Tag Archives: self published

Little Leena Learns about Ramadan by Zainab Fadlallah

Little Leena Learns about Ramadan by Zainab Fadlallah


I was excited to see this 20 page book in my public library, and then once I started reading it I was equal parts frustrated, disappointed, and honestly a little upset.  The book is an example of what I posted a reel about a few days ago, about an over used, unrealistic, textbook fact share of Ramadan from a kid’s perspective in a plotless book.  In this book it is Little Leena waking up from a nap smelling something delicious and finds her family eating and wondering why.  She is told by her sister it is the ninth month of the lunar calendar, the new moon has been sighted.  Oh sure there are some mentions of cakes and cupcakes, but seriously, come on, what three year olds have a working knowledge of moon phases but don’t know what Ramadan is, know what “blessed Ramadan” means but have never heard “Ramadan Mubarak.” Ramadan is explained to be special because we try and be extra kind, and not because it is the month we are told to fast, and we get more blessings for being kind, and the month the Quran was revealed.  Yes I appreciate that hijabs are not worn in the house, but are worn outside, and the excitement and joy are visible, but how can you have a book this centered on Ramadan that contains no Islam in it.  You can’t say on the back that it is learning about “what the occasion is all about” if there are no religious inclusions: it does not say that it is an act of worship, that fasting is prescribed by Allah swt in the Quran, that we pray extra, there is nothing, it doesn’t even attribute Ramadan and Eid to a religion, sigh.  My frustration isn’t just in this book, it is in this growing trend that this book is a part of sadly.  Why have an OWN voice adorably illustrated book claiming to be teaching about Ramadan, when the religion is completely absent? If it was a cultural, or family traditional book of joy with or without Ramadan facts blended in, I might see what it was trying to accomplish, but a book for early elementary, from a toddlers perspective that is so formulaic misses the mark in my opinion, both in educating the target audience or in helping young Muslims feel seen.


The book starts with Little Leena waking up from a nap and smelling something delicious.  She wonders if mummy has been baking cookies, or cupcakes with sprinkles, or maybe a chocolate cake.  She decides to go have a look and finds colorful lights and decorations and a magnificent chocolate cake.  She also finds her family sharing a meal, she asks what is going on and learns that it is Ramadan.


Leena’s sister Safiyya explains that “Ramadan is the ninth month of the Lunar calendar” and “it starts as soon as the new moon is sighted.”  She further explains that “Grown ups fast from when the sun rises till the sun sets”  she says brave kids are welcome to try too.  I’m not sure what being brave has to do with fasting, to me determined or even strong would be better words to use as fasting isn’t scary, and kids are encouraged to try, not forced.


Leena then wants her sister to explain what fasting is, and Leena can’t believe it means no food or drink during the day light hours.  Leena asks what makes Ramadan special, and is told, “Ramadan is special because during the month we try to be extra kind and do as many good deeds as we can.”  It does not say why we try and be extra kind though, before reminding that we also “try to remember to be grateful for all the things we have.” It is worth noting that in the illustration on this spread it has a Ramadan sign, that is spelled Ramadhan, not that one transliteration is write or wrong, but to have both in a children’s book is a little confusing.


Leena then finds some presents and Saffiya explains that they are for Eid when Ramadan is over and we wear new clothes and get presents.  The two then discusses their love of presents and saying Ramadan Mubarak.


The 8.5 inch square book is short, but the image quality and hardback binding in this library edition is nice, it just adds nothing in my opinion to the genre, to conveying to Muslim and non Muslims what Ramadan is and why it is important.  I worry that libraries might think this is good as our Ramadan reads are and not budget to get much better, engaging, reflective stories as a result.

The Adventures of Nur Al-Din by Badees Nouiouat

The Adventures of Nur Al-Din by Badees Nouiouat

nur al din

I really enjoyed this book.  It is self published, and the expectation was zero and I honestly read all 214 pages in two sittings. I probably could have read it faster, but ahh kids and dinner, and my middle school son somehow got to it to read when I put it down.  We both enjoyed the quick pace, the strong Islamic presence, and the historical fiction based plot.  The book has a bit of language, hell and damn a few times, mentions prostitution and a brothel in two instances, and alcohol is present, but it is always crystal clear on Islamic and Muslim behavior.  The book is linear and straight forward and  probably YA readers will appreciate it, but I think it really is a middle school aged read, I think technically that makes it Young YA or Lower YA.  My only small grievance is the modern slang.  I appreciate that it isn’t written like Treasure Island and that you understand what the pirate crew is saying in plain modern English, but the few mentions of “idiot,” “chill out,” and “awesome” stick out very obviously and could easily be “fixed.”  Overall, so very impressed by the consistent pacing, historical references, writing quality, and internal reflection on our ummah’s strengths and weaknesses.


Farid is a young boy in Tunisia, and as the Spaniards start to flex their influence, his life begins to change.  The son of a fisherman, the family can barely enter the waters under the watchful eyes of the Spanish fleets.  When approached after a fight to join an Islamic pirate crew by Captain Aruj of the Barbarossa and his brother Khidr, he decides to leave his family and stretch his wings.   Having always dreamed of being in a leadership role, his optimism, and eagerness is quickly put to the test as the crews’ first mission in Northern Africa fails and sends the pirates scrambling on land.  They journey to the Mosque of Uqba (Great Mosque of Kairouan), and get help from the Emir in Tunis to replenish their losses.  It is then onto Tripoli where friendships and internal issues of race, and nationality threaten the cohesion of the Muslim pirates.  But it is in Spain where things really come to a head and Farid finds himself separated from his crew, in-prisoned for years, and tested both physical and emotionally that the story finds its climax before ending, and leaving the reader ready for more.


I have a soft spot for historical fiction, the original American Girl books for me were treasures to behold.  So the setting of this book really won me over: the mention of rulers, historical landmarks, the pain of the Inquisition on Spanish Muslims, the fact that there was a not just one map in the book, but two, all great things.  Like I mentioned above the pacing of the book is quick, from start to finish, and it is a pirate story so there is death, violence, battles, killing, and treason, but seeing as often in books about these type of things, I find myself glossing over the long detailed battle scenes, I was grateful that they are short and quick and possibly overly simplified.  It discusses weaponry, but it is not detailed, no glossary is needed, although there is one of the Islamic words at the beginning.  As for the Islam presence, it is very much a part of the story.  They raid a ship, the alcohol goes in the sea, they call athan differently, the characters discuss different madhhabs, just rulers are just even if they aren’t Muslim, and terrible rulers can also be Muslim, it doesn’t shy away from internal reflection and I appreciate that.  The only thing that caught my attention of being unaccounted for Islamically was when Farid puts on red and gold pants to head in to battle.  One- that seems the opposite of camouflage, and two- many Muslim don’t find it permissible for men to wear red and gold, obviously different people feel differently, but it seemed odd that the colors were specifically mentioned in such a quick moving book to no end.

Character-wise, I wanted a little more insight into Sameer and his racism, I also would have liked a little more about Farid’s first day in the sun after imprisonment.  I liked that the Jewish struggles under King Ferdinand in Spain weren’t just mentioned, but were brought in to the story.  And while I appreciate the reasoning for showing that Muslims were hiding behind a brothel to participate in learning and worship and thikr, that and the mention of a woman trying to seduce Farid in the street, both make the target audience a little more mature than the rest of the book might warrant otherwise.


There is killing, fighting, raiding, stealing and there is plenty of physical violence.   The book mentions prostitution, seduction, and there is a fleeting glance at a woman that the main character pauses for, knowing he should lower his gaze, but then she is rescued and never seen or heard from again.  There is mention of alcohol as it is captured, as non Muslims stagger around drunk, etc.. There are a few curse words used a few times each: damn and hell and God.


I think I would absolutely do this for a middle school book club amongst a mature group of girls and boys.  It is an easy read, but the discussions would be phenomenal as history and context would all come in to play.

For the sake of buzz and growth and attention, I hope the author will shop the book around, if he hasn’t already, see if it can be published on a larger platform and gain some traction.  We need books like this, solid Islamic fiction books, that aren’t shy to show our strengths and weaknesses and inspire our youth.