Tag Archives: Islam

PPBF – Mommy’s Khimar

It’s Mother’s Week (we deserve more than a one-day celebration, don’t you agree?), and Ramadan. I can’t think of a better time to review a new picture book that celebrates a special mother-daughter bond and provides a window into the lives of these Muslim American characters.

mommys-khimar-9781534400597_lgTitle: Mommy’s Khimar

Written By: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Illustrated By: Ebony Glenn

Publisher/date: Salaam Reads (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Islam, #WNDB, mother-daughter bond, imagination

Opening:

A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears. Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim American girl dresses up in her mother’s head scarves.

Links to Resources:

  • Create a dress-up corner or dress-up box with ties, hats, scarves, jewelry and other fun-to-wear accessories and clothing (a friend had a collection of bridesmaids’ dresses from a second-hand shop that my daughters loved);
  • Find Ramadan coloring pages here;
  • Find daily Ramadan craft ideas at A Crafty Arab.

Why I Like this Book:

Mommy’s Khimar is a joyful book exploring the bonds of daughter and mother as the narrator, an unnamed child, wears a favorite khimar, scarf, that belongs to her mother. I love the exuberance of the young girl, and I love that the politics about whether to cover or not are absent from this heartwarming story.

I think kids will love how the narrator wears her mother’s khimar in so many imaginative ways: as a queen’s “golden train,” to “shine like the sun”, as a “shooting star” diving into clouds, as “golden wings” shielding her baby brother, as a superhero dashing “at the speed of light.” And adults will love the opportunities to discuss differing forms of dress and religious practices, including a Christian grandmother who doesn’t go to the mosque, but “we love each other just the same.” Also, as Thompkins-Bigelow notes in a blog post, black Muslims are the largest group of Muslims in the US, but the post-9/11media focus on Muslims as “foreigners” means that few representations of religious black Muslims exist in children’s literature. Mommy’s Khimar is a most welcome exception.

Starting with the welcoming cover that invites the reader to open the book, Glenn fills the pages with smiling faces and a sunny-yellow palette mixed with other bright pastels that further the celebratory feel of Mommy’s Khimar.mommys-khimar-9781534400597.in03

A Note about Craft:

Thompkins-Bigelow combines two universal themes, the bond between mother and child and a child’s desire to be like a parent by dressing in her or his clothing, and explores these themes as they play out in a specific cultural group, African-American Muslims. As we write our own stories, what universal themes can we explore?

Thompkins-Bigelow utilizes one item of clothing, the khimar, to be a lens, focused on the life and love within the family she portrays. What unique items could you highlight to help explore your particular cultural or ethnic group?

Although I’m not an illustrator, I can’t help noting the effect of Glenn’s sunny color scheme that renders the entire reading experience so joyful. What a different reading experience this might have been if Glenn hadn’t used yellow throughout or if Thompkins-Bigelow hadn’t highlighted the color in her text.

Mommy’s Khimar received starred review from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness.

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a former English teacher and current program director of Mighty Writers South, a Philadelphia not-for-profit that helps children write with clarity. Mommy’s Khimar is Thompkins-Bigelow’s debut picture book. Read about her inspiration for Mommy’s Khimar and see interviews with her at CityWide Stories, bookish.com, and Cynsations.

Illustrator Ebony Glenn “seeks to create enchanting visual stories with whimsical illustrations to incite more beauty, joy, and magic in people’s lives.” Read an interview with her at The Brown Bookshelf.

Founded in 2016, Salaam Reads is an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Salaam Reads’ mission is “to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.” Salaam Reads also published Yo Soy Muslim, which I reviewed last September.

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 – Ramadan

 

I found today’s Perfect Picture Book at a lovely, local independent book store in Hoboken, NJ, Little City Books, when I was attending an author’s visit. Although I generally don’t review board books, I couldn’t resist the colorful cover and, knowing that Ramadan begins next week, I thought this is a Perfect Picture Book to help explain this important month of fasting and prayer to young children.

ramadan-9781534406353Title: Ramadan

Written By: Hannah Eliot

Illustrated By: Rashin

Publisher/date: Little Simon (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division)/April 2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-4 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Islam; #WNDB; Ramadan; celebration; non-fiction

Opening:

In the ninth month of the year, when the crescent moon first appears in the sky, it’s time to celebrate Ramadan!

Brief Synopsis: A non-fiction explanation of the Muslim celebration of Ramadan from a child’s perspective.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Ramadan is the first in a new board book series from Little Simon, Celebrate the World, which highlight “celebrations across the world.” In her upbeat, cultural exploration of Ramadan, Eliot focuses on the aspects of the holiday that I think will resonate with young children without delving into dogma. While Eliot notes that we “pray”, no deity is mentioned nor are there any references to a mosque or other places of worship. Instead, the text moves joyously through the “special month” that Eliot’s narrators clearly enjoy, from the first sighting of the crescent moon, through the Eid al-Fitr, or “Sweet Feast”, when Ramadan ends. Eliot helpfully focuses on the aspects of Ramadan, such as fasting and eating only while it is dark outside, that kids will notice, and ask about. As she does so, Eliot highlights “what is most important to us”: family, prayer and good deeds.

Eliot’s text provides a wonderful introduction to Ramadan and is suitable for practicing Muslims and people of other faiths (or no faith) who want to introduce their children to this important religious holiday. Rashin’s colorful illustrations bring this board book to another level. Rather than focusing on one family in one place, Rashin fills Ramadan with families from across the world, including families of color and families of differing social backgrounds. I especially enjoyed the spread, shown below, of a family enjoying suhoor, the meal before dawn, in a suburban home, complete with pet dog, and a family breaking fast at their iftar, in their tented home, complete with a cat.

ramadan-9781534406353.in01

Interior spread from Ramadan, reprinted from Simon & Schuster

A Note about Craft:

Eliot introduces Ramadan to young children by inviting them into the celebration through her focus on what “we” do. Use of the inclusive “we” is furthered via Rashin’s choice (or perhaps the choice of an editor) to focus not just on one family but on many families throughout the world.

Check out Eliot’s Author’s Page.

Among many other awards for her illustrations, Iranian-born and educated, US-based Rashin Kheiriyeh, the illustrator/author of 70 children’s books, was a 2017 Sendak Fellow. Visit her website to view more of her work, and check out a 2017 interview on Kathy Temean’s blog. See also my review of her 2013 picture book, Two Parrots.

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 – 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!