We were delighted to be involved in the creation of a discussion guide for Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian and released in the United States by Penguin/Putnam. Find the discussion guide on the Penguin site and our review below.
Review: Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik
Grades 3-5 for independent reading, suitable for younger read-alouds
Penguin/Putnam 224 pp. Released 2/4/2020
ISBN 978-0-593-10921-2 Tr. $13.99
Muslim British Pakistani Omar is an elementary aged boy with a huge imagination. As the middle child with a bossy older sister, Mayram, and a messy three-year old brother, Esa, Omar stands out because of his imaginative ideas and daydreams which sometimes gets him into trouble, but also helps him deal with his worries. With his family moving to a new home in London, Omar has been worrying a lot.
Omar’s loving parents are scientists who are relocating for his mother’s dream job in cancer research. Though they are excited by their new home, their new neighbor, Mrs. Rogers, gives the family the cold shoulder, and is often on the phone complaining about what “the Muslims” are doing. Nervous about school and his teacher, Omar imagines a dragon protector named H2O. Ultimately, he finds that his teacher is understanding; she asks him about Ramadan and if he needs to be excused from activities if he is fasting. Omar even makes a new friend, Charlie.
But just when he thinks he might not need all H2O’s help at school, he meets Daniel. Daniel bullies everyone, especially Charlie. When Daniel finds out that Omar and his family are Muslim, he treats Omar with even more vitriol, telling Omar that he and his family will be kicked out of the country. Omar’s cousin confirms Daniel’s words about Muslims being unwelcome and intensifies Omar’s worries.
Deceptively light-hearted and laugh-out-loud funny, Omar’s antics and reference points are tied to his identity. Mian makes references to Islamic terms and culture, such as prayer and dietary restrictions, as well as their Pakistani British identity in an unforced manner. Indonesian Mafaridik’s illustrations, cartoon-like and gentle, with simple, clean lines, give the series a Wimpy Kid like feel, which may appeal to younger children who are reading the book with family members. Muslim readers will find plenty of mirrors in Omar’s stories, from attending mosque to the tongue-in-cheek references to commonly held misconceptions about Muslims, for example, Maryam and Omar laughing about people possibly believing that their mom wears a hijab in the shower. The topics of racism and Islamophobia come up organically and allow readers opportunities to unpack their effects. Conflicts are resolved with compassion and mutual understanding. Omar and his family, in their foibles and actions guided by Islamic principles, are truly delightful.