Bismillah Soup is one of my favorite picture books about a Muslim child. It is a delightful story about a boy who uses positivity and hard work to bring his community together and overcome adversity.
The Story. Hasan, a young Somali boy, knows his mom has a lot of problems. His dad is away for work, and they are down to the last few grains of rice in the bag. An electricity outage means a lot of their food has spoiled. Hasan, eager to help his mom, promises they will have a huge feast that night. She is perplexed, but Hasan runs off with his optimism in tow. He goes to the masjid and explains his problem to Shaykh Omar, who offers a pot and a bag of rice, and assures him, “Say Bismillah, and I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
This is the beginning of a beautiful tale about one boy’s perseverance and faith in Allah. Based on the classic story Stone Soup, it has a Somali flavor: his parents are his Aabo and Hooyo, and there are muufo bread, samboos, and bananas. View Post
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
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