WHAT IT IS: Amina’s Voice is a feel-good middle grade novel about a 6th grader who deals with issues of fitting in and gaining self confidence.
Amina’s best friend Soojin is thinking about changing her name to Susan when she becomes an American citizen, and Amina wonders if she should try to fit in more, too. Emily, a former bully, wants to be friends with Amina and Soojin, but Amina is having trouble forgiving Emily for the past. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle is visiting from “back home,” and he questions her piano lessons and involvement in chorus—saying that music is not Islamic. To top it all off, Amina’s parents sign her up for a Quran competition. How can Amina recite Quran, which she’s not very good at, in front of everyone? View Post
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
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
Yo Soy Muslim
Written by Mark Gonzales
Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
2017 32 pages
Yo Soy Muslim is a touching picture book for children 4–8 years old. Written as a letter from a father to his daughter, it explores themes of religion, culture, and language, and describes the world as a place his daughter belongs in.
The illustrations are by Mehrdokht Amini, who also illustrated Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and are absolutely stunning. View Post