The BFF Sisters: Jennah’s New Friends (Book Review)

[I have several Islamic fiction books in my home library that were published almost ten years ago. The BFF Sisters: Jennah’s New Friends is one of them. I’ve had it on my list of books to review for some time but never did as I keep getting side-tracked with a million other things. However, when I received an email from Suzy Ismail, the author of the book, I was humbled and excited to say the least. Naturally I pulled out the book and got right on with re-reading it and writing this review. Thank you Suzy for sending me that email!]

 

image source: amana-publications.com

I can clearly remember the first time I saw The BFF Sisters: Jennah’s New Friends on the shelf of an Islamic bookshop nine years ago. I remember it because it was probably the only book on the shelf that made me want to pick it up and read it. It made an impression from the start. Why? The answer is because the cover of the book is attractive. With the pink colour and hues of blue and green, a beautiful bracelet and the shadow of a hand in the background, the cover of the book immediately evokes scenes of young girls sharing great times. Now I am not one to judge a book by its cover; but I have to say I do enjoy admiring well designed book covers. I like it when an attractively designed book cover is followed by a good story. The BFF Sisters: Jennah’s New Friends is such a book.

Yasmeen and I have always been the best of friends too, even though we’re really different. Yasmeen’s always real careful about what she says, and tries to make sure everyone is happy all of the time, while I can be a little bossy sometimes and I have a hard time controlling my temper when I get angry. It’s something I really am trying to work on.

“Earth to Jennah! Earth to Jennah! Jennah, what are you thinking about? You totally zoned out!” Khadija was waving her arms in front of my face and snapping her fingers as if she was trying to shake me out of a trance.

“Oh. I’m sorry guys. I didn’t mean to daze off like that,” I said. “I guess I’m just tired of Fatimah’s tricks all day today. So, what’s new with everyone?

“Khadija was just telling us about another new girl who moved close to her house. Her name is Lisa and she is going o be in sixth grade with us as Valley Hills School nest year too, insha’Allah,” Rahma answered.

“Speaking about being in the same school next year, insha’Allah, I’m so excited that Mariam’s going to be in my Islamic school,” Yasmeen chimed in. “We’ll probably take the same bus together and be in all the same classes….

As I listened to Yasmeen’s excited voice, I felt those same fluttering feelings of jealousy in my stomach again. It wasn’t fair. Why was Mariam going to go to the same school as my best friend? I could just imagine her sharing secrets with Yasmeen and calling her every night to talk about schoolwork or their teachers. Soon, Yasmeen would be so caught up with her new friend that she’d completely forget about me. (Excerpt from The BFF Sisters by Suzy Ismail, p. 19-20)

It’s the summer before Jennah and her friends enter sixth grade. They come up with the idea of starting a club which would meet to discuss Islamic ahadeeth as a way of spending their summer in a constructive way. The name of the club: The BFF Sisters. But friendship has its ups and downs and it’s no different with Jennah and her group of multicultural friends.

The author cleverly integrates the subthemes of jealousy, envy and anger into this story showing us how it affects the relationship between friends, in a general way and from an Islamic perspective. Jennah’s tendency to quickly flare up causes her to say hurtful things to family and friends alike. But situations are resolved through some self-inspection and with a little help from the wife of the Imam.

The main characters are all female. The four friends, the mothers and a sister from the masjid are vividly described through words and their actions, making them seem like someone you know. The girls get along for the most part for even though their parents come from different countries (Egypt, Palestine and Pakistan) they girls all have a connection through their upbringing in America. Readers I am sure will find one character who they could relate to. Whether it’s Jennah who is trying to responsibly handle the tendency to quickly lose her temper and control the jealousy that creeps into her relationship with her best friend; or Yasmeen who is the helpful, kind-hearted friend or Rahma who is easy-going or Khadija who is out-spoken. Then there is Jennah’s mother; pregnant, hard-working and trying to keep the household together while the father is away at work or Yasmeen’s mother; caring and always on the lookout for others or Sister Iman; the quiet and helpful wife of the Imam.

The story is told in the first person, a style used frequently in books for teens and middle grade novels as it quickly pulls the reader into the story. The story moves along quickly and comes to a satisfying end. While I enjoyed it, I felt as if I wanted it to go on. Another book, a series even, featuring the BFF Sisters would be great!  

At just about 60 pages this book may be a quick read for some. A glossary of Islamic terms and the meaning of the girls names, part of their Club’s notebook, appear at the end. With its energetic characters and witty dialogue, I think children, especially girls, between the ages of 8 to 11 years will enjoy this book.

Title: The BFF Sisters: Jennah’s New Friends

Author: Suzy Ismail

Publisher: Amana Publications

ISBN: 159008005X

Age Range: 8 – 11 years

Subjects: Friendship

The Mothers of three Prophets (Book Review)

To continue the celebration of Women’s History Month, I present a review of the Mothers of three Prophets. This is a small book that children age 8 and up will enjoy reading on their own. (See here for the review I did for International Women’s Day) 

 

Let’s take a look at three mothers who played very important roles in the lives of their sons, sons chosen by Allah to be prophets. These women faced severe tests beyond the abilities of the average woman to endure. Each was inspired by Allah to be faithful, devoted and strong.


 

The Mothers of three Prophets contain stories that narrate the lives of three phenomenal women. They are: Hajar, the mother of Ismael (alyahis salam); the mother of Musa (alyahis salam) and Maryam, the mother of Isa (alyahis salam). 

These women are showcased not only because they were the mothers of three of Allah’s prophets but also because they were outstanding individuals. They possessed personalities, attitudes and approaches to life that we could all learn from. 

The stories are told in a way that a child of eight should be able to read on his/her own. But I think the significance of the stories may be better understood by children who are a bit older (possibly 10 and up). The concepts of sacrifice, obeying and submitting ones will to Allah are conveyed throughout the book. Ayat (verses) of the Quran are woven seamlessly into the narration while emphasizing the importance of the situations described. 

Apart from telling us the history of the prophets, this book is a tribute to all mothers and it teaches us how obedient we must be to Allah, despite hardship, fear of loss or being ashamed of ridicule. 

Talking points: The three stories in this book can be used as the starting point of a discussion among older children (10 and up) on the meaning of sacrifice and obeying Allah’s commands. Let students talk about characteristics they posses that reflect the characteristics of the mothers of the prophets and what they can do to develop such characteristics. The stories in this book are good for reading aloud as well to a group in the classroom or masjid. 

Title: The Mothers of three Prophets
Author: Jameelah Jones
Publisher: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd.
Date: 1994 (reprint 2001)
ISBN: 189794022X
Age Group: 8 – 12 years

My Mum is a Wonder (Book Review)

To honour our mothers today for International Women’s Day, I present this delightful book that young children  (2 – 4 years) will enjoying reading with an adult or on their own for children 4½ and up.

 

Every morning when I arise,
It always comes as a surprise
To see my mum dressed and ready,
Reading Qur’an by the baby.


 In My Mum is a Wonder, a little boy describes the wonderful things his mother does for him, his family and their community. As he grows he learns to appreciate what his mother does and embraces the opportunity to do the same for her when he grows up. The narrative is told is simple rhyme with beautiful, clear illustrations that match the text appropriately.

The book opens with the boy awakening to find his mom reading the Qur’an, setting the tone for a peaceful day. Upon returning from school the boy and his mom share moments together from watering the flowers in the garden to memorizing Qur’an; showing the close bond that develops between parent and child. Mum looks after the little boy when he is ill. But Mum does makes a difference in the world too. The little boy sees her giving charity, visiting the sick and elderly and hosting family, neighbours and friends for Eid. The book concludes with the little boy, now grown into a man, taking care of his mother.

From eating together to praying together we see how eman (faith), love and peace fills the home of this family. Generosity, kindness and patience are some of the virtues of motherhood that are highlighted in this delightful picture book.  

Talking points: This book is an excellent resource for reading and discussion in the classroom or home as it shows the child why s/he must respect and honour his mother. When reading aloud, stop and discuss what can be seen in the pictures (look for the cat hiding on some pages!). Encourage older children to make a list of the things that their mothers do for them and what they could do to show their appreciation to her at present and in the future. Discuss how important it is to respect our elders and take care of them.

 Title: My Mum is a Wonder

Author: Michele Messaoudi

Illustrator: Rukiah Peckham

Publisher: The Islamic Foundation

Date: 2002

ISBN: 0860372987

Age Group: 2 – 4 years (Read Aloud); 4½ – 6 years (Read on own)