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

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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

The War Within Our Hearts (Book Review)

From time to time I come across books that I wish existed when I was a teenager. Books that would have helped me develop my self-identity and answered many of the burning questions that confused my head. The War Within Our Hearts is one such book that I encountered recently. It’s filled with almost all the kinds of questions young adults have these days. And it gives the answers too, realistically from an Islamic viewpoint, without being preachy and overbearing. Today I don’t think there are any books on the market quite like this for Muslim teens and early adults.

A bit hefty, its 183 pages, the book is divided into two main parts; the first part outlines problems and challenges facing young people in today’s world whilst the second part presents solutions. Each chapter in the book comes with attractive titles, using the language teenagers use these days. So there is “In Da Club” which is a chapter on partying, “Who Dat?” which is a chapter about lowering your gaze and “”I’ve Been Thinkin’ About You” which looks at the importance of dhikr (remembrance of Allah). Other interesting chapter titles include “The Deadliest Weapon” which concerns guarding what we say (i.e. use of the tongue), “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” which is about suicide, depression and abuse and “See You at the Crossroads” which looks at why we must remember death.

Each chapter takes its flavor from its title. Issues, problems and concerns are examined in most cases from the young person’s point of view and also from the parent’s point of view. This lends a balance to the discussion.

Quotes from the Qur’an and Ahadith occur throughout the book. Stories from the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his companions and the Prophets are used to illustrate a point and are seamlessly integrated into the text. A box at the end of each chapter provides helpful summaries of the main action points or reminders to note.

 

 

image via simplyislam.com

However I do believe that there are a few areas the book could have improved upon. For one, there is a need for graphics, photographs, diagrams and other illustrations (for example, comic or manga) to help break up large blocks of text and provide visual interest. It’s true that in some cases a picture is worth a thousand words and young people of the Internet generation in which we live respond readily to visuals.

I wished there were more examples of the author’s experiences aside from the few that I read. I think the stories that are interspersed in the text really brought the message home that the authors, like readers had challenging times. But a book like The War Within Our Hearts also needs a great deal more examples of youth struggling and striving in varying situations. Results from interviews or surveys with Muslim youth could have added another dimension to the book.

I was surprised to find that the book did not have an index. Indexes are useful for quick referral on a subject.

This book is a must-read for all Muslim teenagers and interestingly, even adults into their late 20’s will find much within the pages of this book that would speak to them. There is a great deal in the book that would help bolster a young person’s self-esteem and self-identity as a Muslim. This is also the kind of book every teacher, counselor, imam and leader involved with youth should read.

I definitely recommend this as a book to initiate discussion in Islamic Studies classes within full-time Islamic or weekend Islamic schools. But I think the real benefit of this book can come from both parents and children in the home reading and discussing its contents together.

Title: The War Within Our Hearts

Author: Habeeb Quadri and Sa’ad Quadri

Publisher: Kube Publishing

ISBN: 9781847740120

Category: Non-Fiction

Reading Level: 13 and up

The Perfect Gift (Book Review)

image source: islamicedfoundation.com

“Sarah looked out of the window. She was very sad. It would soon be Eid, and she still did not have a gift for her mother.”

The Perfect Gift is nothing short of a perfect picture book. It is a heartwarming story of a young girl in search of a gift to give her mother for Eid. A walk in the snowy woods reveals an unexpected gift.

The author, J. Samia Mair, does a wonderful job in getting readers interested in the story from the start. Readers explore the outdoors with Sarah and just like her, feel the joy and happiness in finding something that makes a beautiful gift. Readers also delight in the other ‘perfect gifts’ that Sarah and her family find every time they walk through the woods.

Like a good picture book, the illustrator does a superb job of capturing the flow of the story through the use of soft watercolours. The illustrations in this book are a clear example of what good quality illustrations in children’s books should be like.

The Perfect Gift is a celebration of the beauty of Allah’s creation. A hadeeth of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), “Allah is beautiful and love beauty” is seamlessly integrated into the narration. The book is also about finding unexpected sources of delight and wonder in the simplest things that surround you.

A glossary at the end explains the Islamic terms used in the book.

Talking Points: The story is set at the time of Eid ul Adha, tough nothing pertaining to the religious aspects of the event is given. It’s also set in early Spring. Depending on where you live, you can talk about the winter/spring seasons and what happens to animals and plants during this time. Take your children of students on a walk through a natural setting outdoors and talk about what kinds of “perfect gifts” you see. Let children draw pictures and even write stories about what they find. Talk about Allah as Al Khaliq who created all the beautiful things around us. Ask children how they can enjoy nature without destroying it.

 Title: The Perfect Gift

Author: J. Samia Mair

Illustrator: Craigh Howarth

Publishers: The Islamic Foundation (UK)

ISBN: 9780860374381

Reading Level: 5 – 7 years

Interest Level: 4 – 8 years

 

Also by J. Samia Mair, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World (see review on the blog here)