Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Welcome to Planet Omar!

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, by Zanib Mian/Illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik, (Feb. 2020, G.P. Putnam), $13.99, ISBN: 9780593109212

Ages 7-10

Meet Omar! He’s a young Muslim boy living in the UK, and has just moved to a new neighborhood and school so his mom could accept her dream job. He’s got an imaginary dragon for a friend and pet, he’s creative and imaginative, and… he finds himself the target of the school bully. Originally published in abroad in 2018 as The Muslims, Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet is hilarious, sweet, and brilliantly tackles Islamophobia, all from a kid’s point of view.

Written from Omar’s point of view and illustrated a la Wimpy Kid, Accidental Trouble Magnet introduces us to Omar’s family: his parents, his siblings, the bully who becomes enraged at the idea of Muslims, and the sweet little old lady next door who constantly talks to someone one the phone about what “The Muslims” are doing. Omar’s parents handle the next door neighbor with grace and aplomb, always extending the hand of friendship. Omar is informative about Muslim traditions – we learn about Eid and Ramadan; his excitement about attempting to take part in the fast (so he can be up in the middle of the night to eat), and about the hijab his mother wears (no, she doesn’t shower with it). Zanib Mian convincingly writes with Omar’s voice and introduces us to a friendly kid who wants to let you know about him – and wants to let you know that he can’t wait for his holiday gifts; he loves sweets, and he loves his culture and wants to share it with you, too. Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet is an upbeat, fun intermediate story that serves as a wonderful introduction to Muslim culture. It encourages empathy, compassion, and understanding. It promotes patience with others who make rash judgements, and encourages all of us to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

Have readers who love Saadia Faruqi’s Yasmin books and are ready to take on a longer chapter book? Introduce them to Omar! I’d love to see this on Summer Reading Lists this year, nudge nudge.

Accidental Trouble Magnet received the 2018 Little Rebels Award, was nominated for the 2019 Carnegie Medal, and longlisted for the 2019 UKLA Award. See more about the book on Muslim Children’s Books UK.

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

This Grandparents Day, let your kids read the stories to their grands

Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family, by Elizabeth Zunon,
(May 2019, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN:  978-1-68119-640-4
Ages 5-9

A girl and her father bake a cake and reminisce about “Grandpa Cacao” – her father’s father – and his life working on a cacao farm on the African Ivory Coast. Lush images come to life through Elizabeth Zunon’s oil paint, collage and screenprint artwork; there’s gorgeous texture and movement across the landscape, and Grandpa Cacao appears as a pale image, illustrating his existence as a “mythical figure” in the girl’s imagination. Inspired by the author’s own “Grandpa Cacao”, this is a heartwarming link across generations and celebrating the joy of creating together and uniting families. Back matter includes author’s notes and maps on the realities of the cacao trade, the sobering perseverance of child labor, and fair trade. There are notes on the science and history of chocolate, and a cake recipe to try with the kids.

Grandparents Day Idea: Talk to kids about their grandparents’ stories. Where are their grandparents from? Do they have memories of growing up to share? Does the family have any special recipes that have been handed down through generations?

 

Looking for Yesterday, by Alison Jay, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536204216
Ages 4-7

A young boy tries to use science to figure out how to travel back in time, so he can relive the great day he had the day before. When he asks his grandfather for advice, he learns that memories are great, but it’s exciting to look forward to the possibilities of adventure in the here and now. Alison Jay gives her character a wonderfully childlike reasoning process – yesterday was so great, let’s try to get back there and live it again! – and has him go through the motions of working on the science to make it happen; her crackled oil artwork giving a vintage-looking life to the story. As the boy calculates going faster than light speed, we see his mind at work: he’s flying around the world, wearing a cape; using a time machine that looks like a giant unicycle; configuring a garbage can into a rocket. The boy’s grandfather walks him through a photo album as he recounts the past, drawing the boy into his adventures as the two fly on a scrapbook to see mountain tops, whales, and hot air balloons. The grandfather-grandson relationship is warm and loving, communicated with warm colors and body language. A great book to encourage kids to seize the day.

Grandparents Day Idea: Get out the photo albums and show kids your adventures! Show them your childhoods, talk to them about playing with your friends; going to school; exciting and ordinary things you did as a child. See how things are different, and how things are the same.

 

My Grandma and Me, by Mina Javaherbin, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763694944
Ages 4-8

This autobiographical story of a the author as a young girl and her grandmother, living in pre-revolutionary Iran, brought me to tears with it beautiful storytelling. The opening line – “In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I have never loved anything or anyone the way I love my grandma” – poetically brings to life that everlasting love between grandparents and their grandchildren. Mira Javaherbin invites us to glimpse into her life as we see her lay across her grandmother during morning prayer; send down baskets to buy bread from the boy on his bicycle, bread piled high in a basket; waiting for her grandmother to break fast during Ramadan, so she can eat with her; hiding under a table strewn with her grandmother’s chadors, as she “helps” her make news ones. Lindsey Yankey’s mixed media illustrations create a cozy, welcoming space for us to spend time reading Mina’s story. Mina’s best friend and her grandmother are Christian; Mina and her grandmother are Muslim. The two girls play together while their grandmothers craft and enjoy each other’s company; each goes to their own house of worship and prays for the other. It’s a quietly strong celebration of two cultures, two faiths, living and playing together. With starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, this loving look at the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is a perfect gift book and storytime book.

Grandparents Day Idea: Do you have memories of your grandparents that you’d like to share with your kids? Talk to your kids about spending time with your grandparents as a child, or as an adult, if you have stories to tell. Ask them what they like to do when they’re with grandparents. Do they like to play board games together? Do they read together?
Around the Table that Grandad Built, by Melanie Hauser Hill/Illustrated by Jaime Kim, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9780763697846
Ages 3-7
A sweet take on the classic cumulative story, The House that Jack Built, this heartwarming story assembles a multicultural family for a celebration centering around a table that Grandad built. Each part of the celebration is warm, inclusive, and participatory: cousins gather sunflowers; Mom’s sewn napkins that go with the dishes; glasses come from Mom and Dad’s wedding, and flatware comes from Dad’s grandma, all coming together to create a global table where the family enjoys squash, tamales, samosas, and other tasty fare, all prepared by members of the family. It’s a celebration of family steeped in tradition, linked across generations. The acrylic, crayon, and digital artwork adds to the handmade feel of the story and is rendered with bright primary colors, making this an upbeat story that will work for any family gathering. (Definitely keep this one on hand for Thanksgiving.)
Grandparents Day idea: Prepare a favorite dish with your grandkids, or create something with them. If you have little ones, try a no-sew project, or consider a craft that brings your generations together – handprints are always a good choice, and you can easily take some inspiration from the choices out there, while making it your own.
Grandpa’s Top Threes, by Wendy Meddour/Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick),
$16.99, ISBN: 9781536211252
Ages 3-6
Henry loves to talk to his Grandpa, but Grandpa hasn’t been talking much these days; preferring instead to silently work on his garden. When Henry nudges Grandpa by indulging in his favorite game – Top Threes – Grandpa finally starts talking, giving thoughtful answers that ultimately rebuild the bridge between them. And then we find out what’s really going on: Grandpa is mourning Granny. In a moment that’s at once touching and heartbreaking, Henry asks Grandpa who his three favorite Grannies are, citing his favorites as his two grandmothers, plus the granny from Red Riding Hood. Grandpa recounts his favorite three memories of Granny as his three favorites, including the Granny that first held Baby Henry. The simple, moving prose is eloquent and full of feeling; full of aching and loss, and yet, instilled with deep affection and love for a grandchild and for a spouse. A beautiful, tender story that you may need a tissue or two for, but one not to be missed. Daniel Egnéus’s watercolor illustrations are digitally assembled, giving a mixed media, textured feel to the layers of the story with each turn of the page. Make this one available to kids who have lost a grandparent, and encourage them to talk about their Top Threes.
Grandparents Day idea: Talk about your Top Three moments; Top Three grandmas and grandpas, or Top Three anything.
Our Favorite Day, by JoowonOh, (Sept. 2019, Candlewick Press),
$16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0357-8
Ages 3-6
Grandpa has a routine he keeps to: a morning cup of tea, some light housework, and a bus ride into town, where he has lunch at his favorite dumpling shop, but Thursday is the best day of the week for Grandpa and his young granddaughter. It’s their day, and Grandpa is making sure it’s a good one! He chooses some crafting materials at a craft shop on his trip to town, gets two orders of dumplings to go, picks some flowers, and is ready to greet his granddaughter with a hug when she bounds out of the car! Together, the two enjoy their lunch, make a kite, and head out to fly it. With a narrative consisting of both omniscient narration and word-balloons, this adorably illustrated story is a wonderful way to celebrate grandparents and grandkids spending time together, and illustrates how important each is to the other. Grandpa has his own routine, but he lives for those Thursdays; he’s ready and waiting for his best buddy to arrive, and she can’t wait to get there. The affection and time they spend together is heartwarming and shows the mutual benefits of a multigenerational relationship. Joonwon On’s watercolor, gouache, and cut paper artwork creates texture and a scrapbook-like environment to envelop the reader. An absolutely adorable, touching story of grandparents and their grandkids.
Grandparents Day Idea: Craft together! Make a fun project together: it can be a kite, like the story shows, but it can be as easy as coloring together. I used to save a bag of fabric scraps from old clothes; when my Nana came to visit, I’d dump the bag on the table, and we’d make clothes for my dolls together. The craft doesn’t matter; the time you spend together does.
Posted in picture books

Folk and Fairy Tales with Mulla Nasruddin: Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin, retold by Sean Taylor & the Khayaal Theatre/Illustrated by Shirin Ali, (Aug. 2019, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536205077

Ages 4-8

Mulla Nasruddin, the wise fool from Muslim folk tales, is here to entertain and liven up your 398 sections with 21 trickster tales. Every story is amusing; some are laugh-out-loud funny, and all of them will make you think. There are stories like “Whose Move?”, where the Mulla’s home is robbed; the Mulla follows the robber back to his home, gets into his bed, and informs him that his wife and family will join them tomorrow, convinced that he thought the robber was moving the Mulla and his family to the robber’s house. Stories like “Who Owns the Land?”, where the Mulla gives a thoughtful response to a dispute between farmers, will make readers pause and think about the earth and who has rights to it, after all. There’s a little bit of wisdom in each story.

The stories run 1-2 pages, allowing for quick reads during a circle time, story time, or lesson. The mixed media art is wonderful; it’s colorful and has different textures, almost inviting readers to touch the Mulla’s cottony beard or run a finger across a woven rug. An author’s note at the beginning of the book introduces readers to Mulla Nasruddin, and a glossary of Arabic terms helps readers with some new words. A welcome addition to trickster tales on the folktales shelf.

You can find out more about the Khayaal Theatre Company at their website. See more of Shirin Adl’s illustrations at her website. Get a riddle at author Sean Taylor’s website, or visit his blog for older readers.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Taking Cover: Growing up during the Iranian Revolution

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution, by Nioucha Homayoonfar, (Jan. 2019, National Geographic Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781426333668

Ages 10-14

Nioucha Homayoonfar’s memoir of life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution is equal parts joyful and heartbreaking. In 1976, at the age of 5, her family moves from Pittsburgh to Iran, where her father can be with his family again. For several years, Nioucha and her expat friends are educated in a progressive French-Persian school and enjoy the things most kids do, including listening to music, dancing, and swimming. But the revolution changes all that. Nioucha and her friends are segregated; they have to wear robes and hoods that cover their hair (and are threatened with burning in Hell, hanging on every visible thread of hair), and live in fear of being kidnapped by the Moral Police: a group called the Zeinab Sisters. Nioucha refers to them as The Black Crows, which brings a colorful, tongue in cheek image to mind, but these women are anything but humorous. The women patrol the streets in a van, capturing women and teens they deem immoral, hiding them in prisons, and beating them until they feel redemption is earned.

But there are wonderful moments of family and friendship in Taking Cover, too. Nioucha recalls her first Iranian Christmas, when she hopes Santa Claus will remember that she’s moved to Iran, so she’ll get her presents, and her family decorates her aunt’s house with a beautiful tree and presents. She talks about her relationship with her grandparents, who adore her and comfort her during her first sleepover away from her parents; going to concerts and driving around with her cousin, Sara, even learning French in an underground school run by her mother and her best friend’s mother. In the midst of explosions and oppression, Nioucha and her family managed to take joy where they found it.

Parallels to Persepolis are expected, and should be encouraged. Taking Cover is an excellent memoir and lead-in to Persepolis, allowing middle graders to expand their worldview and start a conversation on how the Iranian Revolution changed the world. The book includes a map of Iran and surrounding areas, and a timeline of Iranian history. There is a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide available.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

I loved Under My Hijab!

Under My Hijab, by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel, (Feb. 2019, Lee & Low), $17.95, ISBN: 9781620147924

Ages 4-8

This rhyming tale stars a young girl who observes members of her family and her scout leader, when they wear hijab, and when they don’t. Grandma wears it to work at the bakery, but at home in her kitchen, her hair is up in a bun. When Mama, a doctor, is seeing patients, she wears a pretty, bright hijab tucked into her coat, and at home, her hair is down as she plants her flowers. Auntie, an artist, has a funky hijab with a jewel, and when she’s home helping our narrator hang her own paintings, she’s got an equally funky hairstyle, complete with pink and purple streaks! Each woman in our main character’s life wears a hijab as individual as they are, and as our little friend tries on her own hijab at home, she plays with accessories and dreams of the bright future in front of her.

What a wonderful way to explain hijab to young readers! The colorful, bright Photoshop artwork speaks of individuality and fun, giving realistic, playful life to the upbeat, lively, and informative rhyme. Back matter explains the meaning of hijab and how some women choose to wear it, while others may not, noting that “it can be a beautiful expression of the Islamic faith”.

An absolutely must-add to your collections and storytimes.  Display and booktalk with Saadia Faruqi’s fabulous second grader, Yasmin, author Hena Khan’s award-winning middle grade novel, Amina’s Voice, and Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound. There are great Muslim middle grade and YA resources out there, too: here’s a list of picture books from No Time for Flash Cards; list of books from Diversity in YA; here’s a list from Goodreads, and a great list from Teaching While Muslim. There’s a great interview with author Hena Khan on kidlit ambassador extraordinaire John Schu’s blog, too!

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

She’s here! She’s here! MEET YASMIN is finally here!

Meet Yasmin!, by Saadia Faruqi/Illustrated by Hatem Aly, (Aug. 2018, Capstone), $5.95, ISBN: 978-1-68436-022-2

Ages 6-8

I am insanely excited to talk about Meet Yasmin! I first saw the book when author Saadia Faruqi tweeted the cover reveal, and I went berserk for it! Since I’m not known for my restraint when I’m excited about something, Ms. Faruqi was kind enough to message me and offer to send me a copy, and I was thrilled to receive one! Let’s dive in!

Yasmin is a smart, curious, creative second grader with an imagination that’s twice as big! She lives with and her Pakistani-American family and has a close, upbeat relationship with them. Meet Yasmin! is a chapter book with four short stories that introduce readers to this young dynamo: in Yasmin the Explorer, Yasmin learns how to make a map and use it when she misplaces her mother at a farmer’s market; Yasmin the Painter enters an art competition; Yasmin the Builder contributes to a class construction project, and Yasmin the Fashionista and her Nani (grandmother) have a fashion show straight from Nani’s closet! Every story presents a challenge that Yasmin meets and overcomes with determination and creativity.

The back matter is just as good as the stories are. A Think About It, Talk About It section offers discussion questions, and there’s a nice Urdu-to-English glossary to introduce new words to readers. We get some facts about Pakistan, a recipe for the yogurt drink, lassi (which is SO good – I tried it immediately), and a fun flower motif bookmark craft.

I adore Meet Yasmin! Saadia Faruqui gives young readers a fun, positive new protagonist with a rich cultural heritage that I hope we learn more about with subsequent books. She’s got a good relationship with her multigenerational family, and has a diverse group of friends. She’s the kids we parents and caregivers want our kids to be, and to be with. Hatem Aly’s artwork is a joy to look at, with his big, bright-eyed characters with beautiful, bright, richly patterned clothing. The facial expressions are big and bold, ready to catch a reader’s eye, and the positive stories will encourage multiple reads. You must absolutely, positively, add this book to your collections, read it with your kids, and read it on your own. Meet Yasmin! has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and BookRiot has a great interview with author Saadia Faruqi.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Peace be upon you: Salam Alaikum

Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace, by Harris J/Illustrated by Ward Jenkins, (Sept. 2017, Simon & Schuster Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481489386

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young, British, Muslim artist’s YouTube hit reaches an even wider audience with this picture book that celebrates peace, love, and happiness. Called “the Muslim Justin Bieber” by NPR, Harris J’s words, combined by Ward Jenkins digital artwork, come together to create a story where peace is spread, hand to hand, via kind deeds: handing an umbrella to someone in the rain; a balloon; a cup of coffee – each recipient paying it forward and spreading kindness to another. The characters from the book come together to hold hands, forming a human chain of love and understanding that embraces the world.

“Salam alaikum” means “peace be upon you”; the formal and informal greeting, in both English and Arabic, greets readers at the beginning of the book. The response, “wa alaikuma salam” – “and upon you, peace” – leaves the reader in peace at the book’s close. The kindness spread from one hand to another is depicted as a golden glow that grows as it’s passed on. The story is optimistic, bright, and filled with hope more importantly, it’s a call to action for everyone who reads it, who witnesses this message, to be part of the change for good. That’s a message we really want to pass on, especially now. The cast of characters is diverse, and the text is bold, black, and stands out against the pages, making it an easy read-aloud. The refrain, “Assalamu Alaikum”, appears throughout in large, scripted font, the message standing out.

Salam Alaikum sends a positive message about peace and living together as a global community. It’s a strong and upbeat choice for storytimes and collections.