Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi

This review was originally published in the November/December issue of Horn Book magazine and can also be found on the Horn Book website.

I Hope You Get This Message
by Farah Naz Rishi
High School    HarperTeen    420 pp.    g
10/19    978-0-06-274145-5    $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-274147-9 $9.99

When the world learns that omnipotent aliens will decide humanity’s fate in eight days, chaos erupts, and three teens strive to make their (potentially) final days count. Cate is charged by her mother, who has schizophrenia, to find the father who abandoned them — and who her mother believes is an alien. Adeem, an amateur hacker, searches for his sister, estranged from their Pakistani American Muslim family after she came out as a lesbian. Crossing paths in Reno, Cate and Adeem head to Roswell, where Jesse, the third teen, is convincing desperate people that he can (for a fee) transmit their pleas for salvation to the aliens, using a machine created by his now-deceased ne’er-do-well father. Rishi’s debut novel skillfully addresses complex contemporary issues on both the global (environmental damage, war, greed) and personal (identity, mental health) scales. It also tackles prejudice and the ways existential fatalism can inordinately affect marginalized people. But even given these themes and the novel’s dark story line, Rishi ends on a hopeful note of possibility, using an adapted quote from Rumi: “Your pain is where the light enters you.”

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin

This review was originally published in the November/December issue of Horn Book magazine and can also be found on the Horn Book website.

My Grandma and Me
by Mina Javaherbin; illus. by Lindsey Yankey
Primary    Candlewick    32 pp.    g
8/19    978-0-7636-9494-4    $16.99

The unnamed narrator recalls her childhood growing up in Iran (where the author also grew up) with her beloved grandmother, who lives with the family. The child accompanies her grandma on her daily routines (“When she swept, I swept. When she cooked, I cooked. When she prayed, I prayed like her, too”), through which the child experiences joyful elements of Iranian Islamic culture and acts of faith. They also spend time with friends (Grandma’s best friend’s granddaughter is our narrator’s best friend); and as the older women laugh, drink coffee, and knit blankets for their mosque and church, respectively, the children (and readers) witness a beautiful interfaith friendship. Yankey’s muted illustrations work well to convey cherished memories and love, with thoughtful cultural details incorporated throughout — a hopscotch board with numbers in Persian, a henna stain on the back of a hand. Striking Persian patterns providing an eye-catching, but not disruptive, contrast to the quotidian activities. Appended notes on the copyright page provide heartfelt details about the author’s and illustrator’s grandmothers. A lovely homage to the unconditional love and wisdom of elders.

From the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine.

Posted in Books, Reviews

Review: More to the Story by Hena Khan

This review was originally posted in Horn Book on September 24, 2019

More to the Story
by Hena Khan
Intermediate, Middle School
Salaam/Simon    262 pp.   
 g
9/19    978-1-4814-9209-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-9211-9    $10.99

In a novel inspired by Little Women, thirteen-year-old Pakistani American Jameela Mirza, second oldest of four sisters and an aspiring journalist, lives with her family in Atlanta. This Eid holiday has brought changes: their beloved father is missing Eid for the first time ever to look for a new job, and Ali, a (good-looking) nephew of a family friend, arrives from London. At school, Jameela is named newspaper features editor but is in constant conflict with the editor in chief, who never approves her hard-hitting pitches. When her father takes a job overseas, the family is distraught, and Jameela is determined to write an article that will make him proud. Her assigned piece on Ali goes awry, complicating her feelings for him and her journalistic aspirations. But when her younger sister Bisma is diagnosed with cancer, Jameela must reevaluate her priorities and figure out how she can truly support what matters. Khan (Amina’s Voice, rev. 3/17) tells the story of a modern-day Pakistani American family while retaining the charm, familial warmth, and appeal of Alcott’s classic (this novel’s first line is, “This is the worst Eid ever!”). Cultural norms about dating, clothing, food, and prayer in the family’s Atlanta community and overseas are subtly alluded to, while characters grow and impart valuable lessons without sounding overly didactic.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Posted in Reviews

“Great Books” article in School Library Journal

 

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to highlight some recent Young Adult (YA) titles for School Library Journal (SLJ)

The criteria for the SLJ list were YA titles published within the last year or two that had Muslim protagonists and/or authors. Typically, these types of SLJ articles highlight 10-12 titles. 

We looked at two dozen possible titles, narrowing the list down to 14, to include different genres/formats, publishers, and a range of authors of different racial and ethnic identities. 

In the article, we mentioned the lack of African American protagonists in the works of fiction. 

Another observation was that most titles feature female protagonists. 

Two of the titles on the list include male protagonists, one who is perceived as being Muslim because of his family background but does not identify as a Muslim.

We know that Islam has been racialized; even if someone doesn’t identify as a Muslim, or practice the religion, because of their ancestry, nationality, or ethnicity, islamophobia and bigotry can still affect them. 

While we hope that this piece is helpful in identifying titles of interest, it’s not comprehensive, nor is it meant to be.

You can find it here.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave us a comment.

 

Posted in Reviews

Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan

Cohan, Medeia. Hats of Faith. Walsh, Sarah, Illus. Picture Book. Chronicle Books, 08/2018. 12 pp. $9.99. 978-1-4521-7320-7. Ages 2-5

Review by Mahasin Abuwi Aleem

Not too long ago, I received a wonderful gift of a book that I’d been eagerly waiting to get my hands on: Hats of Faith, written by Medeia Cohen and illustrated by Sarah Walsh.

(Thanks to Chronicle Books for sending copies our way!)

In the past year or so, images of Muslim women wearing headscarves in popular media have increased exponentially; I assumed a Muslim woman would be included and couldn’t wait to see how it would be done.

Would the headscarf be called a hijab, khimar, or something else?

What style of covering will be?

Would the diversity of the Muslim community be represented in illustrations?

 

I was immediately struck by the cover: there are people of various hues wearing a variety of head coverings (ot none at all), including a dark-skinned woman wearing a scarf wrapped upward and a pair of gold-colored hoop earrings, an image that resonates with me, but isn’t often represented when Muslim women are depicted.

Hats of Faith begins with a simple introduction, “Many religious people share the custom of covering their heads to show their love for God.”

The work includes brightly colored illustrations of nine distinct individuals wearing headcoverings that reflect their faith traditions. Simple text at the top of each page, above each individual’s head, explains the name of each “hat” and who wears it.

I admit that it took me some time to figure out how I felt about the term “hat” being used for the variety of religious head coverings that exist. Ultimately, I came to feel the same way about the term as the author does, that the word makes a lot of sense for teaching about diversity in head coverings to young children.

Men and women from the Sikh, Muslim, and Jewish faiths are depicted, as well as a Rastafarian man. Interspersed throughout the work are the illustrations of three individuals wearing head coverings attributed to Muslims.

The first illustration in the book and of a Muslims is of a young woman with light beige colored skin and dark colored eyebrows and long lashes. Her “hat” is a soft pink scarf which is draped around her ears, neck, and falls softly over one shoulder. A white under scarf peeks out from beneath the pink scarf, above her forehead. “This is a Hijab (he-jaab), which many Muslim women wear,” the text states.

The second illustration of a Muslim is of a medium brown-skinned male with a thick grey beard, who appears to be at least middle-aged. His “hat” is white with grey stripes and sits snugly upon his head. The accompanying text reads: “And this is a Topi (Tou-pi), which many South Asian Muslim men wear.”

 

The last illustration in the book is of a dark-brown skinned woman who wears a multi-colored scarf which is wrapped up and tucked into a neat bun, except for a few small barely noticeable pieces of hair which frame her face. She also wears a necklace and matching hoop earrings. The text above her states, “And this is a Head Wrap, which many African Christian and Muslim women wear.” This illustration, the last in the book, is the only one to use a head covering to represent more than one religious tradition.

Both the dedication page included at the end of Hats of Faith and the book’s accompanying website acknowledge the help of people and experts of various faiths who helped make the book possible. Their help is clearly manifested in the authentic details included in each illustration: the white under scarf on the woman wearing the “hijab” and the manner in which her scarf is draped over her shoulder; the well-kempt beard and warm eyes of the Topi wearer, remind me of many a South Asian “Uncle” I’ve known, as do the color and jewelry worn by the woman in the African head wrap. I particularly liked that the authors noted that head wraps are worn by both Christian and Muslim women.

Overall, Hats of Faith does an excellent job representing the diversity of Muslims in such a short work. Still, I would have preferred that the authors be a bit more precise with their language. For example, it would have been better to write, “And this is a Head Wrap, which Christian and Muslim women of African descent wear” instead of “And this is a Head Wrap, which many African Christian and Muslim women wear”. It’s a very particular distinction, but one that is infinitely more accurate: women of the African diaspora can be found wearing this style all over the world.

I would have also liked for a wider diversity of words for the first Muslim woman’s head covering to have been included; “hijab” just isn’t the only word used for a Muslim woman’s headscarf and it isn’t used for only one style of scarf. It’s time that literature reflects that. If the first image in the book is supposed to represent a woman of a particular ethnicity or region who might call her headscarf a “hijab”, it would have been better to state that. Furthermore, some Muslim women who wear their scarves wrapped in an up-do such as the woman illustrated in this book, would certainly call their own “head wraps”, hijabs.

In the FAQs on their website, the team behind the book notes that they hope to issue a future edition that includes other head coverings; perhaps that edition can also include the diversity of names used for the head covering worn by Muslim women.

Hats of Faith is recommended as a good introduction some commonalities between faith traditions. Children and adults alike will enjoy finding and discussing the similarities between the various “hats”. The “hijab” depicted in the book is strikingly similar to the “Chunni” worn by a Sikh woman in the book and the “Head Wrap” is very similar to the “Tichel” worn by the Orthodox Jewish woman in the book, which is part of the beauty of the book.

The book concludes: “Learning about each other makes it easy to be more understanding. Being understanding helps us spread love and peace.” Agreed!

 

Posted in Reviews

Guest Review: Jamal’s Journey by Michael Foreman

Foreman, Michael, Jamal’s Journey, illustrated by the author. Anderson Press, 2016, preschool-grade 2 (Bedouin)

A small Bedouin camel train, consisting of only three camels and their small loads, their drivers, and the drivers’ hooded falcons, crosses the desert to what appears to be an international market in Dubai. Each falcon sits on a saddle horn, a boy rides behind one of the drivers, and trotting behind the caravan is a young camel calf. Together, the number of camels and their small load seems hardly worth a trip across the desert.

On the CIP page, a short note from Foreman that tells how this story came to be appears to be the sum total of his research:

And when I discovered the word for “beauty” in Arabic is jamaal, the root of which means “camel,” a story began to form in my mind.

The camel calf’s name is “Jamal,” and he is the focus of the story. “Jamal” or “Jamaal” is the Arabic word for “beauty.” It’s a boy’s name, but it’s not usually a camel’s name (1). In Arabic culture, according to an article in Gulf News General (2), camels are named for their ages and are assigned different names each year. A one-year-old, for instance, is called “Hewar,” a two-year-old is “Fateem,” a three-year-old is “Haj,” and a four-year-old is “Liggi.”

It also doesn’t make sense that Jamal, the baby camel, would be calling to his parents in Arabic and English—“Mama! Baba! Where are you?”—rather than in the language of camels. (Baby camels call their mothers with a “baaa,” like a lamb. And they don’t call their fathers.) And because Jamal the baby camel is the only character who talks, rather than seeing things through a camel’s eyes, he seems to have adopted a European child tourist’s breathless ideation:

“Oh!” cries the camel. “I can see a great city, far away, and beyond that, the shining sea!”

As Jamal trails further and further behind, he gets tired. He compares himself to the “lucky” falcons:

Jamal looks at the Falcons. They are lucky, too—the birds get carried everywhere, except when they soar through the sky, hunting the small creatures of the desert. But Jamal is a little camel, and camels have to walk, walk, walk.

More about the falcons soon, but one wonders why one species of animal would envy another species of animal. And no: camel calves do not have to “walk, walk, walk.” And they do not follow caravans. Camels are considered members of the family and are treated like children: they are loved, fed, and talked to. Pregnant camels are taken to the desert, where it is safe and quiet, to have their babies; and they come back after about a month. Camel calves begin training at three years, and then they are taught to follow with a rope (3).

Back to the story: Suddenly, there is a sandstorm. Sand is “whooshing and whirling in the wild wind!” Jamal has “sand in his eyes. Sand in his nose. Sand in his ears….sand in his mouth.”

No, again: The author’s alliterative literary devices notwithstanding, camels are built to withstand sandstorms. They have bushy eyebrows, three sets of eyelids and two sets of eyelashes to keep sand out of their eyes. They also shut their nostrils to prevent inhalation of sand, they shut their lips to prevent sand from getting into their mouths, and they have thick fur that lines their ears as well.

“He turns his back to the howling wind, making himself as small as possible.” Jamal is lost. Fortunately, he meets a kindly falcon, who guides him towards “a great city,” and beyond that, “the shining sea!” As the falcon “is whirling and looping in the air with the other falcons,” Jamal reunites with his camel parents (and the human boy, sort
of).

OK, here’s the thing about falcons: They’re beloved by the Bedouin people and are a symbol of the Bedouin culture. And, as with Bedouin people’s camels, their falcons are a source of survival. Falcons have an amazing ability to see great distances, and because they can catch wild birds and small animals such as rabbits, they are traditionally trained for hunting. When they are traveling with their owners, their eyes are hooded to keep them calm and not focused on potential prey.

According to the Dubai Tourism & Travel Services,

In the old days, the falcon was caught, trained, used for the season and set free again as they are migratory birds. It would come back to its owner in the next season. Today falcons are kept year-round by their owners (4).

Bedouins do not set their falcons loose to look for lost baby camels and navigate them home. What is it about the author’s idea of Bedouin life, culture or history that might have led him to crate a trio of specially trained Bedouin “search-and-rescue” falcons?

Together they all set off toward the faraway city. Jamal stays close to his “Mama” and “Baba,” and the boy walks beside him: he doesn’t want his camel to get lost ever again. When they arrive at the market, Jamal, the baby camel, has learned an important lesson in geography:

Now Jamal knows the world is more than just sand. When his legs are long and strong, he wants to see it all.

No, no, no, and no: Camels do not see their homes as “just sand” and “the world” as “more than just sand.” The desert, with all of its flora and fauna, clear skies, and sand beneath his hooves, is Jamal’s world. While wanting “to see it all” might be on a European tourist’s bucket list, it’s unlikely that camels have such yearnings—even exuberant camels with “long and strong” legs.

And on that page, the unnamed boy runs to his baby camel with a brand-new halter he has purchased at the market, ostensibly to ensure that Jamal doesn’t wander off again. But. Camels are not trained for their tasks until they are three years old, which is not the case here. And they’re trained with a rope, not with a halter.

On the final page is an illustration of the future. Jamal (now a grown camel, dressed in traveling camel gear) and his rider, the nameless boy (wearing a Bedouin vest but who still looks about the same age as he was when Jamal was a calf), are traversing the desert. And one of those falcons is flying above them:

One day, the boy will ride on him. And Jamal will walk, walk, walk, far and wide, from gleaming cities to shining seas. and he will always take his friendly falcon along, just in case they get lost.

(I read this passage several times, and still don’t get it. Is the author saying that Jamal, the camel, now owns “his friendly falcon”? Has the camel trained the falcon who had led him back to the convoy? Have they become friends? Is there a sequel—Jamal’s Falcon—in the works?)

The cultural and economic reality is that camel calves are far too valuable to lose. For people who live in the desert, camels are a major source of survival—without these animals, they would die. Camels are financially valuable as well (5). They may be given to a bride as her dowry, they may be part of an inheritance, they may be given as Zakaat (a gift to charity as a religious requirement during Ramadan), and they are sometimes used in lieu of money. Some of the hadiths—the set of teaching stories and sayings of the Prophet that remain a source of Islamic religious law and practice—feature camels. (In a particularly well-known hadith, for instance, the Prophet cautions, “Trust in God—and tie your camel.”)

Jamal’s Journey is all about a camel calf. This camel calf has a name, while none of the humans is named. The animals have wide eyes and expressive faces, while the humans have virtually no faces. They look the same. They dress the same. And there is only one woman—a tiny figure in the background of one illustration.

Jamal, the camel calf, gets left behind. Jamal, the camel calf, gets lonely. Jamal, the camel calf, gets tired. Jamal, the camel calf, gets caught in a storm. Jamal, the camel calf, gets rescued by a falcon from the convoy, who swoops down to guide him back. Jamal, the camel calf, gets reunited with his “Mama” and “Baba”—and the unnamed boy.

A reviewer from Publishers Weekly wrote: “Children should find it easy to identify with Jamal’s frustrations at his limitations, fears upon getting lost, and relief and excited curiosity once his journey is back on track.”

No. Jamal’s Journey is oversimplified, confusing and culturally ridiculous. Would this lost-and-found baby animal story have gotten positive reviews had it featured instead a colt who jumps the fence on a horse ranch in Montana, gets lost in a rainstorm and is saved by a friendly hawk who leads him home?

One might think—and one would probably be right—that Jamal’s Journey was produced to garner “diversity” points.

That a young camel calf would be portrayed as trotting behind a Bedouin camel train, getting swept up in a dust storm, and finding his way back (guided by a “friendly” falcon)—or that Bedouin drivers would abandon, lose, or forget about a camel calf—is one giant hackneyed cliché about the peoples whose lives depend on camels. (And the fake “Arabic-style calligraphy” on the cover and title page doesn’t work, either.)

Non-Arab or non-Muslim children reading Jamal’s Journey will learn nothing real, and Arab or Muslim children will once again be disparaged in the classroom or library.

—Beverly Slapin

  1. Although the Prophet named his own camel, this is not a common practice today.
  2. https://gulfnews.com/news/uae/general/camels-a-key-part-of-uae-s-rich-heritage-1.603548
  3. https://www.thebedouinway.com/bedouin-blog
  4. https://dubai-travel.ae/story-about-the-arabian-falcon/
  5. In fact, a new camel hospital, first of its kind in the world—with “pristine operating theaters and state-of-the-art medical equipment”—has just opened in Dubai. For this fascinating story, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?y=UoUjz3BKdPQ.

About our guest reviewer: Beverly Slapin is a long-time education activist and lifelong learner. As co-founder and former executive director of Oyate, Beverly co-edited Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children, and A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. She is currently the editor of De Colores, a blog modeled after Broken Flute, and reviews and critiques children’s and young adult books about Raza peoples throughout the Diaspora. 

* Muslims usually follow the name of a prophet with a salawat – a salutation or greeting. This often takes the form of “ʿalayhi s-salām (عليه السلام),” meaning “peace be upon him,” (often abbreviated to “PBUH”) or the fuller “ṣallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa- ala ālihi wa-sallam (صلى الله عليه وعلى آله وسلم‎),” meaning, “may the blessings of God be upon him and his family and peace” (often times abbreviated to “SAW” or “SAWS”).  

Posted in Reviews

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

aisha-saeed-amal-unbound-collage

Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound. Middle Grade Fiction. Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin , 05/2018. 240 pp. $17.99. 978-0399544682. (RECOMMENDED). Ages 10-12.

I acquired this book during a library conference. When I sat down to read the book, I had no idea what was in store for me. Unlike most people, I rarely read the back/inside cover of a book before starting it. All I knew about the book was that 1) the author was Muslim, 2) the character was a Pakistani Muslim, 3) it was a kid’s book and 4) the cover was GORGEOUS.

Amal Unbound is a middle grade novel which focuses on Amal, the oldest of four girls. She loves school and wants to become a teacher when she grows up. However, with her mother due any day now, Amal is told to stay home to help out. One day, while running errands for her family, she ticks off the village’s wealthiest landlord and finds herself a new servant in his household.

Aisha Saeed, author of ‘Written in the Stars’, weaves a realistic story through the voice of Amal of what could happen to a young girl from a small village in modern day Pakistan. She meets different servants in the household, those she enjoys being around and those looking to make trouble for her. She even teaches one of the younger girls her alphabets. Trouble begins to stir in the household both for Amal and the wealthy landlord. While Amal begins to wonder if her debt will ever be paid off so she can go home she continues to hang on to the hope of one day finding her way out of her situation and finds her escape in studying.

While Saeed does not touch on the Muslim religion at all, she does, however minimally, bring in different aspects of Pakistani culture and how life for girls can be in Pakistan’s smaller villages. The cultural aspect becomes glaringly obvious when Amal’s father tells her that it is her duty as the eldest to stay home from school and help out even though she is only 12 years of age. As the eldest she is often reminded that it is her duty to look after her younger sisters and the needs of the family come before her own. Amal’s village is divided into two classes: high class, which is held by one man who reigns terror over the village and controls the police and lower class, the rest of the village. Saeed also touches on the cultural aspects of traditional clothing and wedding festivities.

I was able to get through the book in a couple of hours. The book itself was a pretty fast-paced read as things pick up the further along you get. This would be would be a great book for realistic readers looking for a hint of mystery and drama while learning some societal and cultural things about the country of Pakistan.