Review—My First Quran with Pictures Juz Amma Part 1 by Shereen Sharief and illustrated by Nicola Anderson

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I was intrigued by this book from the first moment I saw it on social media. It’s the kind of project that we don’t realize how badly we need it until we actually have it. I’m so excited for Shereen Sharief, and I pray that Allah makes this project heavy in her scale of good deeds. The Quran plays such an important role in the life of a Muslim, and there is no doubt that teaching children the meaning of the Quran is a priority. My First Quran with Pictures is a fantastic resource to facilitate understanding of the verses children memorize and use first: Juz Amma.

What makes this book unique is the format and the fantastic illustrations by Nicola Anderson. The name of each surah appears clearly at the top of the page in Arabic and English. Some surahs have a paragraph of background information at the top (including the cause of revelation if applicable). Each Arabic ayah appears near its illustration. The English meanings of the ayahs appear at the bottom of the page. All ayahs are clearly numbered so it’s very easy to find the English that corresponds to the Arabic, and the opposite.

At first I was confused about how to read this with my children. After we worked out a rhythm, they didn’t want to stop. The method we worked out was that one of them would read the surah on the page, pausing after each ayah. When they paused, I would read the English translation out loud. And then they would read the next ayah. All the while, I used a finger to follow along with the Arabic ayah in the book, which is conveniently placed next to the illustration depicting the meaning.

We would stop along the way to talk about some of the illustrations. They are clearly drawn and easy to understand but detailed enough to encourage discussion.

In the first picture, the blessings are labelled in the picture for children to find and name. In the second, the man is sad about his one misfortune and ignores all of the blessings around him. The ability to see a physical representation of the meanings of the ayahs will no doubt help children not only with comprehension, but also with memorization. The addition of another element (seeing the pictures in addition to seeing and hearing the ayahs) also makes the ayahs that much more meaningful.

Something that is less successful in this book is the translation, which I was adjusting as I read aloud. I often do that when the language in a book is unnecessarily complicated or inappropriately difficult. For example, I’ll change something like “Who has fed them against hunger and has secured them against fear” to “Who gave them food and kept them safe.” I was a little disappointed that I found myself doing that, but I think the issue the author ran into is that she wanted to present a strict translation of the ayahs. I wouldn’t have minded a book that presented a tafseer (or loose interpretation) instead of a straight translation of each ayah. After all, the point of this book is not to teach translation itself or to teach Arabic vocabulary: the point of the book is to allow children a really simple explanation of these surahs. The fact that the language in the translated ayahs is sometimes awkward means that this book will probably be less useful for children to use on their own, although I suppose they could work out the meanings from the pictures, especially if they’ve read it with an adult before.

Because this book is such a fantastic project and because its goal is such a noble one, I found a few editorial missteps really quite disappointing. For example, there are grammatical mistakes such as using “it’s” instead of “its,” and there is sexist language such as the translation of al-insaan as “man” instead of as “humankind.”

Despite its minor flaws, I highly recommend this book. It’s well-organized, beautifully illustrated, and children will love to read it. I commend the author for taking the initiative on this project, and I look forward to purchasing future volumes. You can get your own copy on the publisher’s website here and on Amazon here.

Thank you to Faith Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.

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