Tag Archives: voice

That’s Not My Name by Anoosha Syed

That’s Not My Name by Anoosha Syed

not my name

I have been looking forward to this book, as I’ve enjoyed so many of the illustrations the author has created for other authors, and was anxious to see what kind of story she would write for her own authorial debut.  Unfortunately, the book didn’t wow me.  It is rather forgettable, the book conflates notions of not being able to pronounce someone’s name with not being memorable and with not having a “normal” name, and then recognizing how so many classmates have unique names too.  A bit scattered in messaging, and overall reading like an adult talking, not a young girl of four or five, on her first day of school.  No doubt the illustrations are beautiful, and the book isn’t “bad” or a “waste of time,” but it isn’t a strong clear story.  I’ve seen reviews where people find the little girl rude, and I don’t know that I’d agree with that, she is frustrated and wants to scream, “that’s not my name” when people say it wrong, but I do agree that she could model what to say better and how to handle it.  Not that I expect those with uncommon names to have to carry the weight of making things easy, but the little girl at the end remarks that she has so many new friends at school with “unique, beautiful names, and she always makes sure she says them right,” implying that some dialogue, both about her name and about theirs, takes place to ensure pronunciation is correct, and some “showing” of how that is achieved would be nice.  Before the story starts, on the title page, there is a pronunciation breakdown of Mirha, but not in the text itself. There is nothing Islamic in the book, the Grandmother wears a scarf loosely draped over her head, there is a crescent and moon wall hanging in an illustration, and the girl’s name is claimed to be Arabic in origin.


The book starts with it being Mirha’s first day of school.  She is excited to learn, to play, and to make friends, but when no one seems to be able to say her name, she starts to feel shy. Frustrated and sad she decides to change her name, and tells her mom when she gets home.  Her mother tells her, her name is beautiful and why she was named what she is named.  She builds her up and the next day armed with her mother’s words she is ready to make friends and teach them how to say her name. By the end of the book Mirha has friends, and wants to be your (the reader’s) friend too.


The voice of the book is inconsistent at times it feels very older kid, almost adult, even though the 40 page book is meant for three to five year olds.  The examples read like an adult reflecting on their childhood struggles with their name, not as a young girl finding her voice and appreciation for the name she has.


When Hayden asks if he can call her Maya instead of Mirha it is because Maya is easier.  Kids are hearing all sorts of names for the first time when they enter school, that conversation seems so forced.  Whether the kids are in preschool or daycare or kindergarten, most of the names they are hearing of their classmates are being heard for the first time.  If they watch a lot of tv and YouTube and movies, they have heard a whole variety of names, they are not going to have a dialogue that sounds like that, at that age, just not realistic.  Similarly after the first day of school she wants to change her name to something “normal?” What is a “normal” name even, then the mom even reinforces that notion when saying she knows she named her something “unique and different.”  A concept that returns at the end when asserting that Mirha has friends with lots of unique names.  Seems to go in circles.


I appreciate that examples are given about not seeing your name on keychains or having the barista get it right, but again, she is under the age of five, are these really her points of reference for having a less common name than those around her?  When her mother is making the case that she shouldn’t change her name she references that names such as Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo are memorable.  First of all, what (under) five year old knows those names or who those people are, and second of all, now her name is not memorable? I thought it was hard to pronounce? Has she done something worthy of history books and admiration? I get what the author is trying to do, I often tell my students that they need to demand people say their names right.  If they can rattle off names from Pokemon, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Beyblades, they can say the beautiful names they have been given.  But the kids I am saying it to are not in preschool, nor am I conflating the pronunciation of their names with being names of famous people that are memorable. Additionally, I do not speak Arabic, but a quick Google search does not show that Mirha means happiness in Arabic, and I have heard from native Arab speakers that they also found the meaning off.


The illustrations are engaging, the broader message of getting people’s name right and demanding people get your name right is important, it just needed a more age aligning voice and connecting with the reader.


Today I’m Strong by Nadiya Hussain & Ella Bailey

Today I’m Strong by Nadiya Hussain & Ella Bailey


I really liked the way Nadiya Hussain’s book My Monster and Me discussed anxiety and was so eager for this book.   Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as connected to the characters, the little girls dread of dealing with a bully, or the resolution of channelling her imaginary tiger to find her voice strong enough.  With discussion I think the book would be a wonderful way to get young children, to open up about what is upsetting them, but on its own I feel like a bit more is needed to transition from thinking to action, from nerves to confidence, and from understanding what is bothering the little girl to understanding what needs to be done.


The story starts with a small girl going back and forth on whether she loves school or doesn’t and revealing that the tiger listens to her and doesn’t say a word.  It then starts the next few pages with the same line: “I love to go to school.  I do,” and detailing what parts of school make her happy.


It then transitions to sharing why some days, the little girl doesn’t like school so much.  Days when her voice disappears, Molly laughs at her, or blocks her way to the climbing frame, or takes her cake.


She then reinstates that she likes going to school most day, but not always, and then one day when Molly is mean, the little girl, thinks of the tiger, and knows what to do.  How to find her voice, and stand up to Molly. She then carries through on it, and realizes that soon she can be on top of the world.


The messaging is universal and great, and while there is no religion shown, it is great to see a brown protagonist dealing with mental health.  The author is Muslim and I’m sure most everyone knows at least of her from the Great British Bake Off.


Llama Out Loud by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan

Llama Out Loud by Annabelle Sami illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan


This 245 page middle grade doodle filled novel features a Pakistani-British protagonist as she endures life with a family that yells, brothers that prank, aunts that meddle, and now a magical talking obnoxious stuffed llama.  Yasmin Shah stopped speaking years ago, and a 10th birthday wish has brought about Levi, a llama who uses highly unconventional methods to help Yasmin stand up for herself and find her voice.  At times funny, tender, and relatable, the book similarly often feels really forced as it relies on predictable jokes for cheap laughs:  bum worms, wee wee taunts, the threat of being sent to Daadi in Pakistan as a punishment, bras and knickers being thrown around, etc..  The overall message is good and silly, and middle graders will probably feel some anxiety and frustration with Levi, but ultimately enjoy the book, and look forward to future books in the series.  


Yasmin lives in a full loud home.  It is her 10th birthday and she feels completely unseen.  Her mom has made her a lovely cake, but when her brothers use pepper to make her sneeze, the cake gets destroyed and she once again meets the wrath of her family.  She wishes she could stand up for herself, and just like that her life gets a whole lot crazier.  A stuffed old stained llama she saw in the market and her aunt decided to gift her, has sprung to life and won’t stop talking.  Levi seems determined to make Yasmin’s life even more miserable.  He shows up in her backpack at school and his misguided help gets her detention, he doesn’t want her to be friends with the octogenarians she plays checkers with at the local senior center and embarrasses her and gets her banned, life at home is more miserable too as he takes revenge on Yasmin who keeps trying to get rid of him.  At times it is hard to know if Levi is really trying to help and is just really misguided, or if he is out to get her.  As Yasmin loses her elderly friends and the chance to be checkers champion at the OLD home, she slowly lets new kid Ezra wear her down and possibly be her friend.  The climax reveals not just her voice, but a remorse for Levi that further helps Yasmin determine what her life will look like moving forward.


Antics aside, the story is about Yasmin being pushed/encouraged to be heard in her life.  The jokes amplify the need for her to find her voice and defend herself, her love of the old people and determination to win the checkers tournament is endearing, and her struggles with kids her own age shows real heartache.  I absolutely love Ezra and his mannerisms.  He is new at school, trying to meet Yasmin where she is at, and encourage her all while trying to focus, channel his energy, and fit in as well.  Yasmin’s family redeems itself and I think readers will get the exaggeration of much of the antics, but really Levi is annoying and while younger readers might find him hilarious and well-intentioned, I think anyone older than the intended audience will just want to strangle him.  

The illustrations, the comic strips, and the little flourishes on the pages are wonderful.  They bring the book to life and provide the charm and humor that the text needs to connect with the readers.

The only religious thing mentioned is Eid at the beginning.  Some of the women in Yasmin’s family wear a scarf on their head and her teacher wears hijab, it isn’t mentioned in the text.  I could not find if the author or illustrator identify as Muslim, I read that the author’s father is Pakistani so culturally and perhaps experience wise it is OWN voice, and reads with a lot of authenticity.  


Possible verbal abuse, anxiety and bullying.  Mention and illustrations of undergarments.  Plotting and planning to harm/destroy a magical talking toy.  Practical jokes, threats, lying, deception, back talking, deceit.


I don’t think I’d use this as a book club selection as it is for younger children than middle school.  But I think it is a fun book to have around the house and classroom for middle grade readers to pick up and chuckle over.

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai illustrated by Kerascoet

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai illustrated by Kerascoet


I’m going to try my best to review a nonfiction autobiographical book and focus on the story, not on the author because yikes, Pakistanis have strong opinions about Malala, and I have no desire to get pulled in to an argument.  I’m half Pakistani, I know the position of both sides.


I have read both the Young Readers Edition and original I Am Malala books, so I didn’t jump to review this book in 2017 when this AR 3.6 40 page re-re-telling of her story came out.  After reading numerous other children’s books about girls in the subcontinent striving to go to school and be educated, I thought maybe the controversy had calmed down and I could read this large hardbound book a bit more objectively, and thus focus on the story a bit more.


The book is listed as a biography, not an autobiography, so I’m not sure Malala even wrote the book, but none the less it is a synopsis of her story for younger elementary children.


Starting off a bit like Harold and the Purple Crayon, Malala asks if the reader believes in magic, and then tells what she would do if she had a magic pencil to draw things that would make other’s happy like a proper soccer ball for her brothers and a way to stop time so she could sleep in a little longer in the morning.


Every night she hopes for a magic pencil, and every morning she is sad one hasn’t appeared.  As she starts to notice the world around her she realizes that the kids looking for food and metal scraps in the junk yard, have it much much worse.  She asks her father about it and learns that if the children were in school their family’s might go hungry.


As she notices “real” problems around her, her ideas for what her magic pencil could fix, evolves and develops into a burgeoning social conscience.  But quickly her naive outlook is changed when dangerous men start to appear on the streets and girls in her class stop coming to school.


Her magic pencil finds real world power when she uses her words and her voice to make a stand and people start to pay attention.  The rest of the book highlights how she made progress despite the attempt to stop her and how she now uses her “magic pencil” to work to make a more peaceful world.


The surface story is incredibly hopeful and would motivate young children to notice the world around them and do what they can to improve it. Inquiring children might be alarmed at children going through trash, or want a lot more information about who the scary men are and why they don’t want girls going to school and why she gets to travel around and tell her story. Information that is given at the end of the book in an afterwards of sorts.


Most pages have sparse text and the ones that have a lot are kept on level and avoid being preachy.  Even the attempt on her life is present, but not detailed, sufficing to say that they tried to silence her, but failed.

The illustrations are beautiful and tell the story as much as the words do.  The book does not mention religion, but in the pictures where she is out of the house her hair is covered, but not when she is at home in bed and whatnot.  Obviously it is how she carries her self in real life.

Overall, I think the book is incredibly well done and inspiring to young readers.  Anytime a modern day figure can show children that they too have a voice and can use it, I think it is a good thing.  The fact that the voice comes from a minority, a female, a person with a name and culture different than the ones in most western children’s text books is also a plus.  I hope if nothing else it opens a window to children that there are a lot of amazingly strong and courageous people in all cultures and to seek out their stories.