Tag Archives: tradition

Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

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Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds by Samira Ahmed

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Make sure you are sitting in a comfy spot when you crack open this middle grades fantasy adventure, because it hits the ground running from the very beginning and doesn’t let up over 368 pages.  The like-able and relatable brother sister duo snarkily banter and bicker about everything from cultural Indian (Desi) folklore, religious stories, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, He-Man, Arabic Sesame Street, Star Wars, hygiene, fears, potential science fair projects, and food, all while battling jinn, devs, peris, and reality as they work to save the worlds.  The book is chalked full of STEM concepts, cultural touchstone, Islamic footholds, pop culture, and fun, as one character remarks, it is the ultimate fan fiction. I regularly Googled people, references, and concepts, and ended up learning quite a bit.  And don’t fret if you ever get lost or confused, or something doesn’t make sense, you don’t have to worry that you missed something or that the author left a gap in the narrative, the book moves quick and Amira’s constant dialogue and commentary points out all the ridiculousness of what they are experiencing and the questions that she wishes she had time to ask, explore, and discover.  The author never loses control of the narrative, and keeps the world building on level without skimping on details and understanding.  I have not loved any of the author’s previous books in their entirety, I think this one, however, is her best one yet, and the switch to middle grades is a good fit.  

SYNOPSIS:

Twelve-year-old Amira and her 10-year-old brother Hamza are heading to the Shriner’s Madinah Temple in their hometown of Chicago to explore the exhibit of Ancient Astronomy artifacts, or as Hamza calls it “tools that belonged to dead Muslim Astrologers.”  Hosted by the Islamic Society of Ancient Astronomy corresponds with the eclipse viewing party of the incredibly rare super blood blue moon.  In typical Hamza fashion however, a Nerf gun is brought and things are touched.  When Amira is tasked with bringing her brother up to the roof to learn how to use the telescopes, the two scuffle over a small box with a tiny moon inside, a series of snatching and tussling between the siblings cause the Box of the Moon to break, or rather start working.  As day turns to night, the moon seems to be breaking a part, and everyone in the world is suspended in sleep except for Amira and Hamza, and an entire jinn army is heading their way.

When jinn leaders Abdul Rahman and Maqbool reach the children they must convince them that they are not there to harm them, but rather to recruit them as the chosen ones to save the worlds: Qaf and Earth and the barrier, the moon, that keeps the realms separate from destruction at the hands of Ifrit.  The confusion over there being two of them creeps up, but is squashed as Suleiman the Wise left tests to prove that the chosen one is properly equipped to battle Iftrit as it has been prophesized.  The children must work together to prove themselves they must then actually seek out and defeat Ifrit.  As tests and challenges arise, it becomes clear (pun intended) that the two are not the chosen ones, but with no option of turning back they must forge ahead none-the-less.

“What? We’re Indian, dude, we were basically born half doctor.”

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love Amira and Hamza’s banter.  The references are at times laugh out loud funny.  Similarly, I was impressed by all the historical and STEM concepts intertwined in the story, there is even a tiny bit about mental health.  I learned about parts of the moon, historical figures, folklore, and more.  The characters are Muslim, Amira wears Ayatul Kursi around her neck and they talk of Sunday school.  The book isn’t religious though, in they aren’t saying Bismillah before they embark on things, or supplicating when in danger, but they greet different beings with peace, and the framing is clearly from an Islamic paradigm.  I think the high speed pacing works for most of the book, and somehow you still get to know and connect with the characters, but at times a slight pause to clarify a point would have been nice.  I would have liked to have the kids proving they were the chosen ones a bit more articulate and dramatic before hand rather than in retrospect.  I feel like the jinn transportation of cauldrons could have used a bit of backstory as well.  And a little fleshing out of the scroll, the government structure and communication methods of Qaf, would have helped some of the transitions between the action.  I read a digital ARC and it had a page reserved for a map, and I think when the physical book comes out that will be really helpful, as I didn’t quite fully understand the 18 realms and their locations  in comparison to the locations the children encounter.  

FLAGS:

There is magic and magical beings.  It mentions Amira and Hamza celebrating Halloween. Death and fighting.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this would be a great audio book to listen to with the family or a read aloud in a middle grades classroom.  It is too young for middle school readers to not find it slightly predictable, but if you had it on a classroom or home shelf I am sure it would be picked up, read, enjoyed by middle grades and middle schoolers alike.  It reads much like the Rick Riordan Presents series and I hope that there are more books featuring Amira and Hamza in the future.

 

Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Shirin Adl

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Mabrook! A World of Muslim Weddings by Na’ima B. Robert illustrated by Shirin Adl

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This 32 page lyrical 9 x 11 hardback book with playful illustrations is a celebration on the similarities of all Muslim weddings and the cultural distinctions that make them unique.  Four countries are highlighted: Pakistan, Morocco, Somalia, and Great Britain, and I really wish there were more.  The book is written on an early elementary level, but would make a great wedding present, or even a text to be shared at interfaith gatherings that focus on traditions and women’s rights.  It is joyous and informative complete with a glossary and info blurb at the end.

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The book starts out with verse 30:21, Chapter ar-Rum in the Holy Qur’an and then jumps in to jubilations of mabrook, congratulations.  It establishes what countries will be explored and that Muslims get married sharing religious rites, but different celebrations.

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In Pakistan there’s a henna party and the groom rides in on a horse.  The brides are adorned with bangles of gold and guests enjoy biriyani and rasmalai.

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In Morocco the entire neighborhood helps prepare couscous and roasted lamb with olives and pickled lemons.  At the waleemah the bride is carried in on a chair, and changes outfits seven times.

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In Somalia, buraanbur is danced and blessings are sung to the mother of the bride.

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In England the ginger bearded imam marries the groom to his hijab wearing bride in white.  There are people of all faiths and backgrounds there to celebrate and wish them well.

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But before all of that, there are meetings with families, prayers, important conversations, agreement to the marriage contract, the woman is given a mahr and guidance is sought.

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A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky illustrated by Rotem Teplow

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A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky illustrated by Rotem Teplow

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A story about the Morrocan Jewish holiday, Mimouna, that marks the end of Passover introduces readers to a small but growing Jewish celebration from Northern Africa.  Stemming from the historical fact of Jews often borrowing flour from their Muslim neighbors to make the traditional Maufletot, thin pancakes, after a week of not eating flour.  The story focuses on a Jewish girl and a Muslim girl meeting each other, celebrating with each other, and finding similarities between Ramadan and Mimouna.  Over 36 pages, kindergarten to second grade readers will get an introduction to two different faith holidays and see that friendship and kindness are possible everywhere.

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It is the last day of Passover in Fes and Miriam is tired of eating quickly baked unleavened matzah crackers, she is ready for the sweet dough pancakes of Mimouna, and she is willing to help her mom make them.  But before Passover, all flour was removed from the home, and she asks her mother where they can get flour tonight before the  party.

Mom and Miriam begin to walk.  They leave the part of town that Miriam is familiar with and Miriam sees a building with a dome and minarets.  “What is that?” she asks.  Her mother replies, “It is a mosque, where our Muslim neighbors pray.”

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They then enter a courtyard where a woman and her daughter about the same age as Miriam appear and invite them in for tea.  The two women say salaam and kiss each other’s cheeks.  Miriam’s mom gives the other lady a jar of fig jam and invites her and her family to come to the house to celebrate Mimouna with them. When the women are done drinking tea, Jasmine is asked to go to the store room for two bags of flour and Miriam is sent to help.  Jasmine is told one bag is for them, and one is for their guests.  The two shy girls go get the flour, and when Miriam trips, Jasmine catches the bag just in time.

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On the way home, Miriam has so many questions about the lady and how her mother knows her and how come they don’t have a jasmine vine. But, when they get home there is a lot of work to be done before the guests start to arrive.

By the time Jasmine and her parents come the house is full and music is being played and songs are being song.  The first plate of maufletot goes to Miriam’s grandfather, and when she trips and they go flying it is Jasmine who catches them.  The girls giggle and Miriam teaches Jasmine to play the song, “Alalla Mimouna” on her tambourine.

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The party moves from house to house and at one home green wheat is dipped in milk and sprinkled over everyone’s head as a blessing for the upcoming year.  By the time the girls get back home they are tired, and as they share one last pancake, Jasmine tells Miriam about the nightly feasts of Ramadan after a day of fasting.  She invites Miriam to join them, and Mariam is excited, but Mariam’s mom explains that they are moving to Jerusalem.

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The following year on Mimouna Night, Mariam heads to the store to buy flour, but thinks of her friend Jasmine back in Morocco as she smells the jasmine growing in her home, and wonders if her friend is also thinking about her.

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The author is an Amerian Israeli, and I was nervous that there would be political overtones, but she deliberately wanted to avoid that and focus instead on presenting this little known Jewish holiday in an interfaith manner.  There is an info section at the end of the book explaining Mimouna and a recipe for moufletot.  In author interviews you can read more about how the story came to be, and what her hopes were in telling it: https://jewishbooksforkids.com/2021/03/14/interview-with-allison-ofanansky-author-of-a-sweet-meeting-on-mimouna-night/

Sitti’s Olive Tree by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

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Sitti’s Olive Tree by Ndaa Hassan illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

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This lovely 27 page book is a story infused with love, culture, and olive oil.  The hardbound, large thick pages are richly illustrated as the text, perfect for ages preschool to second grade, tell of the olive harvesting season in Palestine.  The story is framed between a young girl learning about the past from her grandma’s memories and enjoying the olive oil sent by her uncles from their homeland.  The story is warm and informative and does not discuss politics or conflict. There is a key hanging on a map of Palestine in the illustrations, but nothing in the text.

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Young Reema watches her Sitti make hummus. When a drop of olive oil slips down the side of the bottle and Sitti wipes it up and rubs it in Reema’s hair.  Reema wants to know how olive oil, zeit zaytoun, can be used in such different ways. As Reema is reminded of how far the oil has traveled and recalls that her Sitti never buys olive oil at the store, the two settle in for Sitti to tell Reema some of her memories about the harvest on her ancestral land.

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Olive harvesting season comes at the end of the year and the families gather to pick the olives and fill the buckets before climbing ladders and catch the falling olives on blankets.  The elders sort them, and at the end of the day they eat and drink tea and coffee and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

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They tell stories to pass on to the next generation just like Sitti is doing to Reema, because the olives keep the families together.  Sitti hopes one day Reema will go to Palestine and play among her family’s trees.

I wish there was a bit more detail about the hummus, it seems to imply that the garbanzo beans are whole and not smooshed or blended, also when it lists the other things Sitti’s grandparents would do with the olives, the list is olive oil, olive soap and olives for eating.  I would imagine there are more things to do with the olives, even perhaps detailing the way the olives for eating are pickled, or preserved, or prepared would have been nice.

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There is a glossary of a few terms at the end.  There is nothing religious in the text, but many of the women wear hijab in the illustrations.

Overall this book is well done and serves an important point in showing a culture that is rich and full, aside from conflict and politics.  It is a sweet story between a grandmother and her granddaughter and shows how stories, traditions, and food help pass on culture and heritage.

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The Storyteller of Damascus by Rafik Schami illustrated by Peter Knorr

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The Storyteller of Damascus by Rafik Schami illustrated by Peter Knorr

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This book is not a quick read, it begs to be read aloud and the pictures poured over.  The 48 heavily text filled pages are a trip back in time before the tale twists in on itself and becomes a story that gets more outrageous with each upgrade.  It claims to be for grades first through fourth, but I think it would need a lot of hand holding and attention to get any children to read it.  The story would really come to life at bedtime with a loved one, or in a classroom with discussion, but I don’t know that most children in that demographic would willingly pick up the book, read it, enjoy it and reflect on it, without some guidance.  The illustrations show characters in hijab and thumbing tasbeehs, the text mentions Allah swt and in phrases calling on Him in exasperation.  There is a “kiss”, it is a love story after all, and some demons and sorcery, but I think it is clean enough and silly enough that kids of all ages will enjoy it and not find it offensive or scary.

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Many years ago an old man in the old city of Damascus, would walk around carrying a large chest and tell stories.  Four lucky kids for only one piaster each could look into the chest and see the images of the story, the other children could listen to the story for free.  He didn’t come often, but when he would come the children would rush to meet him and listen to the stories, their favorite the one of Sami and Leyla.

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Sami was a shepherd boy, he was beautiful, but poor.  Leyla was the daughter of the richest farmer in the village and after their “accidental” kiss Leyla and Sami met every evening despite Leyla’s father forbidding it.  The whole village is in a buzz over the two lovebirds.  When Leyla is kidnapped, her father reluctantly tells Sami that if he can bring her back then they can marry.  When Sami returns with her, Leyla’s father pretends to be ill and in need of milk from a lioness.  Once again he promises that if Sami can obtain the milk than the two can marry.  Sami not only gets the milk, but returns riding a lion.  Leyla’s dad says that he is brave indeed, but that his daughter can only marry a rich man and needs to pay 300 camels as dowry.  Sami heads to Damascus to steal the camels from the king, but gets caught and put in prison.  Lucky for Sami, a dove comes to visit him and after he saves her life, she grants him one wish.  Yes, the animals can talk.  The camels and freedom are granted, but still Leyla’s father is not willing to allow the marriage.  He summons a sorcerer to send demons to turn his daughter in to a lizard.  When night after night the demons fail and beat the sorcerer, it is revealed that the father hired him.  The next day the two are married.

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Over time the pictures in the chest began to fade and new pictures from modern advertisements are used to replace the traditional images.  Leyla becomes Colgate, yes, from a toothpaste advertisement.  She has a glorious smile and is now the daughter of a car dealer who drinks only Fresh Mountain mineral water.  She gets kidnapped and Sami hears about it on his Filix portable radio that she is being held in a club and is forced to serve ice-cold Coca-Cola.  The story continues like this, but at some point the children in the story become bored with the new version, and sing the jingles for the items mentioned instead, until the story teller packs up and leaves.

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Two years pass and no one has heard from the story teller, some say he went mad, others that he died.  Then one day he comes back to town and the children all run to listen to his stories.  There is a chest to peer in, but there is nothing inside, like magic however, when the old man starts to tell his story, the images appear in the minds of the children.

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The illustrations are wonderful and detailed, and radiate warmth and richness.  The conversation I had after with my own kids, about what was valued and the power of stories is so powerful to see dawning on the listeners.  They get it, they do, and they realize how ridiculous the “updates” were.  When they realize it is the story teller and the magic of being together and sharing a story, they too become one of the children in the book and it is wondrous to observe.

Sadiq Wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Niloufer Wadia

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Sadiq Wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Niloufer Wadia

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This 40 page AR 4.5 book touches on gender norms and breaking cultural expectations, as well as a mother’s love and a child’s determination.  The beautifully illustrated pages show Kashmir’s landscapes and culture.  The message is for third graders and up with its longer passages and understanding of gender roles, but younger children will enjoy the story just as well.  My only concern is the timeline of the story, the mother has a week to make two embroidered rugs and worries when she awakens with a fever on the day the rugs are expected, exclaiming that she hasn’t even started the second rug.  How was she going to meet the deadline even if she wasn’t ill? Even with the extension, she asks for a few days, not a few hours.  That aside, the book is a lovely glimpse into a nomadic culture and people.  There is no glossary at the end explaining namaz or Chacha or Bhai, but there is a bit of information about the Bakarwals of Kashmir at the end that provides context and enhances appreciation.

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Sadiq wakes up to the sounds of the river Lidder, he prays and drinks his cha and heads to the meadow to milk the sheep and take them out to pasture.  His father died two years ago, and now the responsibility of the flock is his. After his chores are done he sits and watches his mother embroider.  He sometimes stitches his own patterns on the edges, but his mother does not like him sewing.

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When an order from the city comes in for two rugs by the end of the week, Sadiq offers to help.  His mother refuses his assistances claiming that the women stitch and the men tend to the sheep in their community. Sadiq dreams of the designs and colors he would like to sew and decides he will do so in secret.

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On the day when the rugs are to be picked up, Sadiq’s mother has a fever and cannot stitch.  When the man comes, Sadiq’s mother starts to explain that they are not ready, but Sadiq surprises them both with his completed rug.  The man likes it, but notes it is not what was ordered. Ammi wants to keep Sadiq’s rug and asks for a few more days to complete the second one, now that she has her son to help her.

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Abdul agrees to a few more days, and the next morning Sadiq’s mom has hung Sadiq’s rug for everyone to see, and is proudly crediting her son’s work.  She hugs him, just like she did in his dream, and chides him that she still expects him to do all his other chores before he sews.

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The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn illustrated by Paul Mirocha

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The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn illustrated by Paul Mirocha

bee treeThis is one of those books that it is hard to know who the target audience is and who would most enjoy the text heavy 40 pages about a boy coming of age in Malaysia by harvesting honey in a traditional manner.  The two page spread illustrations are rich and inviting, and with an AR 5.7 level, the book would work well for children that enjoy other cultures, honey, insects, or children that you hope will be inspired to start seeing the world a little differently than they are used to doing.

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The story starts with a boy talking about his grandfather and how every year he goes to collect the honey from the tualang trees.  The bees travel hundreds of miles and arrive just as the rainforest starts to bloom.  The trees that they build their nests in are higher than the eye can see and grandfather, known as Pak Teh, is the leader of the honey hunting clan.

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He tells everyone what their jobs will be: some will carry ropes, others pails, others torches.  One day, he tells them, someone will have to take his place as the one who climbs all the way up to the top to gather the honey.  He believes Nizam, the narrator, is the one.

To prove himself, Nizam has to practice climbing 120 feet into the sky.  Nizam and grandfather spend a lot of time together praying five times a day and walking through the dense rain forest.  He reminds Nizam that the forest doesn’t belong to them, but to the unseen protector. They enter the forest as if they are visiting a neighbors home.

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At night all the hunters sit together and Grandfather tells the traditional story of the bees.  A story that involves a beautiful servant girl named Hitam Manis who worked in the Sultan’s palace and how the Sultan’s son and her were in love.  When the Sultan found out he ordered the girl run out from the kingdom.  As she and her loyal friends fled she was hit by a metal spear.  She did not die, but her and her friends were magically transformed into a swarm of bees.  Because it was metal that harmed her, she ruled that metal was never allowed to touch the honey.  Hence, when the bee hunters harvest they use a bone knife, leather pouches, and a wooden ladder.

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When it is time to enter the forest, it is pitch dark with no moonlight.  The hunters tap their glowing torches against the trees sending light sparks to the ground to tempt the bees and leaving their nests free for Nizam to collect the honey from.  For seven nights they climb the trees, and then they return home.  With greetings of salam, peace be upon you, Grandfather informs the family that when he can no longer climb the tree, Nizam will carry on the tradition.

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The book ends with factual information about Malaysia, the rainforest, giant honey bees, honey hunters, and the future.

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

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The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

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While in the midst of moving from Knoxville to Birmingham nearly 4 years ago, a lady reached out to me telling me that a colleague of hers, also an author, was a follower and fan of my blog and had recently passed away, she asked if she could send me a copy of her friend’s books.  I agreed, not knowing what type of books the lady had written and didn’t think much of it.  In the chaos that is moving, I received the books and boxed them up and then unboxed them and vaguely remembered that they were about Muslims in China.  I put them in the to be read pile and just never got to them.  Then as the plight of the Uyghurs started to be known here in the US, something tickled my brain, but nothing came of it, until recently when I realized, a lady, a non Muslim years ago was trying to tell the Uyghur’s story, and had reached out to me, and I didn’t get it, and still wasn’t getting it.  So alas, I have now read the Vine Basket, and while it might not present Islam the way we are used to seeing it in life and in print, the characters do identify as Muslim and this middle grade book is a simply woven, beautiful story that gives voice to a population that is horrifically being silenced.  The AR 5.0, 252 page book is a quiet book that will stay with me: the drunken father, the threat of being sent to a factory, the loss of tradition;  I am so glad I read the book, and only wish I could reach out to the author to hear more about her knowledge of the region, of the people, of the culture that is being erased.

SYNOPSIS:

Mehrigul is 14, and since her older brother left, she has been forced to leave school to help her father sell goods in the marketplace.  More often than not though, it is solely Mehrigul’s responsibility as her father drinks and gambles away the meager earnings the family makes. Her mother, ashamed of the poverty the family endures along with some presumed mental illness and headaches, seeps further and further away from the reality of life and the chores that need to be done to ensure food and survival of the family.  Her younger sister is the only spark in a dreary and difficult life, and Mehrigul is determined that she should stay in school and be shielded from the darkness hanging over the family.

One day while in the market, an American woman approaches Mehrigul and asks to purchase a frivolous grape vine basket Mehrigul had made and hung to decorate the cart.  She offers her 100 yuan, more money than Mehrigul has ever seen, and asks her to make more baskets, and that she will be back in a month to purchase them. The basket serves no purpose like the willow baskets her grandfather weaves and despite the money, Mehrigul’s father is not happy.

Mehrigul is forbidden from making the baskets for the American, and the fact that she will even return is dismissed.  Her father grows increasingly cruel toward Mehrigul and keeps her busy to prevent her from making more.  Mehrigul seeks solace in her elderly infirm grandfather who tries to help her find inspiration and time to make her baskets as he sees in her a gift that has value in their old culture.  At one point as her father steals her baskets to take on a “religious” pilgrimage to the mountains.  And her planting crops in the fields leaves her hands cut and swollen, unable to make more with just days left before the American lady is due to return.

WHY I LIKE IT:

At first I was really uncomfortable with the idea of a white American savior coming to a dying oppressed culture to offer hope, until I read the afterwards and understood that much of the story was inspired by the author’s own experience and that she worked with Uyghur’s to get the story right.  The book reads like historical fiction which makes the day to day life of this modern book all the more heart breaking, it isn’t about the past it is the present, and life in East Turkestan is bleak.  I like the character of the father, he is an abusive mess, yet somehow it isn’t that easy to write him off, he has his own struggles and the depth of character I found in him, in a middle grades book, is haunting.  I also really like how Mehrigul’s story is so foreign to us here in America, yet her emotions and insights are universal and thus relatable.  She wants to find her place, and excel, and help her family, and she is scared, doesn’t know who to trust, and takes on more than most children any where should, but often are forced to do.

The characters identify as Muslim and as a people the Uyghurs are Muslim.  They say salam in the story, but only to the grandfather, and the girls all cover their hair with scarves.  The father obviously drinks and gambles, two practices, not permitted in Islam.  Mehrigul fastens a talisman and connects her prayers to it as a form of worship which I would imagine is cultural perhaps, and when things go awry she remarks she should have prayed to Allah swt.  The father goes on a pilgrimage to a mountain shrine, which again seems off from traditional Islam, but is presented in the book instead as odd because the father is not normally religious.  Islam is not a big part of the book, so it is hard to know if the representation of it are isolated to who the author met, or a larger norm of the community.  Considering how isolated and oppressed the Uyghurs are, I tried really hard to suspend judgement, or offer my privileged limited critique of the people.

FLAGS:

Drinking, gambling, abusive father, anger, lying, deception.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would consider this for a middle grades or even middle school book club, there is so much going on in China and in the erasing of Islam there that this book would supplement the news and few stories we are hearing.  It opens up the culture and gives it a face that is not political, but personal.  The faults of the father are not glorified at all, and the discussion about his desire to hold on to culture and fear about his daughter surpassing him would be fascinating to hear from people the protagonists age.

Yusuf’s Ramadan Lantern by Jasmin Zine illustrated by Brad Cornelius

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Yusuf’s Ramadan Lantern by Jasmin Zine illustrated by Brad Cornelius

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The soft illustrations on 32 pages, surrounded by ample, large, well -paced text for second graders and up give life to a sweet story about a young boy, his grandfather, and the passing on of a Ramadan heirloom.  While not a chapter book, and a little too long for little ones to enjoy as a simple picture book, the book may not beg children to pick it up and read it, but if they do, they will enjoy a sweet story that parents won’t mind reading more than once.

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Synopsis:

Yusuf’s grandparents have just returned from their trip to Egypt and Yusuf is excited to see them, and receive the electronic fanooz he asked them to bring back. But when Grandpa takes Yusuf outside to give him the gift, it isn’t the modern light up lantern he asked for, it is an old rusty, cracked metal fanooz.  Grandpa explains that the old fanooz used to be his when he was a young boy and begins his story of himself going out with his father to wake their neighbors for suhoor in Ramadan.  The subtle details of how he would be woken up, how his dad would beat the drum and the song they would sing as they would walk around, keeps the story slow and engulfing.  He then tells about returning and eating dates soaked in milk, and bread and fava beans before the white thread of light appeared.

Slowly the little boy, seeing how happy his grandfather is in his reminiscing, realizes that the fanooz he has been entrusted with is far better than the electronic one he asked for.  As he walks his grandfather out the door, he is surprised with the gift he originally wanted, the fancy new fanooz.  Not excited, his grandfather asks Yusuf what is wrong, and Yusuf, realizes that he likes the history filled one better.

The old fanooz finds a permanent place in Yusuf’s room, and he and his father fix the broken glass and polish up the metal to be regularly lit on Ramadan mornings and remind them all of grandfather as a little boy walking and waking people up before dawn.

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WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the subtlety and detail.  There are now so many books about the tradition of waking the neighbors up for suhoor, but this one focuses on the bonding of the grandfather and his father as well as the bond between the grandfather and Yusuf.  The story speaks of the tradition with the drum, yet somehow it is the lantern that ties it all together.

There is sufficient referencing about Ramadan and fasting to appeal to Muslim kids and inform non Muslims a bit.  The book is not preachy, it is cultural and religious in a narrative story sort of way.

My only main complaint is that I don’t know who the target audience is with the long pages of text, and full page pictures.  It is a hard book to place.  The illustrations are sweet and compliment the story, but in the pictures, Yusuf just seems too young.  His ability to appreciate his grandfather’s old lantern verses the electronic fanooz he asked for implies a bit older child.  In the pictures he looks like he is three or four years old, a disconnect that often distracted me from the story.  I also wish they would have used an Arabic word or title for the grandfather.

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TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

It is obviously too short and not the correct format for a book club, but I am hoping to share it at story time.  It will be a bit of a challenge for little children to sit through, but I’m thinking it is worth the effort, inshaAllah, bismillah…

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My Great-Grandmother’s Gourd by Cristina Kessler illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop

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My Great-Grandmother’s Gourd by Cristina Kessler illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop

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A beautiful story based on a true event in Sudan, this 32 page AR 4.2 book contains lessons about tradition, new technology, village life, culture, family, love, and community.  Unfortunately it is one of those books that I doubt any child would pick up and want to read.  Meant for fourth graders, there is a lot of text on each page, and the story is not quick and light, it is thoughtful and memorable. The book is a powerful one in opening one’s eyes to a different culture, environmental challenges, and innovations making it an important one for parents and teachers to share with younger children and encourage older ones to spend some time with.

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Fatima’s Sudanese village has just installed a new pump, and to show how easy it is to use, Fatima is chosen to try it out first.  With all the excitement over new technology, life for the village is about to get easier.  No more hauling the water with camels and filling the baobab trees to store the water in for the dry season.

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Easier for everyone except Fatima’s grandmother.  She refuses to abandon the methods of the past so easily, and independently begins to prepare her tree, her great-grandmother’s gourd.  Fatima tries to talk her out of it, and the other villagers mock her refusal to accept technology.

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When Fatima hears the neighbor louder than the call to prayer calling her grandmother a fool and laughing at her, Fatima boldly and defiantly joins her grandmother in preparing the tree for when the rains come.

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The two dig a circle, a necklace, around the old tree to catch the water in the hard red clay, when the rains come, it catches the water, and when it stops, the two move the water to the inside of the tree with buckets. All the while, the villagers shake their heads at the two hard at work.

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When, in the middle of the dry season, the pump breaks and it will be days before it can be repaired, the chief, Ibrahim, declares they must resort back to the old ways and Fatima and her grandma offer to share their water to hold everyone over.  “Maybe it’s wise to mix old with the new,” Grandma poignantly notes.  The following year the village works together to prepare the trees, just in case the pump breaks.

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There is a glossary of Arabic Words at the beginning of the book and an Author’s note about the “Thirst Triangle” and the use of the baobabs or tabaldi trees used to store water.

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There is nothing overtly religious in this culturally rich story.  The women cover their head, they say “inshaAllah,” the call to prayer is mentioned and they have Islamic names: Fatima, Ibrahim, Musa, Ahmed, Ali, Osman etc..