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

Autism and Reading

I was prompted to find out about autism and it’s impact on children’s reading development when World Autism Awareness Day occurred earlier this month (April 2nd).

Autism is general term used to describe a range of developmental brain disorders. Depending on the severity of it, autism affects a child’s ability to read. There are varying levels to this disorder which would mean that children with autism will have different reading development levels. In many cases actually being able to read is not an issue rather it is the child’s comprehension of what is being read that is the problem.

Based on my readings, here are a few things to keep in mind when teaching autistic children to read:

  • Know what interests your child and use books based on these to attract your child’s interest in books and in listening to stories. It may be animals, foods,  etc.
  • Keep reading sessions short to avoid the child becoming bored, frustrated or impatient.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum and minimise noise levels.
  • Use books with bright colours and clear pictures to aid comprehension (An example is Point to Happy, a book designed specifically for kids on the autism spectrum – see a review of this book here).
  • Books that involve the child in the story (e.g. lift-the-flap, touch and feel) can help a child enjoy the reading experience.
  • Use of games and interactive books on the computer may hold the attention of some autistic children. 
http://www.worldautismawarenessday.org

Resources  on Autism and Reading:

Kids and Reading: Autism

Resources on Autism and Muslims:

http://myautisticmuslimchild.wordpress.com/

http://www.bluehijabday.com/

What, if any, has your experience been with a child who has autism learning to read or just interacting with books? I’d love to hear from you.

New Books and Interesting Weblinks: An Ummah Reads Roundup

It’s that time again for the Ummah Reads roundup of news, books and interesting websites. Here is what I’ve come across recently:

New Books

book cover image via bibipublishing.co.uk

The Zahra series is a collection of three books by British author Sufiya Ahmed. These books are aimed to children in the 9 to 12 age category. I haven’t had the opportunity to read any of them as yet but they look appealing to girls. Here are some excerpts from the publisher’s website:

Zahra’s Firt Term at Khadija Academy

Zahra has been sent to an Islamic boarding school and she is not happy. She is desperate to return home and will do whatever it takes to get her way.

Zahra’s Trip to Misr

It is the summer holidays and the Khadija Academy girls are visiting the land of pharaohs and pyramids on what promises to be a trip full of sun, fun and laughter. Trouble however, is not far away and the girls of Form Aleef soon find themselves in the middle of it.

There is a third book in the series as well titled Zahra’s Great Debate.

Press Here by Herve Tullet is not your typical picture book. I haven’t read this book as yet but it is getting lots of positive reviews. It’s a unique children’s book since it is what you can call an interactive book. And its interactive without any devices. All you need is the book and the reader. The simple directions on each page gets a child to sort of ‘create’ the progress of the book by pressing, tapping and shaking the dots that appear on the page. That’s all there is on each page, dots! Dots of red yellow and blue. Here is an excerpt of the first few pages:

Press here nad turn the page.

Great! NOw press the yellow dot.

Perfect. Now rub the dot on the left gently.

….

There, well done. Now tilt the page to the left…Just to see what happens.

And of course on the next page the dots have ‘fallen’ to one side of the page! This is a book you have to experience for the fun of it. See some sample pages here.

 

News

International Children’s Book Day was on APril 4th. It’s a day to promote reading, writing and books in general. Schools, libraries and community centres partake in various activities.

April is National Poetry Month in the United States and Canada. Many people, young and old, enjoy reading and writing poetry. Some ways to use poetry to teach reading can be found here.

Websites & Blogs

Just a few days ago, Kube Publishing began its blog called theKubekidsblog. Kube publishing is a publisher of Islamic books for children, teenagers and adults; fiction and non-fiction. This Muslim publishing company has made a wise choice in entering the blogging world. A blog is a great way to interact with readers and writers (especially new and upcoming writers). Getting the word out about new Islamic products and providing resources to readers and writers are essential in today’s world. Thank you Kube and I hope more Muslim publishers follow your lead. See the blog here.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! (Book Review)

Today, I take a look at an interactive book Don’t forget to say Bismillah! by Farzana Rahman. It’s a book that demonstrates how basic dua is incorporated into the daily life of a Muslim family using a combination of text and sound. I don’t think I’ve come across any Islamic children’s book like this to date. I’m excited about this book because not only is it an engaging story that seamlessly incorporates aspects of Muslim manners, but it is, from the illustrations to the design, a product that is professionally produced.

It’s Safiyya’s first day at nursery today,” says Mum.

“And I have a spelling test today,” says Sara.

“And I have a big football match today,” says Ali

“Everything will go well, Insha’Allah,” reassures Mum, “but don’t forget to say Bismillah before beginning anything you do.”

“I’m done, Al-Hamdulillah,” says Ali. “Your pancakes are the best Mum!”

Jazakallahu Khairan,” says Mum.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! has a battery operated panel located on the side that allows the reader to press a button to listen to the sound of keywords that appear in the story (such as the coloured words in the excerpt you see above). The slider at the top of the sound panel makes it easy for the reader to move from the Arabic pronunciation of a word to its meaning in English and vice versa. This provides English-speaking children with the opportunity to know the meaning of the Arabic phrases they say, something which is not always the case as the Arabic is learnt and repeated by custom.

The story is simple; a look at a day in the life of a Muslim family from morning as they set off to work and school to the evening as they sit together for dinner. The youngest member of the family, Safiyya, is off to her first day of nursery. Just as she is nervous about it, Mom is nervous about returning to workplace after being away for a long time. Through the entire book Islamic duas are said by members of the household as they eat, talk of plans for the day, are at school or the park.

Young children will delight in seeing Safiyya attempt to say the duas. She wants to say the duas just as her big brother and sister do. So Safiyya says “Hum Lala” when she hears her brother Ali say “Al-Hamdulillah” after eating breakfast or “Yah-Lala” when her mother and sister respond to Ali’s “Al-Hamdulillah” when he sneezes.

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book as they were realistic. The details make the characters seem like they’re from a Muslim family you know. The book is larger than the average book, but its size is suitable for a child to hold in his lap or place on the table or on the ground in front of him. The sturdy covers protect the glossy pages. Text on the page is clearly printed in a font that is easy to read and does not crowd the page.

A glossary at the back of the book provides the meaning of the basic dua and briefly explains when they are used. A simple match game ends the book as readers are invited to match the dua to the context which it should be said. This activity is good for slightly older readers.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! is a book that a child three years to six years can read with an adult or on his/her own. It provides an entertaining way of learning duas for the first-time learner or of reinforcing those duas that a child may already be learning at home or at school. I think children heading off to school for the first time would enjoy reading this book as well.  

Title: Don’t forget to say Bismillah!

Author: Farzana Rahman

Publisher: Desi Doll Company

ISBN: 9780956586001

Reading Level: 3 – 7 years

Specifications: Interactive Sound book