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11

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi

On 11, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Lailah's LunchboxLailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story written by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon

From the publisher: Lailiah’s family has moved to Georgia from Abu Dhabi, and Lailah still misses her friends. Although a lot has changed, good things are happening, too: this year her parents have agreed that she’s old enough to take part in fasting for Ramadan. Lailah won’t be taking her lunchbox to school for a whole month! But Lailah’s excitment turns to worry. Will Mrs. Penworth and her classmates understand that she hasn’t just forgotten her lunch? How can she explain that fasting for Ramadan is an important part of growing up?

According to the author’s note this is based on Reem Faruqi’s own experience as a new immigrant to Georgia. She was worried about whether or not her teacher and classmates would grasp the significance of being allowed to fast all Ramadan for the first time. And she was missing her best friends, a relatable experience for any child who has moved schools, cities, states or countries.

One of the things I really loved about the story was that Lailah was very excited to be allowed to fast. As the author’s note pointed out this is a big step in growing up. Leena in A Party in Ramadan was also excited to be allowed to fast for a day in Ramadan and I suspect Muslim children will like seeing that significance recognized in the pages of a book.

Like A Party in Ramadan, Lailah’s Lunchbox touches on how difficult it can be to fast when others around you are not. Lailah seeks refuge in the library both from her rumbling stomach and from her shyness over sharing why she doesn’t have a lunch. I thought this rang true to the inexplicable and sometimes fickle nature of kids becoming shy over sharing something. Lailah had no particular reason to feel embarrassed about fasting, but she got nervous about what her classmates would think and it became a big deal. I’ve seen kids do this time and again with things ranging from being shy about new shoes to going on fun vacations.

Lailah’s Lunchbox would make an excellent addition to library collections. It’s nice to see other Ramadan stories set here in the contemporary US. As I said before it makes Muslims and Ramadan feel more familiar for non-Muslim kids and looks more familiar to Muslim kids celebrating in our classrooms and libraries. This is particularly true because it is not an informational book clearly designed for non-Mulsim kids, but a book both Muslim and non-Mulsims alike can enjoy.

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10

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Party in Ramadan by Asma Mobin-Uddin

On 10, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Party in RamadanA Party in Ramadan written by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen

From Goodreads: Ramadan is coming and Leena is excited. Although she is too young to fast every day during the Muslim religious festival, Leena decides to fast each Friday instead. When Leena receives an invitation to a party which happens to fall on Friday, she has a dilemma. She doesn’t want to miss the party, but she doesn’t want to miss fasting either. So Leena decides to go to the party, but not eat or drink anything at all. Later, she will join her family for the meal known as iftar, when the daily fast is broken. But when Leena, who is the only Muslim at the party, sees her friends enjoying fresh lemonade and chocolate cake, her stomach starts to growl and her head begins to hurt. Will she keep her Ramadan fast?

This is another great addition for any library collection. The story takes place in what could be any Los Angeles suburb or really anywhere USA. Leena is a typical American girl, she is excited to go to a birthday party where there will be a real pony to ride and she likes chocolate cake and lemonade. But when the invitation arrives she discovers that the party will take place on the first day of Ramadan, the day she is supposed to fast for the first time. No problem, Leena assures her mother, she just won’t eat at the party.

At first it’s not a problem and Leena thinks her mother was worried and skeptical for no reason. As the afternoon wears on, though, Leena realizes that she is thirsty and that chocolate cake sure looks good. She eventually wanders off and takes a nap. When she wakes she is back home and feels much better than she did earlier. It’s also just about time to break the fast and she feels proud for managing the difficult situation.

Throughout the story Leena has supportive and understanding friends and adults, although her friend’s mother at first misunderstands what fasting entails. I think the story will really appeal to American Muslim kids who will be familiar with the difficulty of fasting in a country where the majority of people do not celebrate Ramadan. It’s a great reminder to non-Muslim kids of the difficulty associated with fasting, especially when there are things to tempt them like chocolate cake, and the importance and significance of maintaining the fast during the day. There is a very sweet scene at the end too where two of Leena’s friends and their families come by after sundown bearing chocolate cake that they saved for her from the party.

In recommending some of these Ramadan books over others I’m not encouraging library collections to only have books about modern American Muslims. My intention is to be wary of creating narratives (I talk a bit about it in this post) that make Muslims seem like people who only live in the Middle East or are other and foreign. I think it’s important for us to have books on our shelves that reflect the Muslim kids that can or do come in and read those books and allow our non-Muslim kids to see their peers. But our collections should also show both American-Muslim and American non-Muslim kids Muslims in other countries.

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09

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Nabeel’s New Pants by Fawzia Gilani-Williams

On 09, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

NabeelNabeel’s New Pants: An Eid Tale retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Proiti Roy

From Amazon: Ramadan has come to an end. The fast is over, and tomorrow the celebration of Eid will begin. Nabeel decides to buy each of his family members something special to wear for the holiday. But while he’s choosing, the shopkeeper persuades him also to buy a gift for himself—a pair of new pants that are too long! Nabeel asks his wife, his mother, and his daughter to hem them, but no one has the time—everyone is busy preparing for the festivities. Will Nabeel be able to wear his new pants to celebrate Eid? Only a pair of scissors can tell.

I came across this book on several lists of books for Ramadan. Unfortunately I didn’t discover until looking for a description of the story, the book appears to be out of print. That is very unhelpful for a lot people who may want to buy the book and I think for that reason I can’t exactly recommend it. It really irks me when bloggers recommend books that aren’t readily available. The fact that this is out of print after nine years tells me it wasn’t a great seller. Another problem, a problem that is endemic and feeds that myth that diversity doesn’t sell. Either way those of us wanting to add it to either our library or personal collections are going to have to go looking for it.

As far as the story goes, this is a very funny book. While the story is a bit long, the text does a lot of repeating so kids can chime in as they figure out what comes next. In other words, this makes a great read aloud. Nabeel buys a pair of pants for himself that are too long and he goes to each of his family members in turn asking if they will help him hem them. Each turns him down in the same way. Finally Nabeel decides to do it himself. Then, so do his family members, which makes for a pair of shorts instead of pants. Nabeel puts them on and the joke is revealed with a page turn. Fortunately they still have the scraps that have been cut off and the pants are put right. The illustrations remind me a bit of Simms Taback and they are just as charming. The simplicity and bright colors will certainly appeal to young audiences. I wish there was a little more specificity in where and when it takes place, but kid aren’t going to mind that. So long as you have other strong representations of Eid, Ramadan and Muslims I think it won’t matter nearly as much.

For parents, this was easily available through my library, hopefully it is in yours. For librarians and parents wanting to buy the book, there are a handful (18) available used on Amazon for a reasonable price (the new ones are ridiculously expensive which baffles me). If you can get it, get it. It’s funny and charming and sure to be a hit. Worth the extra effort it might take to locate a used copy in good shape.

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08

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi

On 08, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

The White Nights of RamadanThe White Nights of Ramadan written by Maha Addasi, illustrated by Ned Gannon

From Goodreads: Mid-Ramadan is a special time for families in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf. These middle days are known as “the three whites,” because they include the day of the full moon, the day before, and the day after. It’s a time when children, dressed in traditional clothes, go from house to house collecting treats from their neighbors. When Noor sees the full moon rising, signaling the coming of Girgian, she and her brothers prepare for the fun. Together, they decorate the bags they’ll carry to collect the candies. But along with the fun, Noor remembers the true meaning of Ramadan: spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate.

This is such a charming story about the middle nights of Ramadan. Any American kid will recognize Noor’s excitement over dressing up and going door-to-door asking for candy. It’s also nice to see a book that doesn’t focus on the fasting aspect of Ramadan. Children do not fast and this story gives kids a glimpse of something else that captures the excitement of the holiday. Noor also comes to appreciate one of the most important aspects of Ramadan, which is sharing and helping those less fortunate.

I have to say I felt like it was one of those books in the US that makes Ramadan and Muslims seem like something that happens far away to other people. It takes place in an unnamed Gulf country (although the author’s note at the end sets it in her native Kuwait. The parents and grandparents wear more traditional Arab clothing and their town looks like a Kuwaiti village. Many of the more unfamiliar terms are defined within the text, but there is also a glossary at the end. Considering that the story and the celebration of Girgian seems to be particular to the Gulf countries this may be helpful to some Muslim and non-Mulsim readers alike.

Don’t get me wrong. I will be purchasing this for our library collection and it’s well worth the read. Just be sure to pair it with something like A Party in Ramadan that shows Muslims and Ramadan in America.

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07

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman

On 07, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Under the Ramadan MoonUnder the Ramadan Moon written by Sylvia Whitman, illustrated by Sue Williams

From Goodreads: Ramadan is one of the most special months of the Islamic year, when Muslims pray, fast, and help those in need. Whitman’s lyrical story, with luminous illustrations by Sue Williams, serves as an ideal introduction to Ramadan.

This made a great bedtime story for Ramadan and is an especially good book for young audiences. The text is simple, poetic and rhythmic. There isn’t a lot of explaining of the holiday which makes it perfect for Muslim families to share with their children. The story goes through celebrating all the fun things that happen during Ramadan like visiting friends and family, making sweets, and reflecting.

The illustrations are beautiful and simple. They all feel very calm and soothing which is why it made a great bedtime story. Of course many Muslim children will be staying up late for the next month so it might be better prior to Ramadan or used at nap time. :) You can watch the moon wax and wane through the month which adds a nice touch to tracking the holiday.

I also really appreciated that the settings of the illustrations could be just about anywhere in the US. While many of the women are wearing hijab, the people are dressed in everyday clothes (skirts, t-shirt, jeans), as opposed to looking more foreign in “traditional” Arab garb or historical clothing. In other words this doesn’t make Muslims seem like an other, but like they are your neighbors and school teachers and fellow students.

I couldn’t quite figure out if Sylvia Whitman is herself Muslim, but her children (according to her blog) are Arab-American so I suspect she has some perspective on Muslim culture (although I know not all Arabs are Muslim or even religious) and holidays. All in all a sweet book for any family to share at bedtime to celebrate Ramadan.

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06

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Ramadan Date Palm by Fatemeh Mashouf

On 06, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ramadan Date PalmRafiq and Friends: The Ramadan Date Palm written by Fatemeh Mashouf, illustrated by Vera Pavlova

I bought this through a LaunchGood campaign while looking for good Ramadan books that were not informational, but more story-like for the library. The book comes in a set with a plush, a plate, and a deck of activity cards. There is information about Ramadan in the book, but it’s clearly information directed at Muslim children. The set was designed to give Muslim children a pride and interest in Ramadan. (Seriously watch the video on their website, it’s both painful and hilarious.)

The book comes with a plush date palm, activity cards, and a plate for serving dates to break the fast. When the box showed up on my porch my daughter was over the moon excited. She wanted to immediately read the book, so we did. And then she wanted to start all over again. And again. And again. She carried the Rafiq doll around with her for days and she started serving pretend tea using the plate. She also wanted to start doing the activity cards that day.

You guys, we’re vaguely Christian and German and the Germans DO Christmas. We have an advent calendar with activities each day. We celebrate St. Nicholas Night (sans Black Peter). We even make a point to celebrate all twelve days of Christmas and then celebrate Epiphany. My point is, there is build up and lots of celebration around Christmas for us. And yet my daughter barely gives two poops. But she is stoked to celebrate Ramadan because of this book.

The story is charming. It’s got information that will rope in Muslim children, but will also make sense (mostly) to non-Muslim children. Ramadan and the joy that surrounds it is introduced by Rafiq, the date palm, Najjah the adorable sheep, and Asal the bee. Rafiq introduces what happens during Ramadan and what to expect. She then meets Najjah who talks about the history of the holiday and the importance of prayer and reading the Quran. Finally they meet Asal who covers the foods across the Muslim world. All three are very excited to celebrate this holiday. As I said, this would certainly make sense to and explain Ramadan to a non Muslim child, but that isn’t the intended audience. Muslim children who are just learning about what Ramadan means to their religion will capture the joy and excitement that surrounds the month.

The illustrations are darling if a bit muted with pastel colors. I had to buy a whole new set for the library because there is NO WAY my daughter is giving this one up. Ramadan starts today (if I’m not mistaken??) which is why I chose to feature the book today and you can be sure we will be doing the first activity card today and reading the story tonight.

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05

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes

On 05, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Ten DaysTen Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes

From Goodreads: Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion. But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.
 
Nellie Bly became a household name as the world followed her enthralling career in “stunt” journalism that raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.

I actually picked this up to see if it might work for our lower school biography collection and I think it might. The length isn’t bad (we have longer, drier biographies on the shelf) and there isn’t anything particularly shocking in it (Bly is asked at one point if she is a nightwalker, but it’s such a brief mention that it will probably pass most younger kids by). Really, though, the book is just so gripping I can totally see some of my older students getting sucked in. We have a picture book biography of Nellie and she’s a fascinating female character that rather broke with convention in her time. I think this would be a good place to go from that picture book if the kids are interested in learning more.

There is the issue of the care of the “insane”. This is Nellie’s reason for becoming a madwoman. She wanted to write an expose on how female patients were treated in the facilities that “cared” for women that were deemed insane. These women were abused. Many were not insane at all, but did not fit within societal expectation. It’s not a pretty scene that Nellie shows the world and while this is clearly written for children, it’s not a pretty scene that readers will discover. Kids will love to feel the outrage that Nellie felt over the conditions she reported on. Lucky for Nellie she was always going to get out. The book could certainly open up a lot of conversations about treatment of the mentally ill (something we are better at to be sure, but are still sadly lacking in) and unfair restrictions and expectations placed on women.

There is a lot about Nellie Bly in this book. Information about her childhood and her career. Nellie herself struggled with the low expectations for women of her era. She chaffed against them, but she was also able to rise to the challenge and find ways to make a living and buck convention. She was really quite interesting and I’m sure her story will fascinate any reader who picks this book up. A good one for an upper elementary and middle school biography collection.

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04

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The Museum Mysteries by Steve Brezenoff

On 04, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Museum MysteriesMuseum Mysteries written by Steve Brezenoff, pictures by Lisa Weber

The Haunted History Museum

The Case of the Missing Museum Archives

The Case of the Portrait Vandal

The Case of the Stolen Sculpture

I bought and read three of these little mysteries. It’s such a tricky balance to strike in these early chapter books, trying to get enough story and character in there that it’s well written without making it too complex and long for kids who are just beginning to read. I personally am fine with books that lack a bit in an involved mystery and character development. I know kids who read these types of stories and enjoy them. I also happened to be one of those kids. I think these mysteries really do a good job of striking that balance. The diversity in ethnicity of the kids comes off as a little shallow, but I think for this type of books it’s just fine. Kids in my library are just happy to see themselves on the cover and read about a kid that they can picture looking like them.

Book number two (the one pictured at the left) is especially important right now. It’s a girl in a hijab who is not a terrorist. She also happens to love space travel and math. STEM girl for the win. The story is wee bit far fetched as the father is about to be fired for something that he didn’t do and the evidence that he lost some important documents is shaky at best. But the characters are likable and the story is fun if you put aside your grown up sensibilities.

When I bought these there were only four that I found on Amazon. On Goodreads it appears there are a few more that feature the same kids in new mysteries which if you have a population that likes mysteries I highly recommend getting. The original Nate the Great was pretty easy, but some of the later chapter books he is in get a lot longer and more wordy. I would say these could replace those longer Nate the Greats of be a place to move to afterward.

I highly recommend these for beginning chapter book collections. They’re a fun introduction to mystery novels and they feature a diverse cast of characters.

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03

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Chapter Book Review: The City Kids by Zetta Elliot

On 03, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PhoenixThe City Kids series by Zetta Elliot

The Phoenix on Barkely Street

From Goodreads: Best friends Carlos and Tariq love their block, but Barkley Street has started to change. The playground has been taken over by older boys, which leaves Carlos and Tariq with no place to call their own. They decide to turn the yard of an abandoned brownstone into their secret hang-out spot. Carlos and Tariq soon discover, however, that the overgrown yard is already occupied by an ancient phoenix! When the Pythons try to claim the yard for their gang, the magical bird gives the friends the courage to make a stand against the bullies who threaten to ruin their beloved neighborhood.

Dayshaun’s Gift

From Goodreads: Summer vacation has just begun and Dayshaun wants to spend Saturday morning playing his new video game. But Dayshaun’s mother has other plans: she volunteers at a nearby community garden and that means Dayshaun has to volunteer, too. When Dayshaun puts on his grandfather’s grubby old gardening hat, something unexpected happens-the hands of time turn backward and Dayshaun finds himself in the free Black community of Weeksville during the summer of 1863! While helping the survivors of the New York City Draft Riots, Dayshaun meets a frail old man who entrusts him with a precious family heirloom. But will this gift help Dayshaun find his way back to the 21st century?

So far this is a great series for readers who are ready for a little more text, but aren’t ready for full blown chapter books yet. In other words, they’re transitional. And totally engaging. I’m not normally one for science fiction/fantasy in my books, but I know a lot of kids who are and, as I’ve found this year, there aren’t a lot of those books out there for them unless they are strong readers (most fantasy books seem to be damn thick books with small print, even in the middle grade section). Even fewer of the books available across the beginning chapter book market feature diverse kids or kids who live in urban settings (we didn’t all grow up on a farm or in a large house, myself included). There is a lot here to appeal to kids at the second/third grade level.

In The Phoenix on Barkley Street kids who are all about being green will love that the kids clean up and repurpose a vacant building’s yard. The bullying theme will resonate with many children who, at the beginning chapter book age, are very attuned to social justice. Parents looking for a book that promotes community and friendship will appreciate the themes in the book as well.

I especially loved Dayshaun’s Gift. It was such a great time travel book and it took him back to a period of history that, despite taking American History three times in my school career, I never even heard mentioned. Dayshaun is such a kid, though, and he will feel very real and inviting to kids, even ones who might not pick up a books if there is a whiff of anything educational about it. This is one of the brilliant things about all Elliot’s books. She manages to open your eyes to something new and teach you about it without the books feeling didactic or breaking the story. Spoiler alert: Dayshaun does make it back to the present and he returns to the outhouse of the Weeksville historical village. Kids will LOVE that tiny detail.

It’s times like these I feel very grateful that I am in charge of what books we buy and where we buy them from for our library. Elliot has self published many of her books and that makes it difficult for some libraries to buy her books. If you have any say, these would make an incredible addition to any library collection that serves kids starting out in chapter books.

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02

Jun
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Draw What You See by Kathleen Benson Haskins

On 02, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Draw What You SeeDraw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews written by Kathleen Benson Haskins, illustrated by Benny Andrews

From Goodreads: Benny Andrews loved to draw. He drew his nine brothers and sisters, and his parents. He drew the red earth of the fields where they all worked, the hot sun that beat down, and the rows and rows of crops. As Benny hauled buckets of water, he made pictures in his head. And he dreamed of a better life—something beyond the segregation, the backbreaking labor, and the limited opportunities of his world. Benny’s dreams took him far from the rural Georgia of his childhood. He became one of the most important African American painters of the twentieth century, and he opened doors for other artists of color. His story will inspire budding young artists to work hard and follow their dreams.

This is exactly what a picture book biography should be for younger audiences. It uses the artist’s art as more than just a bit of decoration and the text is short, to the point, and very understandable.

One of my favorite parts of the book is that it uses Andrews actual art to illustrate it. Obviously you can’t do that with every picture book biography, but in this case Andrews drew the world he saw around him and in a way that is accessible to children. It makes the book feel very much like an intimate glimpse into his life.

To me one of the really appealing aspects of his art is the lighting he uses. It looks very bright, almost harsh. This has the effect of making the colors pop, which I think children will find very appealing. I’ve said this at other times and I understand that great art is not actually easy to create, however there is a child-like look to Andrews art and I think kids like to see art that they think they could recreate or that looks like their art. His pictures also have an element of collage to them and that makes them feel a little more three dimensional instead of flat paintings.

The text itself isn’t long. There is a short paragraph on each two-page spread with a piece of Andrew’s art. This does mean that you don’t get an exhaustive look at Andrew’s life, but for younger readers (second and third grade) it’s perfect. Not enough text to turn them off and not too little to feel too young. You get enough information that you have a sense of who Andrews was and what he accomplished and, if you find him interesting enough, a desire to learn more. Sometimes I think picture book biographies try to present too much information for the format and it ends up feeling taxing to read. Almost a bait and switch- you think you’re getting a shorter picture book and you end up slogging through something much longer and more involved. It’s a turn off for kids. Draw What You See balances text and pictures very well and then includes a note at the end, a timeline, and some resources. Kids can decide if they want to seek out more at the end.

I think this would be a great book for any library with a biography collection. It’s completely appropriate for younger and older audiences, too. It should draw in those kids just coming to picture book biographies, but it could very easily pique older reader’s interest in the artist. Again, another that is on my first list of purchases for next year. We need more diversity in that collection and here is a book that is both interesting and high quality.

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