Tag Archives: Islam

PPBF – Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

I’m continuing to review picture books dealing with immigration themes and found a fairly-recent book that also celebrates Ramadan, the Muslim holy month occurring now. Truly a Perfect Picture Book:

9780884484318_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

Written By: Reem Faruqi

Illustrated By: Lea Lyon

Publisher/date: Tilbury House Publishers/2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-12

Themes/Topics: Ramadan, Islam, fasting, immigration, moving home, acceptance

Opening:

“We won’t be needing this for a while,” said Lailah’s mother, hanging up Lailah’s lunchbox.

“Imagine! I won’t be eating lunch for a month!” replied Lailah with a twirl.

“I won’t have to pack lunch for a month!” said her mom with a bigger twirl.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim immigrant is excited to fast for Ramadan for the first time, but finds it difficult to explain fasting and her religion to her new teacher and classmates.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about Ramadan in Laila’s Simple Guide to Ramadan;
  • Check out the Anti-Defamation League’s Teacher’s Guide to Lailah’s Lunchbox; 
  • Dates are eaten to break the fast after sundown each night during Ramadan; craft a date holder;
  • The evening meal during Ramadan is called an Iftar; find some Iftar recipes here;
  • Try making and sharing an easy, kid-friendly dish: watermelon chaat.

Why I Like this Book:

Lailah’s Lunchbox combines two themes well: explaining Ramadan and exploring the feelings of a child who recently has immigrated to a place where she is the only child in her class who fasts for Ramadan. Being different is difficult for kids (and adults), and I think Faruqi has done a wonderful job of capturing the emotional tugs of wanting to fit in to a dominant culture and upholding family, cultural, and/or religious values. I believe that feeling of deflation and difference is universal, and Faruqi has captured  it well. I also love the solution – which I won’t divulge here so as not to ruin the ending for those who haven’t read Lailah’s Lunchbox yet.

Equally important, Faruqi writes a positive story about Ramadan and fasting. As someone who grew up Catholic and hated Lent, with its notion of “giving up” and fishy Fridays coupled with a few “fasting” days, I loved learning about the spirit of community and sharing that pervades Ramadan.

Lyon sprinkles colorful mosaics throughout Lailah’s Lunchbox, including on the lunchbox itself. She also includes items that mimic the mosaics, such as the backsplash in Lailah’s family kitchen, the Iftar spread of colorful foods, a sign in Lailah’s new hometown of Peachtree, and the colorful splines of library books. Doing so reminds us that a part of Lailah’s Abu Dhabi home accompanies her to her new home in Georgia.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Faruqi indicates that Lailah’s Lunchbox is based on her own experience of moving from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia as a child. What childhood experiences inform your writing & how can you include universal themes in your personal story ?

In the opening scene, Faruqi deftly sets up the action in two ways: she focuses on the lunchbox, the holder of food, as a way into the story. By not jumping directly into the notion of fasting, an action that some young kids may not understand, she uses a familiar object to help explain it, before even mentioning the term. She also indicates with one repeated action the feelings Lailah and her mother hold about Ramadan and fasting – the characters “twirl.” Twirl connotes happiness, and the repetition of the action signifies community. Circling back, Lailah also twirls at the end of the story.

Lailah’s problem in the story is an internal one: she worries about how to explain why she is fasting to her teacher and classmates. None of her classmates question or bully her actions or beliefs, because she doesn’t reveal the what or why of her actions. Faruqi’s exploration of Ramadan and the emotions of someone who has moved thus remains free of external conflict, which I think is a plus.

Finally, at the risk of revealing the solution to Lailah’s problem, I can’t help repeating one of my favorite lines: Lailah felt safe among all the books.

Visit Reem Faruqi’s site here.

Learn about Lea Lyon here.

Lailah’s Lunchbox is a Notable Social Studies Trade Book For Young People 2016, a cooperative Project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council; a Featured Book of the Month of the Anti-Defamation League; an American Library Association Notable Book for Children 2016; won a Skipping Stones Honor 2016; and made the International Literacy Association Choices Reading List.

Tilbury House “is an independent publishing company founded forty years ago” that publishes “award-winning children’s picture books about cultural diversity, social justice, nature, and the environment.”

For a list of 99 children’s books about Ramadan, visit A Crafty Arab.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Deep in the Sahara

My local library is displaying books about Islam in the wake of the recent immigration ban. I found today’s featured book there. It also appears on a helpful list of children’s books, Refugees Welcome Here, published recently by Horn Book.

Without further ado, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9780375870347_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Deep in the Sahara

Written By: Kelly Cunnane

Illustrated By: Hoda Hadadi

Publisher/date: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House)/2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Islam; clothing; Mauritania; family; growing up; Sahara

Opening:

Deep in the Sahara, sky yellow with heat,

rippled dunes slide and scorpions scuttle.

In a pale pink house the shape of a tall cake,

you watch Mama’s malafa

flutter as she prays.

More than all the stars in a desert sky,

You want a malafa so you can be beautiful too.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim girl dreams of wearing the malafa garment worn by the women in her Mauritanian village.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Deep in the Sahara is a lovely, non-didactic introduction to Islamic practices in a part of the world Americans typically know little about. It also helps answer the question of why women wear clothing that partially or totally covers their hair and/or faces. I appreciate the desire of young Lalla to emulate the women she admires in her village, and I think Ms. Cunnane does a wonderful job explaining this. Written in lovely, poetic language, Deep in the Sahara provides a glimpse into village life as well. A glossary of the Hassaniya words (an oral dialect of Arabic) that are sprinkled through the text is included.

Hadadi’s bright, collaged images upend the stereotype of dark, drab Islamic female dress, and showcase each woman’s individuality. As noted in several reviews, Deep in the Sahara is an important introduction to Islamic practices for young children, that highlights the regional differences in the Muslim world.

A Note about Craft:

Ms. Cunnane wrote Deep in the Sahara after she lived and taught in Mauritania. She refers to the main character, Lalla, in the second person, thus helping young readers empathize with Lalla’s quest to don the malafa. By doing so, I think she also broadens the appeal of this book to include children in Mauritania and perhaps other Muslim countries.

The issue of who can tell a person’s story rages within the Kidlit world. Kelly Cunnane is a caucasian American, writing about a practice and region to which she is an outsider. To her credit, she includes an author’s note about her preconceptions about covering, ie, wearing a veil or other head/face-covering item of clothing and how her perceptions changed after living in Mauritania. She also thanks many native Mauritanians for sharing “wonderful stories” and explaining their religion.

The editors at Schwartz & Wade Books chose Hoda Hadadi, an Iranian illustrator who resides in Tehran, to illustrate Deep in the Sahara. While also an outsider to Mauritania, according to the short bio on the book jacket, Ms. Hadadi has worn a head scarf since childhood, and so, presumably, understands Lalla’s desire to emulate her mother and other women.

Among other accolades, Deep in the Sahara received a Kirkus starred review and was a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2013.

See an interesting review on a site that only reviews children’s books about Africa (a good site to keep bookmarked!).

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!