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

Understanding the Qur’an using Lego

As always I’m on the lookout for new books and media that would enlighten Muslim kids and teens while encouraging them to feel a sense of happiness in being Muslim and to practice their faith with confidence. So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon this pictorial blog: Teaching Kids the Holy Quran. It’s a site dedicated to illustrating ayat (verses) of the Holy Quran using Lego.

Yes, that’s right, Lego; those plastic construction toy blocks. The blogger and designer, Mezba, uses his vast collection of lego to ‘illustrate’ scenes and incidents narrated in the Quran. He then take a photograph of these scenes with the relevant ayah (verse) added in. The detail and vivid colours of the designs are amazing. What I find interesting is the ‘Prologue’ that precede the actual verses. These act as a sort of ‘introduction.’

A pile of Lego blocks, of assorted colours and...

Image via Wikipedia

I think these illustrated ayat may be useful to parents and teachers when teaching children and even teenagers the meaning of the Qur’an. While we memorise the Quran in Arabic the majority of people attempt to grasp the meaning of the Quran in the language they know. At Teaching Kids the Holy Quran, the English translation is used. 

Thus far there are mixed selection of verses from Makki and Madani surah. Up on the site now is Surah Al Zalzala (The Earthquake) showing an excellent depiction of the chaos that comes with the arrival of the last day.

If you’re interested read more about what the site is about here or just visit http://readwithmeaning.wordpress.com/

Contest for young writers/poets and new books: An Ummah Reads roundup

For those readers living in the United Kingdom: The Young Muslim Writer Award 2011 is now accepting entries of short stories and poetry from children and teenagers. This competition is open to residents of the U.K. only between the ages of 5 and 16.

More details on the site: http://muslimwritersawards.org.uk/submit-work/young-muslim-writers-awards

New Books to Look Out For

I came across these lovely board books while browsing online recently. They are board books that introduce basic concepts (numbers, shapes and colour) using one central theme: the masjid. These books look great for toddlers and preschool age children at home or school. Check out the At the Masjid Learning Series from Compass Books http://compassbooks.ca/

Another set of books I happened to see online as well is the STAIRS series by young author Nur Kose. These are books that introduce the adventures of a young Muslim girl as she interacts with her friends and siblings. Also have a look at stories and activities for and by children on the author’s website www.nurkose.net.

The Meat Eating Vegetarian (Book Review)

The Meat Eating Vegetarian

image via simplyislam.com

“Lisa was surprised to see Tasneem without her scarf on. She said nothing but saw that Yvonne had noticed it too.

“Hey you two, here at last! Come on into the dining room. I’m starving,q” said Tasneem.

The two slightly nervous guests followed Tasneem through to dining room.Lisa was wondering what vegetarians would serve as a whole meal.”

Tasneem is a Muslim girl who has just moved to a new school. She quickly becomes firm friends with two girls in her class. They are puzzled by the fact that she doesn’t ever take any meat in her school lunches. They believe Tasneem is vegetarian until they are invited for dinner at her house and they all eat lamb burgers. And why wasn’t she wearing her hijab at home? In this book the issues of Halal meat and Islamic dress requirements are explored in the relationship between Tasneem and her two non-Muslim friends.

This is not a new book, but I wanted to introduce it to those who may not have read it as yet. I think it is a wonderful book that could be used to explain Islamic practices pertaining to food and dress to children about seven to eleven. It’s the kind of book that would work well as a read-aloud by a teacher or parent in a public school setting. What’s more many Muslim girls, like Tasneem in the book, can relate to the ups and downs of friendship.

Title: The Meat Eating Vegetarian

Author: Caroline Maryam Ward

Publisher: The Islamic Foundation (UK)

ISBN: 0860373061

Category: Islamic Fiction

Interest Level: 7 – 10 years

Reading Level: 8 – 11 years