No Ordinary Day is the story of a group of five nine-year-old friends who are expecting a special guest at school. The kids are thrilled when they find out that the guest is a Muslim soccer star who is giving away tickets to a local game. To choose who gets the tickets, he asks the students to recite some Quran and explain why studying the Quran is important to each of them. And the story goes from there.
What this book has got going for it: a diverse cast a characters, fun illustrations, and a story that shows kids excited to learn Quran. I love how diverse the cast is. The story is set in New York City, and the cast are from Latinx, Saudi Arabian, Malaysian, and Gambian backgrounds.
The illustrations are fantastic—the kids each have a style all their own and the detail in each picture shows that.
What would have made this book better: character development and a conflict to drive the story forward.
The book opens with a one page sheet on each characters.
This is a fun feature that children really love, but it is not a stand-in for character development. The rest of the story treats the group of five as a single entity (with a few minor exceptions).
The other criticism that I have is the lack of conflict. There isn’t really a problem that the characters need to overcome; the plot is smooth sailing. Conflict is an opportunity for readers to get to know the characters better and for the characters themselves to grow. Without that conflict, there’s isn’t anything much at stake in the story. Conflict also allows the author to provide messaging without being pedantic.
For example, one of the messages in this book is the importance of Quran and prayer, which is an important message. But the messaging is too obvious. For example, the soccer star tells the kids, “Just as a reminder, no matter who you are, or who you are going to be, nothing is more important than your belief in Allah.” Dropping this into the book as a statement by an adult makes it lose its power. It would be more effective if it were demonstrated by that adult in actions or realized and vocalized by the children after an experience that the reader sees. To be fair, the adult who makes that statement does teach through his actions later in the story, but including statements like that one makes the book sound preachy, and readers will identify that they are being lectured at.
In my personal opinion, this book could have benefited from being significantly longer. The age of the characters, the plot, and the themes in this story all point to seven- to ten-year-old readers, who are well within chapter book territory.
This book (which is the first in the Childhood Champions series) has a really fun cast of characters who reflect the diversity of the American Muslim experience. It’s a quick, fun read for seven- to ten-year-olds.
No Ordinary Day is published by Echo Books (2016) and you can get a copy here.