ daily lives without othering or over explaining.  I did struggle a bit trying to keep the relationships of who was supposed to be caring for the protagonist at various points since her parent’s died clear, but once I abandoned stressing about it I was able to be swept away.  I recently reread The Secret Garden with my own children and the original is not plot heavy, nor action packed, but I watched as my own children were drawn to the slower, more grounded (pun intended) nuanced tale, and I think this book, in the same vein, will find its way in to the hearts of middle grade readers.  The book is clean, there is a possible crush hinted very slightly at the end, periods are also endured, and I do have reservations of the terrible marital relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Clayborne, but it establishes that change will occur, so at least it isn’t normalized.  There are sprinkles of magic implied regarding the house, but it is always framed without clarity and in a subtle way to set the tone and the emotions the characters are feeling more than centralizing something rooted (see I did it again) in fantasy.


The book updates and mirrors the original fairly well with an obstinate orphan arriving at a sprawling house, finding a prickly boy, and setting off to form a tentative toleration of one another with friendly neighbor kids in a garden that is unquestionably off limits.

Maria Latif arrives from Pakistan against her will to be taken in by a distant relative (I’m not sure how she is related), but Asra has been called away and she is forced to stay with Lyndsay, the new wife of Mr. Clayborne.  The first wife was a friend of Maria’s family, but Lyndsay is just as emotionally overwhelmed and lost as the child in her charge.  With Mr. Clayborne away on businesses, his mother Charlotte keeps them all on edge.  When Colin Clayborne is expelled and returns home, more tension erupts and the two children find themselves in an off limits garden trying to make the most of a difficult situation.


I love the mix of poetry and standard novel format.  It is beautifully written and clearly the author does a remarkable job of making her very unlikeable characters worm their way in to the reader’s heart.  Both Maria and Colin are thorny and difficult, stubborn and rude, but you seriously cheer for them, and I did shed a few tears at the end.  With the author’s writing ability apparent, I’m still not sure why the foundation of the relationships and getting Maria to the Clayborne home is so cumbersome.  It is too muddled and it drags the book down every time it is revisited.  The Dadi having the aunt’s phone number was too easy, the inconsistency of the neighbors having no relationship to the Clayborne’s for so long and Lyndsay not even pausing to think another Bangladeshi family living a few houses down might be my husband’s first wife’s friends, seems inconsistent.  Honestly Lyndsey in general needed to read like a competent woman struggling, not a teenager in over her head. I disliked her and Mr. Clayborne’s relationship and I would hate to think any reader would find it ok or normal.

I love the Islam and how it presents when the character has to pray, she goes and prays, it is part of the story and it is seamless.  I don’t think the culture is handled quite as well.  Lyndsay is a foot writer who is always cooking, yet knows nothing of desi foods? If Colin’s mom is desi, wouldn’t she at some point tried to cook familiar foods for him.  Half the neighborhood is Bangledeshi, so it seems everyone has a parent or step parent or distant relative that is desi and I loved the normalizing, but it seemed a bit assuming.  I don’t think kids will wish it was more clear, but as an adult reading it, I felt like it needed to be interjected more without explanation, or if left as is, adding some context. I also wanted to know what Maria’s parents did and a little introspection from Maria.  Again as an adult I see how her anger and grief changes how she remembers them, but from them always being away, to such soft poignant memories at the end, I think kids will need a little hand holding to understand the grief process and her understanding of them.  As it is, they just seem terrible and then all of the sudden great, and the pacing gets thrown off in the process.


It seems to hint at the end that Maria might have a bit of a crush on Colin, I honestly thought up until a single line that they were making a chosen family with the people who cared for them, but that line seemed to suggest it might be more of a romantic feeling than friend or brotherly.  I read an early copy, so this is subject to change.

Maria gets her period and it is detailed what she is feeling.  I think boys and girls can and should read it.  It is presented on age and appropriately: cramps, achy, dry about blood leakage, having it start young like her mother, etc..

Implied magic (possibly), music and musical instruments being played, milaad, lying, sneaking, being kicked out of school for physical assault, close male and female friendships, ADHD stigma.


I think this book would work in a classroom and would appeal to readers in an Islamic or public library.  I would consider it for a middle school book club, I think readers will connect and feel empathy for Maria, Colin, and Lyndsay and be better for it.

I preordered my copy HERE and I hope you will do the same