Tag Archives: Muslim children’s book reviews

“The Green Bicycle” Book Review!

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Recently I got the chance to ride my bicycle again after quite some time, meaning many months. I used to bike all the time when I was younger. It’s something I really want to pick up again and not let it go again!

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The feeling of biking is exhilarating and freeing.

A Penguin representative reached out to me asking if I’d review a book The Green Bicycle. The story features a bold eleven year old, Wadjda, who lives in Saudi Arabia and her wish is to ride a bike. The issue is that girls don’t ride bikes where she lives. I couldn’t wait to read the story and glad I got the chance to read it and review it!

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Amazon Summary: click here for look inside!

Spunky eleven-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her parents. She desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, even though it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Wadjda earns money for her dream bike by selling homemade bracelets and mixtapes of banned music to her classmates. But after she’s caught, she’s forced to turn over a new leaf (sort of), or risk expulsion from school. Still, Wadjda keeps scheming, and with the bicycle so closely in her sights, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Set against the shifting social attitudes of the Middle East, The Green Bicycle explores gender roles, conformity, and the importance of family, all with wit and irresistible heart.

I was curious to read this book as I grew up in Abu Dhabi and wanted to see how her experience in Saudi Arabia was different from mine. The book is fictional, but the experiences reflect he author Haifaa Al Mansour’s school experiences.

Wadjda deals with challenges from being in an overly strict school where the girls are forced to memorize chants and patriotic songs. Wadjda struggles with the meaningless and mundane activities. When a Quran competition’s first prize is a big amount of money that can pay for a bicycle, Wadjda decides that she will win the competition so that she can buy a green bicycle that she has set her eyes on. Her friend Abdullah secretly teaches her to ride his bicycle and the feeling Wadjda experiences racing on his bike is pure joy.

In Abu Dhabi, I leraned to ride a bike and would ride around my house in a small parking lot so was glad to have that opportunity – something I took for granted. I felt for Wadjda who felt limited.

Furthermore, Wadjda deals with some hard issues such as washing her father remarry another wife when he is still married to his mother. Her heart breaks when she witnesses her mother’s sorrow.  The mother and daughter’s connection is rekindled and although initially, her mother does not feel it is proper for Wadjda to ride a bike, at the end her mother supports her daughter and allows her ride it as she wishes. I don’t want to say too much about the exciting ending in case you get a chance to read it!

The author Haifaa Al Mansour wrote an author note that shed light on her experiences as a child.  She said the main character is based on a lot of girls she grew up with. She writes the story isn’t necessarily autobiographical but is based on the place she came from. She experienced a lot of the same frustrations that Wadjda did in public school. I thought it was fun that author Haifaa had a green bike as a child and when she tagged along with her father to buy bikes for her two brothers, she spotted a green bike and wanted it. The seller was upset that she wanted the bicycle, but her father insisted upon getting it. Haifaa rode her bike in circles around her backyard, not outside her home, but still found pleasure in biking. That story touched me!

My grandmother used to bike to university in a sari many years ago in India. I always loved knowing how independent she was. I am Muslim and feel comfort in my religion knowing I have the right to go places, the right to ride a bicycle. Unfortunately, there are a few cultures that look down upon letting girls ride a bicycle. That disappoints me and I hope each girl around the world has this right! I also hope each student gets blessed with wonderful teachers. Ms. Hussa (Wadjda’s teacher) reminded me of Ms. Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, an unsavory character!

One favorite quote from the story:

The next morning, Wadjda swung herself up onto her new green bicycle and set out through the neighborhood. Her feet moved forward. She pedaled at her own speed, on her own terms. For the first time in her life, Wadjda felt the freedom of pure, unchecked movement, and knew the sensation of using her own power to whisk herself through the city. The warm wind slipped under her loose veil and blew her hair back as she swerved down streets and alleys, bumped on and off sidewalks.

I’ll never let go of this feeling, she thought, and pedaled harder.

This book was based on the award-wining film Wadjda and I can’t wait to watch the film next!

Author Interview: Razeena Gutta of “Read Little Muslims!”

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Razeena Gutta is the author and founder of Read Little Muslims. I first noticed her a few months ago on Facbeook. I saw her site pop up and instantly clicked ‘Like.’ Her words resonated with me. She’s based in Australia and is passionate about books being produced for Little Muslims from around the world. Her site supports children’s books from other authors and illustrators and she is quick to feature their work proudly on her site, making her site an exciting hub for literature for little Muslims!
She sent me her book We’re Little Muslims all the way from Australia, a book that Z has already said is her favorite book(it has been added to her bedtime books!) and that it reminds her of Sunday School. I enjoyed the child-friendliness of the book and the gentle way it introduced facts about Prophet Muhammad in there.  I can’t wait for more books from her. Interview below!

1. How did you choose the characters Faatimah & Ahmed?

 
I chose the names because I wanted them to be immediately identifiably Muslim and I wanted children with those names and those who know children with those names, as they are so common, to see themselves in a book. I wanted Muslim children to relate to them immediately. They are both slightly older than my two children are currently and as this book started out as just a story for them, I needed them to be characters that they’d look up to.

2. What is it you want children and parents and teachers to get from reading your book? I liked the way you shared just a few facts — my 4 year old Z latched onto them!

I wanted this to be a book children would WANT to read and not one that they’d have to be coaxed to read. Its bright, colourful and shows two children having a bit of fun but learning at the same time. I want to pass this attitude on… It’s important to inculcate a love for learning from young, and I hope that this book can be a tool to help parents and teachers help their little ones to learn.

3. When did you start Read Little Muslims?
I started Read Little Muslims in July 2014. Alhamdulillah it has been a great journey so far!

4. How did you get a good following for them? I noticed you have 6,000 + likes!
Read Little Muslims seemed to attract a lot of interest on Facebook when I first started out – While Facebook has its limitations, it is a great tool to spread the word about what I am trying to do – which is create a forum to find, view and review great books and to support Muslim authors – After Facebook, I started a website where I also sell other great quality books (mainly to my local market in Australia), and joined Instagram and Twitter. Through these outlets I made contact with so many people worldwide, all looking for the same thing – a way to teach our children in a manner that is age-appropriate, has an impact on them and that will create lasting memories, at the same time making things fun and light. Children’s books can do just that – they can be so simple and yet they can have such an impact.
5. What are your goals for all our little Muslims and their world of children’s books?
So through Read Little Muslims, I hope to keep searching for and finding great books to Muslim kids, encourage people to consider writing books if they feel they have a story to tell, and support those who do. On readlittlemuslims.com we also have some free resources which people can download and use for their children, and we hope to keep building that up. Through guest writers, bloggers and author interviews, we also hope that Read Little Muslims becomes a place that people can go to find behind-the-scenes info about books, seek out the latest books for kids and share any great resources they may come across and help us to spread the word. Insha Allah, I also hope to have a 2nd book in the Faatimah and Ahmed series completed soon too!

How Big is Allah? – Children’s Book Review

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I recently reviewed the book How Big is Allah? by Emma Apple. (Allah is simply the Arabic name for God!). Below are a few questions behind Emma’s thoughts. I’m always fascinated by the author’s thought process and she illustrated the book as well so her illustration process as well.

I didn’t have a chance to photograph Z reading the story, but you can see the Amazon LookInside! feature here or Middle Way Mom’s review with more in-depth photos here.

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My quick thoughts: It’s a simple, but engaging read, and does answer the basic questions in a child-friendly way as well as has a great science feel to the book. Z is learning about planets in school so was excited to see the planets and hear words such as ‘Milky Way’ that she had recently heard at school. It’s a book for more Z’s age 4 and up, rather than toddler A who is almost 2.

The book is illustrated in B&W. It has a Shel Silverstein feel from the Giving Tree, and you can really focus on the concepts. I’m a huge fan of color, but I like the story in this style and the illustrations really make a point.

Interview below!

1. How did you get the idea to turn this concept into a children’s book?

The idea for the book actually came from helping my son to understand Allah. He’s autistic and can find some less concrete and literal concepts difficult at times. He’s also insatiably curious, he and his older sister are very much into science and he has always has a special love of space. When he started asking questions about Allah, some of his questions related to Allah’s size and how Allah looks (which will be answered in the next book in the series, due out in a few months inshaAllah). My husband and I found that a really great way to explain Allah’s size, is to explain how small we are in relation to the universe, which Allah created. Of course, there is no concrete answer to how big Allah is, that’s something we can’t know, but we found talking about relative size within creation helped both our children to understand the greatness of Allah. I come from a long line of teachers, poets and playwrites, so putting the concept down in writing for other children to learn from, was only natural and my husband encouraged me to turn it into a children’s book. The ayah we’ve used to reinforce our approach to teaching this concept is in the book as well, Surah 39 Ayah 67 where Allah talks about the universe being rolled up in His Right Hand: “They made not a just estimate of Allah such as is due to Him. And on the Day of Resurrection the whole of the earth will be grasped by His Hand and the heavens will be rolled up in His Right Hand. Glorified is He, and High is He above all that they associate as partners with Him!”

How did your love for illustration develop?
Ever since I could hold a pencil I’ve being drawing, it’s always just been something I had to do. I’ve always loved the visual arts and for most of us, our first real experience with visual arts are the illustrations in the books we read or are read to as children. I’ve always been drawn to the effortless style of Mercer Mayer (Little Critter) and the bold and simple coloring of Dr Seuss, I adore the minimalism of of Robert Lawson (Ferdinand) and E. H. Shepard (Winnie The Pooh) and have drawn on the latter two for inspiration when illustrating my books, which contain black and white pen and ink illustrations. I can’t say I always aspired to be a children’s illustrator, but I always knew I wanted to pursue art as a career, I just hadn’t figured out exactly what my options were. In my 20’s, when my kids (who are 9 and 7) were little, I spent a lot of time reading to them, picture books I grew up with and books I’d never seen before, I admired and studied the illustration styles in the books as I read them night after night and finally realized children’s illustration was what I wanted to do. As a self taught artist, it’s a skill that I’ve been working quietly at for many, many years. I probably started seriously working at my drawing skills in my early teens.
Do you live in New Zealand? What’s the Muslim population like ?
I don’t live in New Zealand anymore, I left after I got married in the early 00’s. I was a new convert when I left, so I hadn’t had much to do with the Muslim community, but the people I did meet were extremely diverse, friendly and welcoming.
Is your real name Emma Apple?
 Emma Apple is a childhood nickname (well, the Apple part anyway), most people know me by only that name these days though (even my husband of 12 years first knew me as Emma Apple), so I consider it almost as much my real name as my family name is.
Do you have more plans for more books?
I have lots of plans for future books! InshaAllah! I’m almost finished the second book in this series (the Children’s First Questions series) which is tentatively titled What Does Allah Look Like? (of course, all the books are researched and written in accordance with Qur’an and sunnah, How Big Is Allah? is loved and endorsed by Salafi families all the way to non Muslim families alhamdolillah). I’ve also begun researching and drafting the third book in the series and initial planning for an educational activity book to accompany the series, inshaAllah. I have long term plans for other series’ but those are the books I’m currently working on. I’m really excited for everyone to see the next book! I’ve had a lot of fun working on it alhamdolillah.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to interview Emma and do check out her book!
Emma’s info: Best Selling Islamic Children’s Author-Illustrator EmmaApple.com
Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Facebook
Debut Islamic Children’s Book ‘How Big Is Allah?’ (Arabic Edition
كَم اللَّه كَبيرا؟ now available) emmaapple.com/howbigisallah

The Jinni on the Roof: Children’s Book Review

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Amazon Summary: Eight-year-old Raza is too young to fast, but he longs for the delicious parathas the grown-ups eat before dawn. The aroma of the flaky, golden bread tempts him. He cannot wait for the children’s breakfast, but he’ll get into trouble if anyone finds him up this early. Lying in bed, Raza hatches a plan. Will he get away with it? This is a delightful tale about a mischievous boy who learns the true meaning of Ramadan – patience and empathy. Age range 4 -8 years. Link to amazon here!

Story by Natasha Rafi  (Author), Abdul Malik Channa (Illustrator)

My thoughts: I saw this tale advertised on Facebook and wanted to read it! I reached out to author Natasha Rafi and she sent me one over. It’s a heartwarming tale of a child who loves parathas! Most children do love parathas so it’s relatable! I also liked that this story was paperback. A lot of children’s books are hardback, but it ‘s nice to have a good quality paperback. I like paperbacks for traveling purposes so I would pack this with a Noor Kids comic book for Z if we were to travel soon! Also the benefit of paperbacks are that they aren’t as expensive as hardcovers so it’s a great book to add to a child’s Ramadan collection or give as an Eid gift, #RamadanReads!

The story is set in Lahore – I’m from Karachi, so the descriptions of the cook and sehri hit home for me. Rafi included a glossary at the end of the book which is helpful for non-Pakistani people. There is also an Author’s Note on Ramadan which is helpful for non-Muslims and Muslims.

I enjoyed how Rafi describes 8 year old Raza’s escape to the roof and the sounds he hears at Sehri time. It was amusing to read Raza’s thoughts and how he snuck up to the roof. I also enjoyed the illustrations by Abdul Malik Channa, especially of Raza’s nani (or maternal grandmother) as she looks like Z’s paternal great grandmother! Z also enjoyed the little orange cat in the pictures.

On his way he passed through room after room filled with heavy wood furniture, stubbing his toe in the dark more than once.

Z’s thoughts: Z enjoyed the part where Reza goes on the roof and disguises his voice to scare the cook Amina. It was a fun story to use a scary voice to. Z also loves parathas so she enjoyed pointing to the balls of dough. Z also wanted to hear the story of why he wanted parathas and how he got them, over and over again!

Favorite Quote:

I loved how the cook sounded like a paratha!

Amina the cook was heaving her plump, doughy body up the stairs to his grandmother’s room to wake her up. She had a lot of work to do since the whole family had gathered together in Lahore to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Shortly after that came the aroma.

 

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This was Z’s favorite page because Amina the cook was cooking parathas and in Z’s words she really likes parathas!
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Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns Book Review

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Remember the book I just reviewed by Hena Khan? She wrote Night of the Moon: a Muslim Holiday Story. Well here’s another story she wrote that is one of my favorites. So far my favorite Eid story is Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman, and one of my favorite general Muslim stories has got to be this one. The illustrations are gorgeous, almost like a 3D Pixar movie.

Pair that with Hena Khan’s rhyming words, and you have a great story. I like this story better than her Eid story.

Author: Hena Khan

Illustrator: Mehrdokht Amini

Availability: Amazon and My library (yes!)

How I Discovered it: Amazon search

My Favorite Quotes: 

All of the

colorful things we’ve seen

make up the world of my faith,

my deen.

I also liked the quote with Grandma and the illustration that went with it. I don’t have a photo of that page, so go buy or check out the book.

Green is the Quran

I read with pride.

Grandma explains

the lessons inside.

Z’s thoughts: Z really liked the Henna page so included that one below. She enjoyed the big pictures and the rhyming text.

The rest of the story has beautiful pages and for each color is a simple rhyme. The story has a Look Inside! feature on Amazon so just included a couple of my favorite pages below. I really enjoyed this simple story of A Muslim Book of Colors as I love colors, so this book made me feel good reading it.

Amazon’s thoughts: Magnificently capturing the colorful world of Islam for the youngest readers, this breathtaking and informative picture book celebrates Islam’s beauty and traditions. From a red prayer rug to a blue hijab, everyday colors are given special meaning as young readers learn about clothing, food, and other important elements of Islamic culture, with a young Muslim girl as a guide. Sure to inspire questions and observations about world religions and cultures, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns is equally at home in a classroom reading circle as it is being read to a child on a parent’s lap.

Media: 

This book has great reviews on Amazon. Recently, though I read an article where a father in my local state of Georgia was upset his child found this book at a Book Fair and complained to the school saying,  “I don’t want this culture around my children, let’s get them educated first. Learn to read and write before we start teaching (about) the fanaticals.” You can read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Father upset after child finds Muslim book at school fair .

Picture books are a way to educate people about a variety of issues, so I found his comment disconcerting to say the least.  I used to have a student who was a Jehova’s Witness who checked out 2 library books on Christmas and birthdays; Jehova’s Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays so her book selection was interesting. I hadn’t realized she had checked out these books and that it was an issue until my student’s mother sent in a polite note asking that her child not check out books like these on holidays. I admire the mom for the way she handled the matter and wrote about it here.. I wish this dad had handled it as well as she did. We have the right to good quality children’s books, and the right to choose whether we want to read them or not.

I posted the article from the Marietta Daily Journal to Facebook about the upset father and 2 of my teacher friends wrote that the book looked great and went ahead and purchased it online for their classroom libraries. So I guess that father didn’t know that his attention may actually be causing a deeper interest in the book rather than against the book. Yay for teachers open to multicultural books!

Pictures below! There are more gorgeous ones on Amazon under the Look Inside! feature so be sure to take a look there.

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Why I Read Children’s Books

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The glossy pages and the rich pictures always always draw me in to the children’s book area of the library. As a teen, I would tentatively visit this area and check out children’s books. I’m sure the librarians probably thought I had a younger sibling I was checking out these books for. As a 2nd grade teacher, I felt more justified being in the children’s book section, and now as a mother, I finally feel like it’s cool again to be in this section and you are truly never too old to read a children’s book. The books I check out from this section are mostly for me, not Z. Z is just my liaison to this section, but how I love the children’s book section of libraries and bookstores. Here I find comfort and solace, and how I love the illustrations, the fresh tone of voice that children possess, and the scent that comes with a good book.

Since I read so many children’s books, I thought I would share my thoughts/review a few of my favorites.

 

beatriceThe above book Beatrice Spells Some Lulus and Learns to Write a Letter was in the New section of the Northside Library that I visit, and I subtly grabbed it! This picture book is a beautiful story of how Beatrice’s grandmother teaches her how to spell. My favorite line from the book is,

Dear Nanny Hannah, Some people get hazel eyes or chocolate chip brownies or orange sweaters from their grandmas. Thank you for giving me spelling.

Love sincerely,

Your Spelling Bea

My grandmothers have taught me so much – to appreciate nature, to study stones and leaves and trees and clouds, to read and speak Urdu. How nice it is to have grandmothers who teach. If you have a little one who is learning to spell, this is a great story, or if you have a class of students, this is a great read aloud story. I wish this book was there when I had taught 2nd grade. Since I really want to publish a children’s book, hopefully reviewing some of the excellent stories I come across will make me a better author.

I’m also going to start a section of my blog for Muslim book reviews as I scour the Muslim publishing market for children’s stories; it can be hard sometimes to find great Muslim stories.  Currently, I’m trying to put together a book for toddlers/preschoolers about Eid.

More later!