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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New books and News: An Ummah Reads roundup

Just a quick post here with a roundup of some one bit of news and of the books I’ve come across (one just released):

First though, I want to mention the Tales of Dhikarville books that a reader of this blog introduced me to. I haven’t read these books but they seem to be simple stories that are aimed at encouraging good behaviour and Islamic habits in Muslim children. According to the publisher these books are:

“Colourful illustrated books with Islamic morals”

It appears that these books are based on the Mr. Men/Little Miss books which some of you may know. Each book featured a dominant character whose personality was based on his/her name for example, there was a “Mr. Chatterbox”, a”Mr. Messy”, a “Little Miss Bossy” and a “Little Miss Helpful.”

The writer of Tales of Dhikarville is H.B. Sahibzada and the illustrator is M. N. Sialvi. The illustrations follow the original series’ with short, chubby characters and simple, bold colours except that now they wear hijab, have beards and wear long clothing. Titles are catchy with some being Brother Dawah, Brother Hajj, Brother Tawheed, Little Sister Birr, Little Sister Salaam and Little Sister Taharah. Read a brief review of the series and about one title in particular, Brother Sawn here.

I haven’t been able to find a website, but according to the Facebook page, there seems to be more than thirty books in the series. I’m not sure if these books are available outside of the United Kingdom. Has anyone out there read the books in this series? I would love to hear about what you think.

A new book from the Islamic Foundation I’ve come across (which I haven’t read it as yet) is The Hijab Boutique by Michelle Khan. I am not sure what age group this book is geared toward but from the publisher’s site it may be for 7 to 10 years and according to the publisher’s website:

“Farah enjoyed her private girls’ school until the day an assignment to bring in something representing her mother to talk about for ‘International Woman’s Day’. Compared to her friend’s glamorous actress and tap-dancing mothers, what can her modest, humble mother have that is worth sharing with her classmates? To her surprise, her mother was quite a business woman!”

 

Last year I became a member of the Islamic Writers’ Alliance, an organisation of Muslim writers, editors, poets and authors. Members benefit from the support and advice that is shared. The organisation also produces a quarterly magazine and gives book awards and donations to Islamic schools among other things. Recently I was privileged to be interviewed by a fellow IWA member, Amina Malik, who asked me about what were my intention and hopes for Ummah Reads. Please stop by and read the online magazine here (scroll down, it’s the third interview).

Image credits: Tales of Dhikarville – http://alkokab.wordpress.com/ & http://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/Tales-from-Dhikarville/165515270169792

Do Muslims need stories?, New Books and Interesting Weblinks: An Ummah Reads Roundup

image source: photol

Almost every other day somewhere in the world there are people talking about and actively seeking ways to promote literacy and encourage reading. Today I share with you some of the news and buzz taking place as well as some interesting sites and new books.

Muslims Reading Fiction

An article by author Umm Zakiyyah explores the issue of whether writing fiction is something allowed in Islam. She shows that if it’s acceptable to write stories for children then it should be acceptable to write stories for teenagers and young people as well. I particularly like when she said:

“… if Muslim children need books ‘for a purpose,’ Muslim teens and adults need them even more so…

As the latter group are further away from the pure fitrah of childhood and thus need more “emaan boosters” to keep going.”

Read more from the article “Is Writing Fiction Allowed? What’s Your Proof?” here.

Children’s Book Site

The Guardian (U.K) newspaper recently launched a book site dedicated to children’s literature. This site is for general kids lit but it is attractively  designed and teeming with content on general fiction children’s literature. I really like the fact that children are the ones who are doing some of the interviews (you can read some or listen to some) as well as the reviews. YOu can search by age or type of books. Check out the site here.

New Islamic Children’s Book

The publisher StoneFaruq recently brought out their newest books for younger children titled ‘One.’ according to the publisher:

“A rhyming picture book to teach children about Tawhid and other important aspects of Islam in a simple way.”

This publisher has produced some other high-quality picture-book type books for young readers such as “Time for Isha’a ” as well as “The Jolly Jamaat ” which I reviewed here.

A Smart Library

This video from Library Ireland Week showcases the smart library. Does your library look like this? Libraries are down-sizing and even closing all around the world, but especially in developed countries such as U.K. ans U.S. Yet this video shows the uniqueness of libraries and their users. A fun part was the books falling down, domino style.

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)