Our New Shelfie Series
Here at the Diverse BookFinder (DBF) we are fortunate to have a rich network of experts who work with diverse books on a daily basis—and we want to share that wealth widely! Though we do not review or recommend books in our work, our new monthly Shelfie feature asks an educator, librarian, activist, scholar, book creator, et al. to share their top picks with you. They’ll tell us why these books are so great and how they might be a good tool for educators, parents, librarians, and anyone else looking to use diverse books in their work, and beyond!
Our first Shelfie comes to you from DBF Advisory Council member Kirin Nabi, an experienced educator and school librarian who has used diverse books to host a unique interfaith story time series in her local community. Kirin also reviews Islamic fiction books for children and young adults at www.islamicschoollibrarian.wordpress.com -- a result of her love of literature and belief that fiction can be a powerful tool in empowering youth, shaping perceptions, breaking down stereotypes, and opening doors.
R-a-m-a-d-a-n Spells Fun!
By Kirin Nabi
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Muslims – Ramadan! The lunar month when the Quran was revealed, the month of mercy and renewing faith. It is also a month of extra charity, no eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, and staying up during the night to pray—all while carrying on with the daily routines of work and school and taekwondo and soccer practice. It really is magical. There are also traditions that radiate with warmth and love, and with so many nuances in each family from so many worldwide cultures, children’s picture books can provide a great way to explore and understand Ramadan from a variety of voices. Whether you are Muslim, know Muslims, or just want to experience the month in a non-preachy and entertaining manner, here are a few of my favorite books (in order by age group) from the Diverse BookFinder collection.
Children’s picture books can provide a great way to explore and understand Ramadan from a variety of voices...and to experience the month in a non-preachy and entertaining manner.
Books for Pre-K and Up
Ramadan is one of the most special months of the Islamic year, when Muslims pray, fast, and help those in need. Whitman's lyrical story, with luminous illustrations by Sue Williams, serves as an ideal introduction to Ramadan.
This sweet book -- with its sparse words, comforting illustrations, and predictable refrain that makes the book read like a lullaby -- is perfect for pre-K and kindergartners and works great at story time or bedtime. The large 8 x 10 size and 24 glossy pages also bring the story’s warm illustrations to life.
The end matter includes a full page of information about the blessed month of Ramadan, but the book keeps the Islamic requirements of Ramadan vague, effectively opening the book to Muslim and non-Muslim readers alike. Besides mention of the Quran, no other Arabic-specific words are used in the narrative, and prayer is depicted only in images. Some of the women appear in hijab (head scarf), some do not.
As children relate to being kind, spending time with family, and eating together, they will get a “feel” for Ramadan and explore why the traditions and actions make it so special to Muslims.
A 32-page hard cover that shows a little girl’s excitement isn’t enough to get her to abstain from food and drink for the whole long day of fasting, and that there are other ways to enjoy the gift of the blessed month. A great book that depicts Ramadan as a month of growing and learning and sacrificing and coming together. Perfect for ages 4 and up, to be read in small groups or at bedtime. The pictures are delightful and show diversity, and while the main character, Sophia, is a girl who loves sparkles, the message allows boys to enjoy and benefit from the book as well.
There are a lot of books out there that take on the subject of fasting. What I like about this particular one is that it doesn’t feature an adult telling a child they can’t fast, but rather depicts Sophia’s supportive grandma encouraging her to do what she can and take advantage of other parts of the month. I also like that Sophia, ultimately, doesn’t succeed. Fasting, especially on long summer days and especially for children, can be hard. Directly acknowledging that reality and encouraging kids to do their best is a very valuable message. Sophia also comes up with a way to contribute on her own, which makes the book inspirational for its intended audience.
The book appeals to Muslim and non-Muslim children alike. An author’s note at the end explains some aspects of Ramadan. Grandma covers her head; mom covers only when praying and reading the Quran. It mentions and depicts praying and breaking one’s fast with water and dates, yet stays focused on Sophia’s story and does not get preachy or dry.
As always, with the incredibly popular Ilyas and Duck series, this rhyming book asks questions that kids think about and is silly in a relatable way. The hardcover book is 38 pages of fun and information, with bright and engaging illustrations perfect for ages 5 and up.
Without getting too preachy, the book cleverly conveys how a day of Ramadan is practiced. It shows Ilyas and Duck praying, eating dates, decorating, and getting excited. The reader is given a front row seat to the major events that shape a day.
While the book does note that the practice of fasting is meant to help build a relationship with Allah, it is more descriptive than prescriptive and would not alienate non-Muslim children. For example, this book could easily be read to a public school class or scout troop, while simultaneously giving a Muslim child an awesome story with which to identify.
Books for 2nd Grade and Up
Now that she is ten, Lailah is delighted that she can fast during the month of Ramadan like her family and her friends in Abu Dhabi, but finding a way to explain to her teacher and classmates in Atlanta is a challenge until she gets some good advice from the librarian, Mrs. Carman.
Another standout in a crowded field of Ramadan picture books, this title works well for slightly older non-Muslim and Muslim children alike, even beyond the month of Ramadan. In 32 pages, the reader gets to know Lailah and understand how hard it has been for her to move to America from Abu Dhabi and make new friends. It realistically portrays her as both nervous to be identified as different, as well as excited that her mother has finally agreed to let her fast this Ramadan.
The book is semi-autobiographical, and the authenticity of the emotion woven in makes the book very relatable and powerful, especially for second and third graders. At first, Lailah’s nervousness about being marked as different robs her of her excitement around fasting. But ultimately, it’s the courage to face her fear that brings back her happiness and enthusiasm, a message that resonates beyond the particulars of the story and appeals to all children.
The book includes an author’s note at the end, telling how the book came about and a bit more about Ramadan. It also gives the definition of Sehri (pre-dawn meal) and Iftar (post-sunset meal), the only non-English words that appear in the book. The illustrations are colorful and realistic, complementing the story and tying in the range of emotions and events Lailah experiences.
Books for Older Elementary
Ramadan is coming and Leena is excited. Although she is too young to fast each day during the Muslim holy month, she decides to fast on a Friday that her aunt will be visiting. Now Leena has a dilemma. She receives an invitation to a party which happens to fall on that same Friday. But when Leena, who is the only Muslim at the party, sees her friends enjoying fresh lemonade and chocolate cake, her stomach starts to growl and her head begins to hurt. Will she keep her Ramadan fast?
This book is a great conversation starter for older kids who perhaps have tried to fast and nevertheless felt the temptations of day-to-day life in a non-Muslim context. At 34 pages, the story is strong enough to hold a fourth graders attention and encourage them to analyze what they would do in a similar situation. Although the book is about Ramadan and includes some facets about how fasting is done, what it means, and why Muslims do it, it isn’t overly religious in nature. The characters are simply Muslim, they pray, they thank Allah, they wear hijab, they make duaas (requests through prayer), and they go to friends’ parties. Non-Muslims would benefit from this book and see the beauty of diversity as the main character, Leena, and her friends support one another. The pictures also do a wonderful job of inviting the reader to be part of this Muslim family; the characters are warm and happy, some cover and some do not, and they all eat chocolate pudding and Baklava.
Year after year, in the blessed month of Ramadan, little Najma has happily arisen to the drum beat of her neighborhood's musaharati. He walks through the streets of her small Turkish village, waking each family for the pre-dawn meal before the long day of fasting. Najma wants nothing more than to be a musaharati herself one day, but no girl has ever taken on the role before. Will she have what it takes to be the drummer girl of her dreams? Find out in this inspirational story of sincerity, determination, and believing in yourself.
This 37-page, text-heavy book warms the soul and uplifts the spirit. Before she was Grandma Najma, she was just Najma—a girl in Turkey with a secret dream of being a musaharati, the person who walks the streets drumming and waking the neighbors for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) during Ramadan. But because a girl had never performed this task, the dream stays hidden until she is 12, when the neighborhood musaharati becomes ill. Najma confides in her father and his love and support helps her dream come true against cultural norms and naysayers alike. The line from her Baba: “Girls can be anything they like,” is so clear and strong that her one-girl revolution grabs the hearts of readers and turns them into cheerleaders. The added beauty is that her father’s support is not limited to his words; he accompanies her out every night, a silent challenge to anyone who may seek to stop her.
There is a glossary, an author’s note telling where the story comes from, and a little biography of the author, illustrator, and publisher in the back.
Hope you find a book that works for you -- Ramadan Mubarak and as always, Happy Reading!