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.” View Post
WARNING: The following discussion contains spoilers! In other words, this post reveals what happens in the book. If you have NOT read Saints and Misfits, here is my non-spoiler review.
As I mentioned in my review, I absolutely loved this book. I found the realistic representation of a Muslim community spot-on. Janna’s voice was great. Ali weaves together all of the different subplots and tucks in the ends in subtle ways that I really appreciated. When a book is that awesome, the few things that I didn’t like or that I didn’t get stand out more. View Post
I loved this book so much that I’m splitting the conversation into two parts—the non-spoiler review that follows, and a spoilery discussion of the book, which you can find here.
Saints and Misfits, by S.K. Ali, is the book that I’ve been holding my breath for since I was fourteen years old. It perfectly captures what it’s like for Muslim teens growing up in America—trying to practice Islam when they’re still sorting out what the shape of that Islam is and how it fits together with the rest of their life.
The novel opens with Janna Yusuf in the water at the beach, scanning the coast to choose the perfect moment to come out—when no one is paying attention to her and her awkward burkini. She emerges, water squelching out everywhere and the black fabric getting covered in sand, only to be berated by her dad, “Janna, why do you have to wear that thing?”
It’s the perfect moment to describe the American-Muslim experience—young people caught between all kinds of rocks and hard places. Janna’s parents are divorced, and she is on vacation with her dad and her stepmom. He wants to know why she can’t wear a one-piece like the one Linda is wearing; Janna explains to her dad, “I’m a hijabi, remember?” Janna is caught between her dad, on the less-practicing end of the Muslim spectrum, and her mom and brother, who agree on everything. View Post
It’s Farah’s twelfth birthday and all she really wants to do is hang out with her friends Essie and Alex. Since moving from one part of New York City to another, she’s missed her friends and felt out of place in her hijab at her new school. But Farah’s little brother Ahmad, who has ADHD and is used to dominating her attention, won’t leave her alone.
When Farah and her friends open a strange gift from her Aunt Zohra, they don’t notice Ahmad standing in the doorway. The gift is an ornate wooden box labeled “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.” Not until they read the instructions for the game and Ahmad shouts out “I am ready for the gauntlet!” do they realize what has happened. Ahmad disappears into the game, and Farah is determined to enter the game and bring her brother back.
Now, the three friends not only have to find Ahmad, they also have to race against the clock to complete all the challenges in time, or they could be stuck in the game forever. View Post
Bassam Saeh’s The Miraculous Language of the Qur’an addresses a frequent problem that Muslims encounter when reading the Quran. For those who don’t understand Arabic, there are few resources that do more than merely translate the Quran and mention relevant hadiths. But even readers who understand Arabic experience a difficulty. The text of the Quran becomes familiar to them—they get used to the words and phrases. Instead of contemplating the fascinating linguistic patterns of the Quran, these readers remain stuck in a loop of superficial meanings they are familiar with. This book addresses both of these problems.
This slim volume (only 90 pages long) is a translation by Nancy Roberts of Bassam Saeh’s Arabic book al-Mu’jizah, Volume I. The discussion is carefully organized and the language is intelligent without being the kind of reading you expect to be assigned in a college class. The first part of the book is a general discussion of the linguistic miraculousness of the Quran and a concept that Saeh calls “newness.” The second part applies these ideas to Surah al-Muddaththir. The text is broken up into small sections that keep the detailed conversation about Arabic grammar from becoming overwhelming. The organization, language, and size of this book make it accessible for a wide audience, and I highly recommend it. View Post