“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.
Illustrations are literature in their own right and, whether used by themselves or integrated with written texts, they sharpen the perception of children, stimulate their imagination and increase their sense of observation.¹
The saying “a picture is worth more than a thousand words” is no more apt than when we talk about children’s books. Illustrations in children’s books refer to the pictorial representation of ideas, thoughts, characters and settings in a story. Children’s stories vary from the wordless for the very young (where the pictures/illustrations do all the storytelling) to a scant few in chapter books and sometimes in novels. Wherever and whenever they are used, illustrations form an integral part of a child’s reading experience.
Benefits of good quality illustrations in children’s books are:
Present an opportunity for discussion and learning (for e.g. the parent or teacher may ask the child to predict what might happen next)
Provide a concrete representation of objects, characters and places described in the story, especially for younger children where description in words is not feasible.
Teaches children perspective, size, colours and texture through positioning of elements in the illustrations, blending of colours and use of various materials (paper, tissue, clay, paints, pencil etc).
Promotes a sense of identity when readers view illustrations of children like themselves.
Unfortunately, the illustrations of Muslim children’s books for the most part can described as poor quality and unimaginative. But this has been slowly changing as artists use a greater variety of mediums and techniques to present their work. Still Muslim children’s books deserve better illustrations. We owe it to all children.
Good illustrations can contribute to the overall development of the child by stimulating his imagination, arousing his perception, developing his potential.²
Some illustrators I have found doing notable work include:
Shirley Anjum, who is the illustrator of the book covers and pictures in the Islamic Rose Books series (e.g. The Visitors) and its activity book (Grandma and Hijab EZ Family Activity Book).
Another illustrator who I admire is Asiya Clarke, who has illustrated several books for the Islamic Foundation (including the Allah the Maker series).
An illustrator who has taken the position not to provide facial details on her characters but who has succeeded in producing very interesting illustrations is Umm Hanifah. She is the illustrator of Hudayfah Learns about Allah and Ahmad has to go Potty.
“Umar stopped and looked back at the school gates. The late afternoon sun shone upon two older boys talking in low voices, huddled beside the wall. A heavily-built boy handed something to the other in a clenched fist…”
So begins Umar and the Bully, a short novel that tackles the problem of bullying among children in schools. Umar is a kind-hearted, caring boy of approximately eleven years who witnesses an older boy bullying a timid seven-year old student, Asad. Umar is angry and uncomfortable with what he sees but has no idea what he can do to help the victim.
A voice made itself heard inside him, asking: “Are you scared too?
Should you be scared?” This voice was familiar to Umar.
It was the voice that always came from a mysterious place inside
him whenever a problem nagged him.
Before making any rash decisions Umar speaks to the older brother and sister of a close friend. During the discussion, they tell him of Umar the second caliph of Islam. He stood up for justice and felt responsible for those under his leadership. Compelled by the fact that he is named after such a great man, the Umar prays and makes dua to Allah for courage and strength to face up to the bully. But Umar and his friend are sensible youths. They enlist the help of their teacher, the trusting Mr. Fudayl and in the end resolve the situation.
The writer does not hesitate to describe the effect of bullying on its victims. The ill effects of bullying are shown from the injuries inflicted by the bully to the deceit it causes its victims to get involved in. So while this book can be read by a six or seven-year old who is a confident reader, such a child may not be emotionally ready for this book. However, a parent or teacher may choose to read this book with them and explain the issues.
Talking points: This book presents a perfect opportunity for parents and teachers to read and discuss what bullying is, why it is wrong and how to go about dealing with it. Another theme worth discussing is the way in which Umar turns to Allah for help each step of the way. This coupled with his common sense results in a resolution to the bullying problem.