Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi

Cover image

Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim (9780823440191)

It is Eid tomorrow, and Amira is thrilled. She gets her hands decorated by mehndi designs that she has to let dry from green to a rich brown. They also get to miss school tomorrow! Amira is happily helping her family make goody bags for the children at the masjid, when she sees the notice about tomorrow also being Picture Day at school. The class was going to be photographed all together and now Amira would miss it. The next morning, Amira got ready for Eid but still longed to wear the dress she had picked out for Picture Day. Once they were at the masjid, Amira was swept up in the celebration of Eid with lots of food, hugs and sharing of goody bags. But when the celebration ended, she once again thought about Picture Day. On their way home, Amira had a big idea that involved the leftover goody bags and maybe going to Picture Day after all.

Faruqi shows the push and pull of being Muslim in a country like the United States where children must miss school to celebrate holidays like Eid. When Eid which is based on the lunar calendar, falls on an important day at school, it can be very difficult for children. That’s what happens with Amira in the story and her navigation of it shows the tension between loving her family and her faith but also wanting to be part of her school community too. The book shows various parts of Eid without minimizing Amira’s wishing to be at school too.

Azim’s illustrations are bright and colorful. She shows the diversity in both the Muslim community as well as at Amira’s school. She creates great facial expressions as Amira navigates having to go to Eid and potentially miss out on Picture Day. Readers will clearly understand her happiness, wistfulness and pleasure at being able to find a solution.

A strong addition for school and public libraries that celebrates the diversity of children in our communities. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

Cover image for Home Is Not a Country.

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo (9780593177051)

Nima has always wished that she was different somehow. Part of it is the loss of her father before she was born. Part of it is that she doesn’t feel like she fits into her suburban home in America. Part of it is that she isn’t connected enough to her Sudanese heritage. Haitham, a boy who lives nearby, is her only friend and when he is injured after they argue, Nima finds herself adrift and spending days without talking to anyone. She dreams about a fantasy life where her father wasn’t killed, she has a large extended family, and her mother is not overworked and exhausted. Soon those dreams lead to her taking risks, inviting a hungry spirit into her life, one who looks a lot like her and can show her the life of her dreams. But what is the cost of these dreams?

Told in exceptional poetry, this verse novel for teens is a deep look at racism, Islamophobia, and being part of a large diaspora. Elhillo’s poetry is some of the best I have read in a YA verse novel. She captures the dark emotions of loneliness, hate crimes, and lack of self-esteem with such clarity and empathy. Her poetry shows the importance of family, whether it is imagined or real. It shows the dangers of wanting to escape your life and of the potential of losing it all along the way.

Nima is the sort of protagonist that readers will want to shake and comfort. She is incredibly lonely, spending her evenings isolated and her days silent. Her relationship with her mother is complex and well drawn, creating both tension and connection in turns. Readers will see themselves in Nima, in dreaming of alternate lives and outcomes. They will get a close look at the experience of an immigrant family that keeps secrets in order to survive.

Incredible writing combines with a gorgeous story of loneliness and risk. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

In My Mosque by M. O. Yuksel

In My Mosque by M. O. Yuksel, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780062978707)

Join children as they welcome you to their mosque. They show you how they worship, how their communities act, and demonstrate that everyone is welcome to enter and attend. A diverse range of children show how they take off their shoes when they enter, how the elders greet the children, how they help to set up the prayer rugs. In some communities the muezzin’s call brings them to prayer while in others the imam shares stories of living as one. Throughout, the focus is on a shared community, of loving and caring for one another, of helping the larger community. Clear connections are also drawn to other faiths and how similar Muslim beliefs are.

Yuksel writes with a joyous tone, welcoming children to explore and ask questions about the Muslim faith. The book combines straight forward explanations with imagery that really show how the children feel about their mosques. The imagery is lovely: “aunties’ hijabs sway like a sea of flowers as we move through our prayers” and “we line our shows in rows, like colorful beads.” All of the metaphors are approachable, offering a deeper understanding.

Aly’s illustrations are bright and friendly. They show a diverse array of children attending the mosques, including children of a wide age range. The backgrounds of the images are also filled with children and their families. Aly does a great job of including a wide array of mosques from around the world, transitioning between them in a way that makes it clear they are different spaces and countries.

A welcoming and warm look at mosques and the Muslim faith. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Once Upon an Eid edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Once Upon an Eid edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Iman Rasheed (9781419740831)

Edited by two award-winning Muslim authors, this collection of short stories focus upon the celebration of Eid. The stories come from a variety of Muslim sects, cultures and backgrounds, offering a beautiful look at the expansive nature of the Muslim religion. The stories keep a focus on eleven and twelve year olds, many of whom are just starting to fast and many who discover the deeper meaning of Eid as they find a path through fasting as well. The stories also deal with deep issues such as divorce, friendships, hijabs, generosity, and family dynamics. At their heart though, each one is a positive force about seeing possibilities anew, finding ways to connect with one another, and pure joy.

The different voices and perspectives here provide a rainbow of experiences for children who are Muslim to relate to and those who are not to more deeply understand this religion. The positivity is uplifting and lovely to read, particularly during a pandemic. I don’t think it could have been better timed, frankly.

A winner of a short-story anthology, take hope and joy from this book. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet.

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

Planet Omar Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian

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

Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan

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.

Review: Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir

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.

 

Review: All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

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.

Review: The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

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.