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

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.

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/

New books for Children and Teens

Here is a list of some of the new Islamic fiction books out now for children ages 5 to 11.  I’ve haven’t read these as yet but based on other books I’ve read by the same authors that were well written and are well-known, I thought I’d share the following new books with you.

Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake by Farheen Khan (The Islamic Foundation, UK). This is the second book in the short-novel mystery series featuring Ibrahim Khan, the young detective. Children, especially boys, would enjoy this book. For readers ages 7 to 10.

Cinderella. An Islamic Tale by Fawzia Gilani (The Islamic Foundation, UK). “Follow the trials and tribulations of the sweet, gentle and pious Zahra when her parents die and she is left with an uncaring stepmother.” (sourceA picture book featuring an Islamic version of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella. For readers ages 5-9.

Hafsah! by Umm An-Nu’man (Darussalam) is another picture book from the author of Hudayafh Learns about Allah and The Du’a of Faizah. Hafsah is about start preschool. Unsure that she would fit in, she decides that she wants her mom to be her teacher. A book introducing the concept of home-schooling to young children. Reading Level: ages 5-8; Interest Level: ages 3-6.

The Adventures of Ahmad Deen and Layla Deen: The Deen Family Omnibus by Yahiya Emerick (CreateSpace) is a collection of four stories in one. These books are not new but having them in one certainly is! A great opportunity for parents, teachers and librarians to add these great mystery/adventure stories to the their collections. For readers ages 9 – 11.

Happy Reading!