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Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet Review and Discussion Guide

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. 

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Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan

Kaadan, Nadine. Tomorrow. Picture Book. Lantana Pub, 09/2018. 32 pp. $17.99. 978-1911373438. (RECOMMENDED). Ages 4-7.

Image result for tomorrow by nadine kaadan

When I first heard about Tomorrow I was very excited to read it. Not many books written in picture book format bring alive what a child is feeling while their country is at war. The story follows Yazan a young boy from the country of Syria. All Yazan wants to do is to go to the park and play with his friends. Unfortunately, he is no longer allowed outside, not even to go to school. When his family wants to go out his father makes a lot of phone calls first, when Yazan asks why, his father claims “Traffic! We’re trying to avoid the traffic.” Even his mother, who used to paint and let Yazan paint with her no longer does that. She sits in front of the television all day and watches the news very loudly.

Yazan tries to keep himself occupied by making paper airplanes, drawing and building castles out of pillows. But even that is not enough to stop him from wanting to go play outside. When his parents ignore his request to go out, he decides to take matters into his own hands, grabs his shiny red bike and heads out. However, what he finds is nothing is as it once was, the streets are deserted and nothing seems familiar. His father finds him and takes him back home where his mother scolds him and tells him to never do that again. She then brightens his day by telling him they will paint again and brings a park to his bedroom walls.

Image result for tomorrow by nadine kaadan

Yazan brings the story to life through her illustrations which are dark and gloomy as the book goes on. This is done to depict the mood of Yazan who is desperate to go out and have fun. There are two illustrations in the book that are bright and happy; the first is when Yazan remembers when his mother used to paint, and the second is at the end of the book when his mother picks up her paintbrush again to paint his room.

Kaadan also adds a note at the end of the story, which notes how her own experience seeing the children in her hometown of Damascus, not understand why their lives were changing, only that they were. Tomorrow is a gentle but somber depiction of the current condition of children in Syria. While Kaadan does not bring the war and devastation to the pages, she brings the everyday life of these Syrian children who no longer go to parks, play with friends or go to school. This would be an enlightening story to read with a child in order to begin to explain what is happening in Syria and to teach sympathy and understanding from the eyes of a child. While this story does not depict or mentions Muslims in anyway, after a little digging with the child, they will learn that Syria is a predominantly Muslim country.