I was so excited to see this book; I think that talking to children about the kiraman katibeen (the angels who write your deeds, good and bad) is a great way to broach the topic of accountability. Unfortunately, while the illustrations (by Omar Burgess) are absolutely stunning, the writing (by Razana Noor) didn’t work for me.
This 20-page picture book is written as a rhyming poem that is broad in subject, and the accompanying illustrations build on the poem to tell a specific story about a little boy. He tells us about the angels on his right and left who write down his good and bad deeds. They are always with him, and they will be for his entire life. We see him doing good and bad deeds. The first person narration is clever; we get a bit of the boy’s interiority as he struggles to do what he knows is right, and children can empathize with that. For example, “To stop the angel feeling blue, / There is still something I can do / Say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and try my best / To not do it again. That’s my test.”
Unfortunately, the writing in this book is lacking. For example, “Sent by Allah when I was small, / They watch me walk, wriggle, and crawl. / They write down my deeds, good and bad. / So I can later see the life I had.” The lines are often awkward, probably to accommodate the rhymes. Granted, rhyming poems for children are extremely difficult to do well. Another issue I have with the writing is that it does not have a clear narrative arc like the illustrations do. The illustrations tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but the poem just keeps going until there isn’t any more. This style of picture book is a hard genre, and this one just fell flat for me.
The illustrations are done by the very talented Omar Burgess. They are playful, evocative, and often stunningly gorgeous.
The playfulness especially comes through in the level of detail—I love the duckling that hugs the main character’s foot on this page. The characters are friendly and realistic and are depicted doing real kid things.
I have a few small issues with the illustrations. The two angels are sometimes depicted as tiny balls of light on the main characters’ shoulders. I think this is cheesy, and also, they look like spiders to me. Children have great imaginations; I don’t think it’s necessary to depict the angels physically. Another small issue I have with the illustrations is that the emotions the characters express are so intense. I feel like happiness, sadness, anger—they are all drawn to the tenth degree in this book. There are a few calmer pictures, which is nice. But I personally found the extreme emotions stressful.
The end of the book has a glossary, which I appreciate, but I think the “Note to Parents and Teachers” that appears in the front of the book should be in the back with the glossary. The story should be able to stand on its own, and if parents and teachers want further resources, they can find them at the end of the book.
For those who want to introduce the idea of the angels who write deeds to younger children using a picture book, My Special Scribes is published by The Islamic Foundation (2016), and you can get a copy here.