Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik (9780593109212)
Omar and his family have moved, which means that Omar has to start at a new school. He lives with his mother, father, older sister and younger brother. One of their new neighbors doesn’t seem happy to have Muslim neighbors, glaring at them through her fence and not being friendly when approached. Omar is also facing a bully at school. Daniel has even told him that because Omar is a Muslim he could be kicked out of the country! Luckily, Omar also has a new best friend and a family who can support him as he learns the ins and outs of being Muslim in America.
Mian’s #ownvoices novel for elementary readers is wildly funny and really approachable. Omar himself seems the world through a silly and engaging lens, where teachers may be aliens and he is a magnet for trouble. That trouble includes spitting on his little brother in bed, getting lost during a field trip, and asking Allah to bring him a Ferrari. The book has lots of illustrations, making it just right for elementary-aged readers who need some breaks in their text. They will find that the humor and format make for an engaging read.
A winner of a children’s book that is about prejudice, friendship and community. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan, illustrated by Saffa Khan (9781452180199)
This lovely bedtime book has text inspired by the Quran. The book has a repeating structure with each double-page illustration accompanied by a line that starts with “Inshallah you…” The book focuses on a day in a child’s life, surrounded by a loving family. The family wakes up, goes for a walk, and visits a neighbor in need. They read books together, play with friends, and garden. There are lots of activities like swimming, riding a bike and even more playing with others before the book ends with bedtime and stories.
These universal childhood experiences are made deeper and more meaningful with the words that accompany them, each noted with characteristics that they represent like thoughtfulness, kindness, safety, and faith. The illustrations are vibrant and impactful, showing a Muslim family go about their day. Done in reds, yellows and blues, the illustrations are full of color and celebrate parental love.
A warm, rich and beautiful look at a Muslim family. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel (9781534418882)
The introduction to this book tells of the impact that Muslim woman have had throughout history. Inside the book, the focus is on modern Muslim women who are currently making their own impact on the world. Each woman or girl is given a two-page spread with an illustration on one full page and then a quote and biography on the other. There are women you will have heard of like Malala Yousafzai, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and Ilhan Omar. Others may be new to you and include authors, chefs, activists, athletes and more.
Written in a matter-of-fact tone, this book allows readers to turn pages and discover more and more incredible Muslim women and girls. Each one displays their own unique skills and lifestyle, each dresses in their own way, and all have made a difference in our world, whether large or small. The book shows again and again that being Muslim is diverse and inclusive.
The art by Jaleel is done in an approachable and light way. Still, each of them women is recognizable as themselves, as you can see from the cover image. The larger format of the portraits of each woman in the book is very impactful.
A must-purchase for all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney (9780374309527)
Allie has grown up with Islamophobia aimed at her father because of the way he looks. She’s learned how to use her own lighter skin and red hair to intervene. She has lived all over the United States due to her father’s job as a professor, so she’s also learned how to quickly fit in with her peers too. As Allie starts to date Wells, a boy in her new school, she is also getting more interested in learning about being a Muslim. Allie’s father isn’t a practicing Muslim and has strong feelings about Allie starting to pray and learning Arabic. When Allie discovers that Wells’ father is one of the biggest TV bigots, particularly about Muslims, she must start to make choices about whether to speak out or continue to blend in.
Courtney’s writing is fresh and blunt. She takes on racism directly from the very first scene in the book and then uses that as a way to start a dialogue inside her book about how best to address overt and casual racism that one encounters throughout their life. Allie learning about her religion allows readers to learn alongside her. The study group discussions she participates in also show the wide ranging views of Muslims, both liberal and more conservative.
The exploration of one’s response to hate speech and bumbling attempts at support is explored through Allie. Allie’s character is learning about herself, both through her religion and outside of it. She’s figuring out her own boundaries, rather than those of her religion or her family. It’s a true coming-of-age tale, readers watch Allie develop in a way that makes leaps at times, but is always organic and honest.
Filled with opportunities to learn, this novel takes on racism. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780316519007)
This picture book by Olympic medalist Muhammad tells the story of two sisters going to the first day of school as the older sister wears a hijab for the first time. Faizah has a new backpack and new light-up shoes for her first day of school. Asiya looks like a princess though with her blue hijab as they walk to school together. When some of her classmates start asking questions about the hijab, Faizah gets worried and heads over to check on Asiya. Faizah watches her sister handle bullies with calmness and certainty, standing strong and continuing to inspire her little sister with her royal bearing.
There are several picture books about family members wearing hijabs, usually mothers. This one directly takes on the confusion and hurt of hateful reactions. Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.
The illustrations by Aly move from the straight-forward school images of the girls together to more dramatic depictions from Faizah’s imagination about the beauty of the blue of her sister’s hijab. The book also shows the determination and resilience of the girls in their facial expressions as well as sharing their special bond with one another clearly.
This is a book that clearly is both a window and a mirror and one that will offer opportunities for conversations too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey (9780763694944)
The author tells the story of growing up in Iran at her grandmother’s side. Mina followed her grandmother everywhere. She woke with her at dawn when they prayed together. They bought bread from the delivery boy every morning by lowering baskets from their third-floor window. Mina’s best friend lived next door and their grandmothers were best friends too. The grandmothers prayed for one another to go to heaven at their respective mosque and church. Mina’s grandmother sewed all of her own chadors which Mina used to create a rocket ship when she draped them over the table. When her grandmother fasted for Ramadan, Mina was too little to fast for an entire day. So she joined her grandmother in eating at dawn and then after dusk too in addition to her regular meals. The love the two have for one another shines in this picture book.
Javaherbin opens the world of Iran to readers in the United States. Her memories of spending time with her grandmother are filled with moments of real connection, of quality time spent together side-by-side, of support and of true adoration for one another. The moments are beautifully small and everyday, showing how love is built throughout our lives, not in grand gestures but in the smallest ones.
The illustrations by Yankey are done in mixed media. They incorporate textiles and patterns. The warm glow on every page invites readers into a loving home. The illustrations are delicate and filled with details.
A beautiful look at the love of grandmother and grandchild. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (9781534442726)
Zayneb keeps a diary with two types of things in it. There are marvels, something that is extraordinary and wonderful. Then there are oddities, which perplex, confuse or concern. Zayneb has always been someone willing to take on the world, something that gets her in trouble at times. So of course, she is the one willing to confront her racist teacher and ends up suspended and even pulling one of her classmates into trouble along with her. Zayneb ends up leaving for Doha, Qatar, to get an early start to her spring break. On the trip there, she meets Adam. Adam also does a marvels and oddities journal, but he is harboring a deep secret. He has recently been diagnosed with MS, the same disorder that took his mother’s life. Still, he is intrigued with Zayneb just as she is with him. While they are both Muslim, they don’t see life in the same way, though they are both busy putting on fronts for one another and not showing who they truly are.
Ali takes racism towards Muslims on in a very direct way. She shows microaggressions and other forms of aggression very effectively, demonstrating how each and every day as a girl wearing a hijab, Zayneb is subtly and directly attacked and questioned. But Ali doesn’t rest there, she also shows how to combat it, giving Zayneb tons of resilience and plenty of anger. Zayneb is a wonderful character because of the depth of her passion for being an activist and standing up for herself and for others. She is simply a kick-ass character. Adam on the other hand, is quieter and protective of those he loves in a different and gentler way. He too wrestles with questions and concerns, bearing the burden so as not to bother others until he can’t handle it alone any longer. He is a great foil for Zayneb’s character.
The city of Doha is also a character in the book. It comes alive with its markets and museums, public spaces and private homes. There is a beautiful sense of the city, one that none of the characters take for granted. It is not seen as a perfect place. Zayneb still has to confront overt racism there as well.
A romance that is strengthened by a focus on racism and a firm stance on being yourself. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan (9781368015905)
Aleeya lives with her mother in their Malaysian village. She loves spending time with her Mommy, and the two of them do everything together. Mommy also features heavily in Aleeya’s dreams which are filled with flowers and dancing. The two of them plan to always be together like this. But then Mommy gets sick and has to stay in bed. Aleeya is lost without her, but steadily starts to realize that she can be at her mother’s side, just in a different way.
This picture book brings diversity in multiple ways. There is the Malaysian setting that is richly depicted with animals and activity. The family is Muslim and prayers and head-wear are depicted. Then you have the mother get ill. While she does recover by the end of the book, it is rare that you see a mother get bedridden in a picture book and the impact of that loss explored. Here it is fully shown and Aleeya’s response is brave and loving.
The illustrations are rich and filled with color and touching moments between mother and child. Their relationship is at the center of the text and the illustrations. It is not a surprise that the illustrations are captivating, since this is a book in the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase. The talent here really shines.
A lovely look at the impact of a mother, whether she can get out of bed or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (9780062747808)
Jude lives in Syria with her beloved older brother and her parents. As her older brother gets involved in the political battles around them, her parents decide that it is too dangerous for Jude and her pregnant mother to stay in Syria. So Jude and her mother move to Cincinnati to live with Jude’s uncle. America is very different than Syria, much louder and faster, and filled with a language that Jude barely understands. As Jude gets acclimated to living in the United States, she steadily makes new friends along the way. Her love of movies and desire to perform lead her to audition for the school musical. But when the attacks of 9-11 occur, the country that Jude has grown comfortable in changes to be more hostile to Muslims. Jude needs to rediscover what she loves about both Syria and the United States, her two homes.
This novel is written in verse, making for a very readable work. Told in Jude’s voice, the poetry allows readers to see how she feels about leaving Syria, how lost she feels when she comes to Cincinnati, and how she starts to find her way. The importance of English Language Learner classes are emphasized, both in learning the language but also in finding a group of friends. Jude also finds friends in other ways, connecting over shared cultures and shared interests.
Jude’s voice is vital to find in a middle grade novel. My favorite chapters are where Jude gets angry and voices her pain at the injustice of being labeled in a certain way, feared because of her religion, judged because of her headscarf. Those moments are powerful and raw, ringing with truth on the page.
Beautifully written with an amazing Syrian heroine at its center, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.