This new early chapter book series from Ruqaya’s Bookshelf comes as a boxed set (Books 1-5), so I wasn’t sure if I should review all of them as a collection, or just the first book. I don’t typically review additional books in a series, but these books can be read out of order and stand alone just fine. Ultimately, I’m just going to review the first book, but know the entire series is silly, clean and engaging for ages 7 and up (2nd grade will love these), they will connect with boys, girls, Muslims, non Muslims, and get readers of all ages smiling, if not laughing, at Ali’s outrageous adventures and choices. Ali is presumably Muslim, the author is Muslim, the publisher is Muslim, but there is nothing religious at all in the text. Even the one about Eid is very culture framed, not “I’m Muslim and this is what we do and why,” so to speak. In Ali and the Gladiator there is a friend named Abdullah, his parents are referred to as Mama and Baba, they eat at Moe’s Shawarma Shop, and eat daal and roti at home, so there are hints of culture and religion that will further mirror a Muslim reader’s experience, but the focus is on the hilarious situations that Ali finds himself getting in to and out of with good friends, kindness, enthusiasm, and bravery. All the books are about 60 pages long with short chapters, detailed pencil style drawings every few pages, inviting text, and an activity at the end.
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Ali really wants to impress his teacher, Mr. O’Reilly and a big project on Rome will be a great opportunity to do so, but he isn’t anxious to get started. He has his April Party to prepare for, his friends to hang out with, and plus he knows he works best under pressure. When he finally realizes he should get started, all the books on Rome are checked out, save a small book on the floor, yes Ali is on the floor in the library. The book is about how to become a gladiator and that gives Ali an idea. As his imagination works out the details he is off to his favorite store, the hardware store. He has weapons to make and actors to train, and beasts to tame. The assignment is supposed to be written, but Ali is extra and he does not want to be boring. When he raises his hand to go first in the presentation, Mr. O’Reilly is confused, no one is presenting, they are just handing in their reports, but when gladiators and a “ferocious” cat enter the room, it is clear that Ali has his own way of doing most everything.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that it is fun and well written. The characters grow and the writing and descriptions smooth, the illustrations add detail and the books are perfectly silly for their intended audience. So many books for this demographic resort to brattiness or potty humor, and I love that these are outrageous shenanigans, but they don’t cross into being obnoxious
I do wish there was more Islam in the books, or really any. It doesn’t need to be Islam centered of preachy, but to add a bit of depth to the characters and flesh out their backgrounds would have been nice. The desi foods are included, why not mention halal or toss in some inshaAllahs or that Ali gets to work on his weapons after fajr.
I absolutely love the presentation of all five books in a hard glossy case. They look lovely on a shelf and would make wonderful gifts for Eid, or any time really.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I hope to have these in our school library, and encourage the 2nd and 3rd grade teacher to look in to having them on their classroom shelves. Kids will be tempted to pick them up off the shelf, they will thumb through them and be drawn in, inshaAllah once they read one, they will read the whole series, and if that isn’t praise for a book series, I don’t know what is. Happy Reading!