Tag Archives: village

Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed

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Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed

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This middle grades 224 page read is quick and memorable.  The story is set in Pakistan and the characters are probably Muslim, but there is no religion mentioned until nearly the end, and even then only in passing.  The only culture specific references are the characters’ names, social etiquettes, and the foods mentioned.  By and large, the story is universal and could take place anywhere, and probably does take place everywhere.  While I wish it would have had more cultural and religious references, it is an OWN voice story after all, the book is enjoyable, the characters endearing, and I think young readers will benefit from spending the school year with Omar, seeing classism up close, and cheering for an unjust school system to be challenged.

SYNOPSIS:

Omar is the son of a servant and when he earns a scholarship to a prestiges boy’s school for seventh grade, the entire village is bursting with pride.  When he gets there though, it is hard, really hard.  The scholarship kids aren’t allowed to participate in any extra curriculars, they have to do service hours, and they have to maintain the ridiculously high A plus grade average or be expelled.  It seems that that headmaster is out to get the scholarship kids, and Omar in particular.  As the scholarship students struggle to stay afloat, Omar has to determine if it is all worth it. He spends all his time studying, even when he goes home to visit his mother, and while he doesn’t want to let the village down, he is struggling to find the optimism to keep fighting for his place.  When Omar learns that the system is designed to make the scholarship kids fail, and that those that are kicked out are called “ghost boys,” he has to decide to how hard to push himself and ultimately how hard to push to break down the system that treats him and those like him like second class citizens.  Luckily, Omar has some supportive teachers, some loyal friends, and a whole lot of determination.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story is universal, it is at times a much tamer version of the YA book Ace of Spades which also explores second class citizens in posh private schools as a theme, and at times I even felt some Dead Poet’s Society vibes.  The cultural setting and names however, to me is a mixed bag.  I’m glad that it didn’t become another story about problems in another country with judgmental overtones, but at the same time, to be so void of cultural references seemed too far of an extreme in the other direction to make the story feel real richness and authenticity.  I love that the story isn’t about bullying and that a number of characters have depth.  I was genuinely confused for a large portion of the book about what the orientation in the summer entailed.  It was clarified much too late that it was a weekend, but I was at a loss trying to figure out how he knew some of the campus, some of the other scholarship kids, had a roommate, yet knew so little of the school and what it would be like.  I am not sure why that information was delayed, but seeing as I read an arc, I hope it is clarified in the final copy.

FLAGS:

Omar and a girl are friends, they hug at the end, but it seems rather innocent, and more sibling like as they were raised together.  

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

This would be a good book on a shelf, and would possibly work as a read aloud to grades four or five.

 

A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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A Sari for Ammi by Mamta Nainy illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

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This book combines knowledge with a sweet story and a spunky narrator.  Over 32 brightly illustrated pages the reader learns about the art of dyeing yarn, weaving, and the tradition of weaving saris in India moving from Mysore to Kaithoon in Kota.  The little girl loves it all, helping her father dye the threads, and watching her mother work the loom.  It often takes a month to make a sari, and her mother makes beautiful saris, but she never wears them.  With the help of her older sister Sadaf, the little girl hopes to earn enough money to gift her mother a beautiful sari to wear.  It will take a lot of work, some community help, and some sacrifice, but Ammi is worth it and the girls are up for the challenge.  Preschool to early elementary readers will enjoy learning about the daily life of these amazing Indian Muslim artisans and a craft that they perhaps were not aware existed.

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The buffalo are sleeping, but in the afternoon Abba is busy dyeing threads, and mama is weaving colors into prints of mangoes, peacocks, birds, leaves, and flowers.  The whole family helps.  Abba goes to the haat to sell the completed saris.  Sometimes Mama goes as well, but she doesn’t wear the saris, she wears worn-out salwar-kameezes.

One day, when Ammi finishes a particularly beautiful sari the little girl asks her to keep it, but her Ammi says, “If we keep the saris, how will we eat?”  The little girl doesn’t understand, they don’t eat saris.

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Sadaf explains to her little sister that the only way their Ammi will wear a sari is if they buy her one.  So the little girl breaks her bank apart to count the money she has and convinces Sadaf that the things they wanted with the money are nothing compared to how much they want something for their mother.

But Sadaf says they only have enough money for a towel, not a sari, so the girls gather some items to sell to the junk man.  They have enough to buy Ammi a duputta, but still not a sari.

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They wander home through the wheat field trying to come up with other money raising ideas.  The wheat remind the little girl of worshippers on Eid day- all praying together at the mosque.  The little girl remembers that sometimes their neighbor Amina Khala purchases dyed threads from them and they rush over to see if she has any work for them.  Luckily she does, and they have just enough to buy a sari for Ammi and be rewarded with a smile and tears from their beloved and talented mother.

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The book has an information page at the end about The Saris of Kaithoon, as well as a glossary.  The story ends a bit abruptly, but the teardrop in the illustrations, the hugging, and the smile, do provide a universal relatability to parents everywhere when their children gift them something so genuinely from the heart.  The illustrations also show women with their heads covered going about their daily life.

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Ahmed and the Very Stuck Teapot by Sarah Musa illustrated by Rania Hassan

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Ahmed and the Very Stuck Teapot by Sarah Musa illustrated by Rania Hassan

This 36 page early elementary book is packed full of choices and lessons packaged in a sweet story that kids and adults will enjoy reading and discussing over and over. My only real critique is the title. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for nearly a year thinking it was just a silly book about a calf with a teapot on her hoof that is stuck and would probably involve different people and methods and attempts to get it off. But the teapot is off by the tenth page, and the story is really just getting started. Like all Ruqaya’s Bookshelf picture books, the large thick shiny pages with a stiff soft cover binding make the story a great choice for storytime and bedtime alike. There are Islamic threads and references, but the story overall is universal.

Ahmed and his friend Tariq are practicing their kite flying skills for tomorrow’s annual competition, when Ahmed’s kite gets destroyed in a tree. Heartbroken Tariq suggests he hurry to buy a new one before the store closes at Maghrib. As the boys rush off they come across a brown calf with a teapot on her hoof. Ahmad recognizes the teapot as his mother’s and feels like he should help the poor animal. Tariq keeps reminding him that the shop will close, but Ahmed decides to take the cow to Amo Waseem’s to get help.

Amo Waseem, is able to help the cow get free, but in the process, the cow get’s hurt. The cow needs help from a shepard, Amo Salih, but Amo Waseem can’t go, and Tariq wants to practice more. Ahmed knows the cow can’t be left untreated, and takes the little cow to get help. The cow then needs to get to his owner, and the story continues until the shop is closed, and Ahmed realizes he won’t have a kite for the competition. He goes to the mosque for salat and starts to feel better, he knows that he did the right thing, and inshaAllah Allah will reward him in some other way. His reward comes quickly, however, much to Ahmed’s surprise and in gratitude he also manages to find a way to help his mother.

I love the gentleness of the lessons of doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t really want to, and your friends are not supporting you. Ahmed had chances to walk away, but he didn’t and he was at peace with the outcome. His friend wasn’t mean or bad, he just made different choices. There are discussion questions at the end as well. I think this book would foster great conversation with even the littlest listeners, and I can’t wait to share it at our masjid’s storytime.

The Servant by Fatima Sharafeddine

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img_6859This 157 page young adult book is translated from Arabic and while at times the story seems intentionally choppy, at other times it seems that the translation is making it more jarring than it needs to be.  I found the book interesting and powerful, in much the way a short story can be, but the length was awkward, as it was too long for a short story, and not long enough to really read as a novel with detail and depth and connection.  I love the growth and retaking of control that the protagonist embodies and I absolutely love the ending being left intentionally unresolved.  There is no mention of religion in this story set in Lebanon, until nearly the end when it states that she is Muslim.  I wonder if the translation took out some of the ‘Salams’ and ‘inshaAllahs’ that would have clarified it a bit even if prayer, or the athan or any outward signs of being a Muslim are clearly absent.  The book is probably fine for ages 13 and up.

SYNOPSIS:

Faten is essentially sold in to servitude by her family.  Her family lives in a village outside Beirut and when money gets tight she is forced to go and work as a house keeper/maid for the Zein family.  Once a month Faten’s father comes and collects her salary showing little to know affection for the eldest of his children. The small Zein family has two daughters and lives in a flat.  While the girls are in school, Faten cooks and cleans and dreams of being a nurse.  The family is not particularly cruel to Faten, they often refer to her simply as ‘girl,’ but they are not particularly kind to her either.  The highlight of Faten’s day is watching a young man across the street that drives a dark blue car, come home, study, and play piano.  On occasion she catches his eye, so he knows she exists, but the two know nothing about one another.  On Faten’s 17th birthday she decides she is going to gift her self something, and writes a letter to the blond man across the street.  She has her only friend in Beirut, Rosalynn, a much older house servant in the apartment downstairs from Sierra Leon, deliver the letter which asks the boy to meet her so that she might seek his help in a very important manner.

When Faten and Marwan meet, Faten asks him to obtain information about how she might study nursing and change her future.  The two secretly meet with Rosalynn’s help on Sunday’s, Faten’s one day off.  Faten borrows May’s books to study as she learns what exams she must take to make her dream a reality.  Marwan helps her with questions she needs assistance with and Faten and Marwan become close friends, with both feeling some attraction for one another just beneath the surface.  One day however, they are discovered by a friend of Mrs. Zein at a beach side cafe, drinking coffee and Faten is forbidden from leaving the apartment as a result.  With the oldest girl, May, married now, and nothing to look forward to on her days off, Faten dives in to her studies and is more determined than ever to pass her exams.

To even take the multiple day exam requires a few lies, a few favors, and the willingness to take a huge risk.  When the Zein’s find out she is let go, and now must face her parents back in the village.  With the help of her childhood friend, Faten clings to hope, confidence in her ability, and determination to pave her own way on her own terms.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that while Faten is the victim of cruel parents, and an unfortunate circumstance, she rises up and fights for control.  I love that she has feelings for Marwan, but that they don’t overshadow her future goals, nor does she become overly dependent on him.  I really love her strength in handling the situation with him when it is good, when it is tested, and when she has to walk away.  There are elements of it being a love story, but that is just one thread of the book, her charting her own path is much more the central story line.  I wish her religion and his religion would have come to the surface more, and sooner.  Lebanon is a diverse place and just saying they were of two different faiths could have provided a lot of insight and fleshing out of the culture and the dynamics the two would have faced.  The classism is a bit obvious, but even when that is explored it provides a better understanding to the characters and to the arc they are moving on.  I like that her childhood friend and family are so loving and that her mom is not completely written off as a passive flat character.  Overall, I like the story and the book, set in the 80’s it really could have gone a lot of ways, but it held close to the theme and provided enough side details that it felt grounded, believable and ultimately was enjoyable to read.

FLAGS:

When May is entertaining suitors there is some ogling that young kids might question.  There is a lot of lying and deception and the possible romance between Faten and Marwan that in the text is pretty clean, but there is some hand holding if memory serves and implied desire for the friendship to be more.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

The book offers a lot in terms of classism and forced labor to be discussed and the cliffhanger ending between Marwan and Faten would allow the readers to decide if they could be together despite their different faiths, economic status and families, or not.  I probably wouldn’t do it as a book club, but if I were a high school teacher, I might offer some sort of extra credit assignment involving the book, as the ending really lends itself to the reader projecting the characters’ futures based on their own perspectives which would be fascinating to hear.

The Ghoul by Taghreed Najjar illustrated by Hassan Manasra

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The Ghoul by Taghreed Najjar illustrated by Hassan Manasra

the ghoulThis 36 page book for ages five through eight is a cute story about being brave, facing your fears, challenging your perceptions, celebrating differences and giving friendship a chance.  Recently translated and published in English, this Arabic inspired folktale is timeless and important for readers of all ages to learn from.

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Hasan the Brave is a young boy that lives in a mountain village.  The children are told not to laugh out loud, the adults tiptoe to their fields, and the fear of being eaten by the ghoul that lives in a cave on top of the mountain consumes them all.

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But Hasan isn’t buying it and starts asking questions. Why is everyone afraid of the ghoul, he asks his aunt one day in the olive grove? She tells him because he is covered in hair, has one eye, long claws, sharp teeth and his favorite food is little boys and girls.  Unconvinced Hasan asks his dad if anyone in the village has been hurt by the ghoul.  His dad can’t think of anyone.  He asks his mom if the Ghoul ever ate anyone in the village? She can’t think of anyone, but has heard plenty of rumors and wants him to not disturb the ghoul none-the-less.

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Hasan is tired of being scared and decides he will climb the mountain.  Everyone in the village tries to warn him against it, but he is Hasan the Brave after all and is determined to go.  When he gets to the top of the mountain and relishes at the beautiful view he proclaims that he is fearless and that he won’t be afraid of the ghoul.  Then he sees the ghoul, and after the ghoul sizes him up, the ghoul runs away.

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Hasan goes to investigate why such a monster is scared of him and learns that the ghoul is scared of people because they have two eyes instead of one, they do not have thick hair like him, they have strange hair, small teeth, and they eat ghouls.  Ghouls, Hasan finds out are vegetarians.

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The two laugh at their assumptions, and run off to play together.  From that day on the two are best friends and the people in the village pass on stories to remind future generations to celebrate differences and not let fear rule them again.

There are a few women in hijab, the villagers say inshaAllah, but there is nothing religious in the book.  The illustrations are detailed and colorful in a muted manner.  Overall a fun book with a great lesson.

 

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..

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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This book was suggested to me and I was thrilled to find it at the public library so quickly after its May 8, 2018 release date.  I love that it is an AR 4.2 and 226 pages about a girl standing up for her self, determined to be educated, and facing whatever society, and culture, and circumstance throw at her.  The protagonist is 12, but I think most middle school readers will find the story a bit too idyllic, perhaps even too simplistic and neat.  I really think the AR level of 4.2 is spot on in terms of writing level, interest, and story telling: 3rd through 5th graders will benefit the most from this inspiring, memorable and informative tale.

SYNOPSIS:

Amal lives in a small Pakistani village.   The book opens with her begrudgingly having to take time off from school, as the oldest, to help her mother who is about to deliver her fifth daughter.  The stage is quickly set to show a supportive father, but the cultural stress involved in educating a girl is incredibly strong.  The priority is to care for the home when push comes to shove and this fight is simplified in the book, but not completely belittled.  Right away we also see some class divisions with servants and landowners and the various positions in between.  It is easy to judge those with money as being evil, but the author does show some nuances in character aside from wealth and position.  As Amal’s mom struggles with recovering after the baby, it is decided that Amal will miss more school.  This devastates Amal who dreams of being a teacher.  Burdened by keeping up the house and carrying for everyone’s meals, laundry, and watching her younger sisters constantly, frustration mounts and she snaps when an arrogant man tries to take her pomegranate in the market.  Her simply saying no, is the catalyst that changes her life as the man she stands up to, Jawad Sahib, is the wealthy land owner everyone in town is indebted to.  Saved by his mother, Nasreen Baji, who is in need of a personal servant, Amal is now forced to pay off an impossible debt to a cruel powerful family. 

In  many ways the story doesn’t really get good, until Amal enters the Khan family’s world, about 50 pages in to it, but obviously the character building and detail is necessary, so if you find your kid is getting a bit bored, encourage them to keep going.  

Once, she arrives at the Khan compound, she begins to make friends, and enemies, and similarly see just how ruthless Jawad Sahib is, and can be.  As she finds her own voice and realizes her own role in determining how others treat her, what her future holds, and what power she does have, she is forced to wrestles with the choices in front of her. Ultimately, the reader will cheer for her to take a stand and be bold in doing what is right, no matter the cost.  And while one can guess, because of the target demographic, that it has a happy ending, I won’t spoil the climax, the resolution, or outcome of the young heroine.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that despite the themes, the story isn’t depressing, in many ways it is informative and inspiring. I think the fact that things are not left to ponder but clearly articulated, has its merits in a book for elementary children who might be overwhelmed by the cultural aspects to think critically on their own.  At the beginning, with the birth of yet another daughter, the biggest concern is that the mom is depressed because she hasn’t had a boy.  The mom even apologizes to the dad about this.  The neighbors, friends, everyone seems so upset about it, but Amal doesn’t understand why the women particularly seem disappointed, when they themselves were little girls once, and this simplistic point of view on such a complex and real issue, is so spot on and obvious, I loved it.  The mom and dad point out that it is God’s doing and they clarify that they are not sad the baby is a girl, and to me it seems obvious the mom is suffering from postpartum depression, but the book only describes it, it doesn’t identify it.  I also love that there is perspective on how while Amal is in forced servitude and thus not free, either is her female boss, who is unable to go visit her family, or to garden.  This helps amplify that even the wealthiest woman, is still limited to be truly free in the context of the character’s world.  

I like that the book is culturally authentic and not judgemental.  There are strong females, supportive male friends, and plenty of details to show that the author is writing about what she knows, and that she loves her culture.  Islam is mentioned only a few times with regards to prayer time, but nothing more.  There is nothing about praying for anything specific, or covering, or religious beliefs, practices, or traditions.   The book like the author’s first book Written in the Stars, almost oddly leaves religion out, and stresses culture.  Because this book is for a younger audience, it isn’t as obvious, and if I didn’t write reviews about books I probably wouldn’t notice.  

The presentation of culture, the idea of indentured servitude, and females being educated is balanced and explained pretty well.  At most many of the readers will know little of Pakistan, but may have heard of Malala, and the author talks about her in the Author Note.  I like that this book shows a fictional strong female in a similar vein as Malala, but also shows that it isn’t an outside force, the Taliban, preventing her from an education, but in some ways a whole societal view.  I think this expansion of paradigm is really the most powerful thing about this book.  It is important to understand that people may want their daughters educated, and opportunities may be available, but sometimes more is needed.   A lot more to change tradition, on a lot of different fronts.

The book also does a good job of showing some of the paradoxes that exist in developing countries as well: Amal rides in a car for the first time, but also is handed a cell phone from her mom, she knows all about email but has never used a computer.  For readers to see that somethings are very similar to their own lives, and some things are foreign, will make Amal and what she stands for have staying power and relevance, long after the end of the book.

FLAGS:

There is talk of physical violence when people are murdered, crops burned, and Amal is slapped.  There is some lying, but the truth comes out. Overall: clean.

 

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would absolutely present this book as an Elementary Book Club selection and I would encourage teachers to use it as a novel study.  There is a lot of perspective to be had from this book, and its clean simple style will keep the keep points in focus.

Author’s website: http://aishasaeed.com/amalunbound/

Q & A with the Author: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/76814-q-a-with-aisha-saeed.html

Discussion Guide: http://www.penguin.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/AmalUnbound_Brochure.pdf