Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (9781481492065, Amazon)
Amina doesn’t like the spotlight. Her best friend Soojin knows that Amina can really sing, but Amina just won’t even try for the solo for the upcoming concert. Amina’s life is changing now that they are in middle school. Soojin has started being friendly with Emily even though Emily had helped bully them in elementary school. Amina just isn’t ready to forgive Emily so quickly. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle comes to visit from Pakistan, bringing new ideas about what it means to be Muslim. He causes Amina to start to question whether she should even be singing or playing music at all. Amina feels pressured to change but in multiple directions at once.
Khan has created a book for middle schoolers that takes a quieter look at diversity, family and being true to oneself. It is a book that looks closely at what it means to be a Muslim girl in America and how to follow the values of your culture even as you are pressured to be more American. It is a book that looks at the power of voice, of music and of community to overcome hardship and to share emotions. It is a book that has a gorgeous warmth to it, a joy of family, friendship and diversity.
Amina is a very special protagonist. Rather than being the center of attention, she doesn’t seek it at all. Still, she is lonely or ignored. She has friends and is grappling with the normal changes that come during middle school. On top of that, she is also asking deeper questions about faith, culture and living in America that will ring true for all young readers. Amina’s quietness and thoughtfulness allow those questions to shine.
Filled with important questions for our modern world, this middle-grade novel sings with a voice all its own. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Salaam Reads.
Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Released October 8, 2013.
Lalla wants to wear a malafa just like the other women in her family do. Lalla tells her mother she wants to be beautiful just like her, but her mother says that a malafa is about more than beauty. Lalla tells her sister that she wants to be mysterious just like her, but her sister says that a malafa is about more than mystery. Seeing all of the women in their malafa, Lalla tells her cousin that she wants to be like all of them, but she replies that a malafa is more than that. Her grandmother too says that a malafa is about more than tradition. Finally, Lalla goes back to her mother and explains that she wants to be able to pray like her mother does. Her mother agrees, saying “A malafa is for faith." And the two face east and pray together in their malafa.
Set in Mauritania, this book celebrates the Muslim faith in a very beautiful way. Written in the second person, readers are invited to see themselves as Lalla and learn about her faith and her world. Cunnane writes beautiful descriptions of both the malafa themselves and also the community where Lalla lives. There are donkeys, camels, and other exotic things, but Cunnane goes deeper than that and paints a world with pink houses shaped like cakes and silver heels that click on tiles.
Hadadi’s art is jewel toned and filled with details. She has created a warm and loving community for Lalla to explore with the reader. The beauty of the malafa are shown, the colors of the rooms, and the tangible love of an extended family.
An accessible and beautiful look at a Muslim community that dazzles. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.
The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia
Aliya is different than the other kids in her class because she’s Muslim. She does all she can to fit in, but that means she doesn’t stand up to the kids who pick on her or even talk to the cute boy she likes. Then Marwa moves to their town and she is in the same grade as Aliya. Marwa is also Muslim and wears the hijab or head scarf. Marwa also does not just put up with the teasing of others and appears to Aliya to be much more confident than Aliya personally feels. Aliya starts to write letters to Allah which start out as just complaints at first and then lead to something more: action. As Aliya begins to deal with her own insecurities, she discovers that the world is much more accepting of differences if they are handled with confidence.
Zia has created a universal story with a Muslim heroine. Children of all faiths will recognize themselves in these pages. They will have struggled with teasing and bullying, they will have tried too hard to fit in, they will have not liked someone at first and then learned to like them. Zia incorporates details about Zia’s Indian culture, her faith, and her family traditions with great skill, handily defining things with skill and ease.
It is wonderful to see a young heroine whose life includes cute boys but is not driven by it. Faith, family and friendship are really at the heart of this novel, but Aliya is definitely a young girl too. She struggles with issues in a way that shows definite growth in a natural way. Zia writes with a wonderful lightness that makes this book an effortless read.
Filled with giggles between girlfriends, this book reveals the warmth of family and faith in a completely approachable and joyful way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.