Lala's Library

children's books for the ummah

Welcome Ramadan!

I bought this book years ago, excited at the prospect of a children’s book dedicated to Ramadan (and not just Eid!)

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Welcome Ramadan

Lila Assiff-Tarabain

New Delhi: Goodword

English

24 pp.

978-81-7898-545-4

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Welcome Ramadan! is a nice little story about the Islamic month of Ramadan, as observed by Muslims from all over the world. The month is commonly referred to as the “Month of Fasting” and is followed by the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. This story, which was written to be a handy resource for parents and teachers not familiar with Ramadan, follows Bilal and Maysa, a brother-sister duo, from sighting the first moon until the day of Eid. Maysa teaches her younger brother Bilal about the concept of Ramadan as explained to her by her parents.

The story starts off with beautiful sentiment, “Hello Moon! What a welcome sight! We’ve searched for you throughout the night.” A few other references to the moon are made throughout the story, adding a romantic touch. The language is simple and the ideas are easy to follow, making the text suitable for young children (3+), however, the rhyming pattern is distracting. Some sentences rhyme, while others do not, making it awkward to read aloud. The author would have done better to narrate the story naturally instead of jumping between rhyming and non-rhyming text.

At first, I was worried that the book would only emphasize the “not eating” aspect of fasting (since the first four pages after the moon sighting are all about eating patterns), but fortunately, as the story progresses, other aspects of fasting our acknowledged. Some are very specific behaviours to abstain from, for example, not biting, shouting or lying and some are general behaviours to engage in, for example, reading Quran, prayers of thanks, charity and doing good deeds. I appreciate that in the story, the author reminded us that we should ask Allah to allow us to keep our fasts, an important reminder in the face of increasingly long days and warm weather.

Welcome Ramadan! is a thin glossy-paged paperback, making it easy to slip into a purse or backpack. The pages are well-designed and the illustrations make good use of space. They are attractive and professionally done, but the people appear quite cartoonish and typical of Goodword books. As in many Muslim children’s books, the typesetting could have benefited from choosing an easier-to-read font. I was also a little annoyed at the depiction of the characters in the book. While the pictures show multicultural Muslims, all of the characters (except for in one picture of people praying in congregation) appear in hijab or a kufi (a headcovering for a man) throughout the entire book, regardless of the time of day or activity. I found this perplexing because right at the beginning of the story, Maysa tells her brother they are too young to fast (but clearly, they are not too young to be wearing a headscarf and kufi on every page!) This sort of subliminal messaging is both confusing for children and inconsistent with the teachings of Islam. In the author’s defence, she probably did not influence this aspect of the book as illustrators are usually sourced by the publishing company.

Welcome Ramadan! is an admirable attempt to introduce Ramadan to the larger society, however I feel that it falls short in one very important way. When Bilal asks his sister, “Why can’t we eat?” she trivializes the question by telling him that they are too young to fast and that they still need food to help them grow. While this is true, it completely disregards the important discussion about why Muslims in general, fast. I appreciate that the book acknowledges other aspects of Ramadan and even includes a one-page Parent/Teacher Guide at the end, but generally, it reduces the discussion around fasting to (lack of) food. I strongly believe that the conversation about Ramadan needs to shift away from that. Not eating while fasting is a means to something bigger, not the end that we should be focused on. That being said, Welcome Ramadan! could be a starting point for a discussion about Ramadan or fasting but it definitely needs to be supplemented by other books and/or discussion uncovering why Muslims fast, not simply how they fast.

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Allah to Z

This book made its way onto my radar after the author had contacted me in 2013. I didn’t follow up on the book at the time as I had quite a few others on my list, but after coming across some of the pages on facebook, I knew I had to have it! I jumped through quite a few hoops to obtain a copy as it wasn’t (and to the best of my knowledge still is not) available in Canada.

 

Allah to Z

 

Allah to Z

Sam’n Iqbal

Virginia: Broyhill Publications LLC, 2012

English

32 pp.

978-0-615-61562-2 51799

Overall Rating: 5/5

 

 

Allah to Z is an Islamic Alphabet Book that follows a young brother and sister as they explore different aspects of Islam – one aspect for each letter of the English alphabet. Captured with effective prose and brought to life by beautiful illustrations and excellent page design, Allah to Z is the perfect addition to a to a young Muslim child’s collection.

This story is told in rhymes – couplets for the most part. The rhymes flow naturally and are logical in context of the mini stories each letter portrays. While the language is simple, many good words are used: savour, brilliant white light, draped, grace, and leper. These terms are used very intentionally and strategically to convey particular ideas. Children will be able to enhance their own vocabularies after experiencing these words. The good word choice is supported by excellent imagery. Examples include: the gates of Jannah are thrown open wide; spinning a web; beads smooth and small; weeble and wobble; the wind in the trees; hushed in my ear; brings us forth; and flow rivers of sweet milk and honey. Of course some of this beautiful imagery is credited back to Allah himself as these words are direct references to passages from the Quran. While the language choice and sentence structure is very strong, there were a few instances of rhyming that could have been better, for example rhyming “Kaaba” with “Allah” and rhyming “Creator” with “Protector.” One feature of this story that made me wonder was that some terms and concepts were presented in English while some were presented by the Arabic name. For example, “call to prayer” was used instead of “adhaan” but “dua” was used instead of “supplication”. “Noah” was used instead of “Nuh” while “Yusuf” was used instead of “Joseph” and “Isa” was used instead of “Jesus”. It is unclear whether this was intentional or accidental. Another similar instance is when the author was speaking about the Ummah and mentioned “New York to Lahore, Mecca to Mali”, the first three of which are cities while the latter is a country- a persnickety point, however something that caught my eye. Another interesting feature of this book is a page of “words to know” at the end of the story – a helpful resource for teachers and parents who may not be as familiar with these aspects of Islam.

This glossy-paged hardcover with a matching book jacket is excellently executed, with beautiful illustrations done in a very distinct style. While the pictures are a little busy, there is excellent use of space, including white space on the page. The typesetting is professional but fun with each key word bolded in a different colour to stand out – an excellent way to draw attention to the form, length and composition of words, even to children who cannot read yet. On some pages, the text is also arranged creatively to reinforce a point (for example the letters in the words “weeble and wobble” are staggered to imply a shakiness) or draw attention to a focal point as they do in the page about hajj where the words are all moving towards the Kaaba.  And while there are quite a few words in this story, they are seamlessly weaved into every page. The illustrations, which appear to be done in bold, vibrant watercolours, add so much to this story. They capture many important details, as they should in any good picture book, particularly the whimsy of children. For example, in many scenes we can find the children including stuffed animals in their various day-to-day tasks and acts of worship, such as praying and breaking fast.

It is clear upon reviewing the content of this book that a lot of thought with into every aspect – from the portrayal of the characters, to the concepts covered, to the language choice, illustrative style, page design and binding – this book is a gem! By using a sister-brother as the focus for the illustrations, Sam’n Iqbal is able to reach a wider audience of children as children can identify with either gender. The characters, especially the little girl, is also memorable thanks to her BIG, curly hair (which I totally love!) Any woman with curly hair can tell you that it IS a big deal and it does factor into life so I’m sure it will be refreshing and encouraging for young impressionable minds to see other children sporting said wild mane’s without their hair being the focus of the story. I also appreciate how the author and illustrator have captured the diversity of Islam: for example, different styles of dress are shown in the book to illustrate  what one wears will change depending on the activity at hand. The main adult female character (the mother) does not wear a headscarf however she is still dressed modestly and both mother and daughter observe a head covering when they are performing salah and reading Quran. The father is also clean-shaven. That being said, there are other characters in the book that sport beards and wear headscarves. Just as it is important for the latter to see themselves represented in picture books, it is important for the former as well since one does not need to sport a headscarf or a beard to be a Muslim – it is important that our children understand that and do not reduce concepts like hijab to a piece of fabric.

Another aspect of diversity presented in the book is showing the girl having friends of different faiths, which is the norm for many of us. This detail was subtly and tactfully captured by the small crucifix and star of David around the necks of her friends while more obviously and somewhat obnoxiously driven home by the Christian girl holding a book that says “Bible” and the Jewish girl holding a book that says “Torah.”

Within the carefully written text of this story, the author was gracefully able to slip in certain concepts and details from the Quran and Sunnah (the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him). For example “Jannah is paradise, perfect and sunny. In Jannah flow rivers of sweet milk and honey.” And my personal favourite “The Hajj brings us forth, wherever we are from, In response to your call, Allah here I come”. This part of course, is what is known as the talbiyah, a chant recited by Muslims during Hajj and often during the Eid prayers. I also really enjoyed some of the concepts and corresponding information that Iqbal chose to include in her book, namely O is for Obey, Q is for Quran, V is for Values and Z is for Zakat. She was really able to explain the relevance and implications of these concepts. One aspect, however, that I feel the author could have explored and developed a little further was the role of Allah. Allah is referred to twice as The Creator, once as The Protector, and is recognized for being All-Hearing and All-Seeing as well caring, however, as we know, His names and attributes far surpass this handful of qualities.

Allah to Z provides a nice overview of Islam, and in fairness, perhaps that was the intentional scope of the book. In the jacket of the book, we find “each page will capture the kids’ attention and open a window into Islamic culture and history.” “Children of all faiths will delight in these 26 rhymes that introduce Islam”–it was not meant to be comprehensive or detailed. That’s where the learning piece comes in, and that’s what makes me love the possibilities this book gives birth to. You can spend one lesson, one week or one month on each rhyme – this book is just a seed. And that’s what is most interesting and effective about it: each letter offers only a snippet of a story or concept, paving the opportunity for further learning. For example, in N is for Noah, children might wonder why Noah made the boat or in P is for Pillars, children might wonder the meaning of the word “saum“ or in O is for Obey, we can discuss why children should obey their parents and what the conditions are and how Allah factors into this obedience – the possibilities are endless, making it a useful story to a teacher in a secular setting, a teacher in an Islamic classroom setting (weekend or full-time) or a Muslim parent home schooling their child or supplementing their child’s daytime secular school education. There are many themes that can be pulled and activities that can be generated. (*Coincidentally, Sam’n Iqbal produced an activity book as a follow up to this one). This book also does a wonderful job of introducing concepts in a non-traditional, making it remarkably different from the somewhat dry approach used by traditional Islamic Studies textbooks. It would be interesting to see a curriculum developed or program planning done around this book.

Allah to Z is an Alphabet Book that effectively introduces the alphabet along with various Islamic concepts in a fun, relevant and attractive way. With easy-to-read and-remember rhymes, and vivid illustrations, this professionally packaged book is a warmly welcomed addition to the world of Islamic literature for children. It would make a wonderful gift for a young child in your life and provide an opportunity for interactive learning together.

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Missing Notes

I drafted notes on two books that I had reviewed over the past few months: Allah Gave me Two Ears to Hear from Allah the Maker Series and The Way to Jannah by Yasmin Mussa. Unfortunately, I have misplaced those notes and will not be able to write reviews at this time, so I will be continuing with my list.

Least to say they were both great books! I was especially surprised by The Way to Jannah – reviewing and reflecting on it made me realize what a deep book it actually is.

 

Allah gave me 2 ears to hear the way to jannah

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Update

Please excuse me for my hiatus. Technology and I have been battling it out…clearly, I have been losing.

And perhaps more interestingly, I welcomed this little munchkin into the world, Praise be to Allah. Now that she is sitting and ready to explore some books on her own, I hope to start contributing again.

All the best in this blessed month.

– Lala

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Allah Gave Me a Nose to Smell

I bought this book at the 2012 RIS Convention in Toronto. It belonged to a series related to the five senses called “Allah the Maker” so I made sure to buy all five books in the series. I will be reviewing each of them, which are all authored by different writers.

http://www.noorart.com/Allah-Gave-Me-A-Nose-to-Smell-image.jpg

Allah Gave Me A Nose to Smell

Rizwana Qamaruddin

Leicestershire: The Islamic Foundation, 2003

English

28 pp

978-0-86037-333-9

Overall Rating: 3/5

Allah Gave Me A Nose to Smell is another book in the Allah the Maker series. Starting with the premise that Allah has given the main character, a young girl, a nose to smell, she explores various scents and items she is able to smell before ultimately thanking Allah for this ability. While the concept is admirable, the ideas presented in this story are disjointed at times and don’t flow very logically. Moreover, the examples given don’t describe actual smells which is disappointing for a book based around the sense of smell.

The author manages to incorporate some very fun and interesting words such as “squidgey” and “squelchy” into the writing of this story. The text of the story rhymes in consistent couplets, however at times, the organization of the language seems to be unnatural and forced (in order to make it rhyme). The story also features some British vocabulary that might be new for a North American audience, especially children, such as “nappy,” “pong” and “fish and chips.”

As for the illustrations in the story, I have to admit I was not a fan of this illustrative style. In fact, I felt that it took away from the story. While the illustrator, Stevan Stratford, does a decent job of capturing some elements, for example texture (especially in representations of smoke that appear to be done in charcoal), the people in the book are not well-drawn. They are disproportionate and unattractive. Poor illustrations in a picture book often compromise the entire experience. On a positive note, there was some consistency between this book and the others in the series. It is an eight inch by eight inch, glossy-paged, hardcover picture book with an appropriate font. At times however, there is too much text on the page. For example, on one page there are three couplets, when the average is one couplet per page.

All in all, the concept behind the book was a great idea but it wasn’t done justice by the content, the way it was written or by the illustrations. It also failed to go above and beyond a literal list of things that one can smell with their nose, crushing the potential of a children’s book to communicate any “big ideas” or important themes. The story would have been more effective had the author chosen fewer scenarios that better related to each other and captured the premise of the book (different things one can smell with their nose), paying more attention to the organization of ideas and words. It goes without saying that including good illustrations would have also greatly contributed to the quality of this book. While I am enthusiastic about the concept behind the Allah the Maker series, I feel that the entire series could benefit by more consistency, for example choosing one quality illustrator (such as Asiya Clarke) to illustrate all of the books and ensuring that the storylines that were directly relevant to the topic at hand and the rhyming text was natural and appropriate to the topic.

I would not recommend this book as a standalone read, nor do I consider it an example of quality literature for Muslim children, however, since it belongs to a series with some strong pieces and is based on an important premise, I can understand why adults make choose to buy this book (it is part of a set and some of us like continuity and wholeness). That being said, I sincerely hope that a better (updated) version of Allah Gave Me A Nose to Smell comes along.

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Allah Loves Me

I ordered this book online from Sound Vision Canada in October 2013. The concept, illustrative style and bilingual nature (English/Arabic) seemed to make it the perfect gift for my three-year-old neighbour.

http://www.soundvisioncanada.com/thumbnail.asp?file=assets/images/449-014.jpg&maxx=300&maxy=0

Allah Loves Me

Hadeel Al Abasi

Texas: Noorart Inc., 2010

English/Arabic

22 pp

978-1-93326-908-5

Overall Rating: 5/5

Allah Loves Me is the perfect story to share with a young child or a group of young children to help them reflect on their creator and their actions in this world. While it doesn’t have a traditional storyline with a beginning, middle or end, this book documents a young boy discovering the different occasions that bring about Allah’s love for him. In the story, the young boy discovers that Allah loves him when he is kind, reading, thankful, helping, brave, strong and giving. The way the story has been organized is repetitive, consistent and very thoughtful, making it ideal for young minds. Moreover, the story invites discussion around what children can do in their own lives to win the love of Allah and extract examples of what they are already doing that demonstrates the aforementioned qualities.

The language in the story is very simple and repetitive, as mentioned. Each page has only seven words (in English), six of which repeat each time. All sentences are constructed in the following way: “Allah loves me when I am _______” and are completed with one of the previously mentioned adjectives. The Arabic is equally simple with only three words on each page, two of which repeat, making it an easy read for those of us who are non-native Arabic speakers.

The illustrations in this story are vivid and a wonderful example of how good illustrations can really accentuate an already good concept/story. The illustrator, Flua Nather, uses a mixed media approach with what appears to be crayons, watercolours, paint and markers/pens. The result is an attractive use of colour, texture, and page composition, specifically white space. The glossy-paged paperback is professionally bounded, helping to package it as a wonderful addition to a young child’s library. The ONLY aspect of this book (from cover to cover) that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the font choice—I thought another style and perhaps a slightly smaller size would have been more appropriate.

This book, while short and simple in nature, manages to accomplish a number of important things, making it a significant addition to any child’s library.  First of all, the book helps young children identify positive qualities that Allah loves and value these qualities as something that will please Allah. Secondly, the story illustrates how each of these qualities can be applied in a variety of situations, stressing the importance of nurturing the whole child and leading a balanced, holistic life. For example, when the child is being kind, he is shown playing with pets as well as being affectionate with his parents. When he is thinking, he is shown engaging in independent reflection as well as building with blocks. When he is being strong, he is shown to be eating healthy as well as being physically active and when he is shown helping, he is helping an elderly woman down the stairs as well as helping with cooking. Moreover, the book presents what we traditionally perceive as “Islamic” acts with everyday acts so when he is reading, he is reading a picture book as well as the Quran and when he is giving, he is giving to the poor (saddaqah) as well as sharing toys with his friend. This balanced and inclusive portrayal of everyday actions helps to empower young children and make connections between their own lives and the tenants of our faith. One of my favourite representations was of the child being brave where in one example, he is dressed in a cape (as a superhero) and in the other example, he is at the doctor’s office being brave as the doctor examines him. This scene perfectly captures the relevance of this story for young children, and the books ability to present these qualities in a way that make sense to their frames of reference. Finally, this story demonstrates that love is a two-way relationship, and just as we strive for Allah’s love, we should also make an effort to love Allah.

I bought this book after coming across it online because it had the potential of being a great book for young Muslim children. I am pleased to say that it delivered in every respect. I will definitely be ordering multiple copies to give away as gifts and I look forward to further exploring this publisher and author to see what other gems I may uncover.

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Allah Gave Me Two Hands and Feet

I bought this book at the 2012 RIS Convention in Toronto. It belonged to a series related to the five senses called “Allah the Maker” so I made sure to buy all five books in the series. I will be reviewing each of them, which are all authored by different writers.

AllahGavemeTwoHandsandFeet-b

Allah Gave Me Two Hands and Feet

Raana Bokhari

Leicestershire: The Islamic Foundation, 2003 (reprinted in 2011)

English

28 pp

978-0-86037-348-3

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Allah Gave Me Two Hands and Feet captures the experience of a young boy who explores the sense of touch through a variety of environments and experiences. The author does a good job providing a balance of indoor and outdoor environments as well as depicting everyday activities such as playing, eating and picking leaves from trees alongside traditional acts of worship such as performing salah [the five daily prayers a Muslim is obliged to perform] as sensory experiences. This intentional presentation of “religious” acts alongside everyday activities captures the reality of the lives of Muslim children and points to the importance  and relevance of appealing to the whole child—the physical, emotional, social, cognitive and spiritual sides. Moreover, the author includes experiences whereby the child uses his feet to feel—a refreshing change from “touch” books that focus only on the hands!

This story features clear, easy language, however it becomes apparent that this book was not written by a North American author as there are a few words that point to British culture such as “ice lolly” and “podgy feet.” Generally, the text flows well and the use of rhyme makes it sound pleasant and contributes to the ease of reading, however the variation in the rhyming pattern may require the reader to rehearse it a few times before sharing the story with others to achieve the intended delivery. While the author typically uses an ABCB rhyming scheme, at times an ABCCB scheme is also used with one instance of an AABA scheme, making it a little clumsy.

The illustrations in this book appear to be done in watercolour. The illustrator, Asiya Clarke, has done an excellent job of using colour and space to create interesting and detailed images full of texture. The pages are visually attractive, using a softer and  more relaxed style to capture the reader’s attention in contrast to some of the bold images from previously reviewed books. The book itself is a square-shaped 8 inch by 8 inch hardcover, making it perfect for preschool hands. The glossy pages and appropriately-sized and styled font add to the quality of the product.

As an early childhood professional and a soon-to-be mother inshaAllah (God-Willing), I really appreciate the premise and potential of this book. The five senses are something that many young children formally learn about in school. Not only does this book provide rich experiences (and examples) of one of these senses (touch), it connects these experiences back to the Creator, fostering reflection on the part of young and old minds! It also provides inspiration for activities that families can engage in to explore the sense of touch firsthand in their own lives. The storyline reinforces important themes such as positive character traits (being kind, fair and grateful), the importance of leading a physically active life and spending time enjoying the natural world.  These ideas are further complimented by illustrations that visually depict family life that includes one-on-one time spent with each parent as well as time spent with extended family members such as grandparents and aunts and uncles. The illustrations also point to racial and ethnic diversity and normalize what may be seen as traditional Islamic dress, for example hijabs, jilbabs, kufis and beards. While some may debate as to whether these articles are cultural or religious, the crux of the matter is that it is important for children to see themselves and their families in the pages of books in order to foster a sense of belonging and validate their identities. This book does just that for millions of children worldwide.

Allah Gave Me Two Hands and Feet contains all of the elements to bookmark it as quality literature for young Muslim children. With appropriate language, fantastic illustrations and themes that point to a balanced life, this book is a non-traditional way to start exploring (or supplement) the study of the five senses, often taught through concept books, as well as promote reflection and make connections about the world around us. Having already glanced through the other books in the series, I anticipate that this is one of the stronger ones. I only hope that the other authors and illustrators have managed to provide such a rich and well-crafted experience on their respective topics.

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Jameela’s Great Idea

I bought this book with my annual Eid order from Soundvision.ca in 2011. jameela_pic0

Jameela’s Great Idea

Surriah Igram

Iowa: Little Mu’min Publications, 2007

English

32 pp.

978-1-60461-423-7

Overall Rating: 4/5

In this feel-good story, Jameela is inspired to raise money to donate to the little brown box in the masjid after witnessing her father do so during one of their regular trips. Jameela’s Great Idea chronicles her journey as she contemplates diverse and creative ways to turn her intention into action. Through the development of Jameela, the author perfectly captures the innocence, curiosity, creativity and desire to help that characterizes young children.

While Jameela’s character is well-developed and credible, the same cannot be said for secondary characters, mainly her parents, who come across as too good to be true. While it’s nice to see parents portrayed as such calm, nurturing caregivers, their reactions seem a little too docile in the face of some of Jameela’s more interesting ideas.  Moreover, it seems just a little convenient that of all the great ideas that Jameela conjures up, her favourite happens to be the most practical and easy to implement.

The story is well-written, using clear and concise language that reflects young children’s thoughts and speech. The structure and style of the story allows for an interactive reading, making it an excellent storytime choice for both small and large groups of children. The illustrations in the book feature bright colours and interesting details that create visual interest, for example, slight variations of texture in the trees, sky and sand and the patterning in Jameela’s scarf. That being said, I find the actual illustrative style a little cartoonish and the images a bit too busy for my personal taste (however the busy pictures could very well reflect Jameela’s active imagination).

This book is a glossy-paged paperback featuring a large-sized serif font. While this works quite well on some pages, at times, the size, amount and placement of text overpowers the page and detracts from the images and overall visual appeal.

Through direct references to Allah and Islam, this book promotes important social values such as generosity, civic and social community engagement, the family as a team, as well as role modelling positive behaviours and attitudes through the characters’ ideas and reactions. At the end of the book is a verse from the Quran highlighting the importance of charity, belief, righteous deeds and establishing prayer. This verse is not only an excellent reminder, but compliments the plot as Jameela is seen participating in all of these acts.

Moreover, through the illustrations, the book captures the diversity of people, both in the traditional sense of culture, race, age and religion, but also in a broader sense: diversity in terms of type of dress (both clothes and accessories such as eyeglasses), activities one can be seen participating in, and something that is often overlooked: diversity in terms of hair…hair type, hair colour, and hairstyle! These subtle details are of great importance to Muslim children being raised in pluralistic societies, who seek to recognize their own realities in contemporary literature. *As an adult, it is also interesting to notice theological subtleties in the book. For example, during all of their regular activities, Jameela (who looks like Little Red Riding Hood) and her friends (who like herself, are young children not obliged to cover their bodies as per requirements of hijab) all wear a headscarf that conveniently exposes their bangs and even other parts of their hair. But during the act of salah (prayer), all of the girls have magically donned a more complete hijab that meets the requirements of performing salah.

All in all, this is a high-quality book, supported by its well-written style and strong social message. While at times, I find the representation of Islam a little clichéd and overwhelming, the more subtle messages of diversity, cooperation and community prevent it from being earmarked as religious dogma packaged in a few cute pictures. Despite certain elements of the story appearing to be a stretch, Jameela’s Great Idea will surely delight young children, especially at a preschool/kindergarten level.

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To Catch a bug

I ordered two copies of this book from SoundVision.ca in 2011, one as an Eid gift and one for my collection. *Update: I loved this book so much that I re-ordered 3 more copies.

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To Catch a Bug

Nabeel Akbar

Leicestershire: Kids will be Kids, 2007

English

17pp

978-0-980938-21-0

Overall Rating: 4/5

 

To Catch a Bug is a delightful little story about an ordinary occurrence in the life of a curious young girl at play. As she engages with, marvels at and discovers the natural world around her, she also weaves in the use of common Islamic vocabulary such as Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Inshallah, Bismillah and Mashallah, contextualizing these commonly used big words for little children and adults alike! These terms (which are highlighted in red within the text) are also included in a convenient, corresponding glossary on the first page.

For the most part, the language used in this book is of a simple, rhyming nature, which facilitates the reading of such a story out loud, however at times, the rhyming becomes awkward and the word choice appears out of place. There is some good use of imagery in this story in the form of adjectives and verbs (for example: crawl, morphing, roll, slimy, move without making a sound, shriek, discover, appreciate) however; given the subject matter (bugs), the author could have provided more concrete details and better explored the subject with a variety of senses. It seems that the focus on rhyming limited the vivid descriptions that could have materialized with such a subject.

This glossy-paged hardcover features wonderful illustrations that really bring the story to life. With the depiction of adorable characters and the intentionally great use of colours, textures and space, the illustrator, Anam Ahmed, enriches the literary experience, offsetting the shortcomings of the actual text. Moreover, her portrayal of scenes from various angles (from behind, from in front, from the side and from overhead) along with the combination of zoomed-in and zoomed-out illustrations, allow the readers to appreciate all sorts of details, whether it be the pattern of marching ants, the intricate stripes of a caterpillar or the camouflage of a slug on tree bark. The typesetting in this book, as with many new authors, is a stumbling point. The use of Comic Sans appears unprofessional and clichéd and is not well-suited to this situation. The font used for the title however, is very attractive and playful as it features bug cutouts. This bug montage also decorates the inner cover pages and lends itself as a border around the glossary adding to the book’s visual appeal.

This charming book has many strong points, but one of my personal favourites is the idea that underpins the story—a seemingly secular concept experienced by children all over the world to which the author manages to introduce a more Islamic and intentional element. This is done through the use of God-conscious terminology, illustrations that depict characters as visible Muslims, as well portraying various Islamic principles such as: exploring and appreciating creation while attributing the beauty of creation to The Creator, showing respect to fellow humans and creatures, and obedience to parents. The ability to render an everyday, ordinary experience as a legitimate Islamic experience/act of worship should be considered an act of triumph for the author, Nabeel Akbar, who has certainly contributed to the landscape of rich children’s literature for the Muslim community with this book.

This beautifully-illustrated story, while it could have been enhanced by a more careful writing that more deeply considered word choice and word placement, is an excellent departure point for related activities, discussions, and further learning (including outdoor exploration)—a sentiment that parents and early childhood educators (not to mention, children) are sure to appreciate!

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Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah

I came across this book in the bazaar at the annual RIS Convention in Toronto this year. At first, I was a little-turned off by the seemingly cartoonish characters, however after reading the title and skimming through the book, I realized this was exactly what was missing from the current milieu.  Since then, I have developed a taste for this illustrative style and look forward to more titles in this series.

This is my first review for this blog and I am excited to start it off with such a strong selection: Ilyas and Duck search for Allah.

 

Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah

 

Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah

Omar Khawaja

Fairfax: LBK Books, 2012 (1st ed.)

English

39pp

978-0-9850728-1-0

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

In this charming book, Ilyas and Duck go on an age-old quest, in search of Allah (God). While on their journey to answer this simple and universal question, Ilyas and Duck encounter a unique assortment of animals that just so happen to compliment the diverse natural environments that they visit during their adventure. Not only will this story introduce children to various natural environments (and remind adults about Allah’s creation), but it will also spark children’s imaginations and appreciation for the natural world. Readers can learn more about these unconventional animals at the end of the book.

This story features good character development and dynamics, casting Ilyas as the curious protagonist and portraying Duck as the invaluable (and very appropriate) sidekick. Children will surely appreciate the humour that Duck’s presence adds to nearly every situation. Adults will appreciate the simple, yet beautiful story that starts with a reminder from the Quran about the nature of creation and continues with easy language, repetition, predictability and well-designed pages. The choice of characters (which include a hoopoe, an Alpine ibex, a mandrill and an anglerfish) is refreshing and far from the traditional cast of animal characters. Duck’s portrayal as a friend, rather than a pet, is also an integral and welcomed element of the story.

The illustrations are a great compliment to the story. They have vivid colours, clean lines, and stylized representations. The illustrations are consistent yet have enough variety to create visual interest through different perspectives, for example, aerial view, binocular view and comic strip style. The simplicity of the story, the interesting features of the illustrations and the professional elements of the book (including a hardcover and book jacket) all intersect to create a quality book that can create a rich literacy experience for young children.

All in all, this is a great finished product. The only qualm is with regards to the second last page, which features too much text. The rhyming language on this page also becomes a little forced, which is an uncharacteristic change from the eloquence that characterizes the remainder of the story.

With this book, Omar Khawaja has raised the bar of what’s considered to be an acceptable children’s book in the world of Islamic-themed literature. He tackles an important and central question about the location of God in a sensitive and appropriate way that will provide children with an answer (without drowning them in technical details that prove to be irrelevant to their frame of reference). Islamic practices and attitudes (such as being grateful and having a thirst for knowledge) are alluded to throughout this book in subtle ways that will teach children about the essence of Allah and Islam. This is a refreshing change from the plethora of stories that focus on the literal and outwardly signs of the faith. Young children will likely be able to identify with the characters as they become drawn into the various adventures that Ilyas and Duck promise to have, in what will hopefully, become a series.

Check out the website at  www.littlebigkids.com .

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