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

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! (Book Review)

Today, I take a look at an interactive book Don’t forget to say Bismillah! by Farzana Rahman. It’s a book that demonstrates how basic dua is incorporated into the daily life of a Muslim family using a combination of text and sound. I don’t think I’ve come across any Islamic children’s book like this to date. I’m excited about this book because not only is it an engaging story that seamlessly incorporates aspects of Muslim manners, but it is, from the illustrations to the design, a product that is professionally produced.

It’s Safiyya’s first day at nursery today,” says Mum.

“And I have a spelling test today,” says Sara.

“And I have a big football match today,” says Ali

“Everything will go well, Insha’Allah,” reassures Mum, “but don’t forget to say Bismillah before beginning anything you do.”

“I’m done, Al-Hamdulillah,” says Ali. “Your pancakes are the best Mum!”

Jazakallahu Khairan,” says Mum.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! has a battery operated panel located on the side that allows the reader to press a button to listen to the sound of keywords that appear in the story (such as the coloured words in the excerpt you see above). The slider at the top of the sound panel makes it easy for the reader to move from the Arabic pronunciation of a word to its meaning in English and vice versa. This provides English-speaking children with the opportunity to know the meaning of the Arabic phrases they say, something which is not always the case as the Arabic is learnt and repeated by custom.

The story is simple; a look at a day in the life of a Muslim family from morning as they set off to work and school to the evening as they sit together for dinner. The youngest member of the family, Safiyya, is off to her first day of nursery. Just as she is nervous about it, Mom is nervous about returning to workplace after being away for a long time. Through the entire book Islamic duas are said by members of the household as they eat, talk of plans for the day, are at school or the park.

Young children will delight in seeing Safiyya attempt to say the duas. She wants to say the duas just as her big brother and sister do. So Safiyya says “Hum Lala” when she hears her brother Ali say “Al-Hamdulillah” after eating breakfast or “Yah-Lala” when her mother and sister respond to Ali’s “Al-Hamdulillah” when he sneezes.

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book as they were realistic. The details make the characters seem like they’re from a Muslim family you know. The book is larger than the average book, but its size is suitable for a child to hold in his lap or place on the table or on the ground in front of him. The sturdy covers protect the glossy pages. Text on the page is clearly printed in a font that is easy to read and does not crowd the page.

A glossary at the back of the book provides the meaning of the basic dua and briefly explains when they are used. A simple match game ends the book as readers are invited to match the dua to the context which it should be said. This activity is good for slightly older readers.

Don’t forget to say Bismillah! is a book that a child three years to six years can read with an adult or on his/her own. It provides an entertaining way of learning duas for the first-time learner or of reinforcing those duas that a child may already be learning at home or at school. I think children heading off to school for the first time would enjoy reading this book as well.  

Title: Don’t forget to say Bismillah!

Author: Farzana Rahman

Publisher: Desi Doll Company

ISBN: 9780956586001

Reading Level: 3 – 7 years

Specifications: Interactive Sound book

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

10 Great Reasons to Read to Our Children

Sometimes we need a little motivation to get us going in the right direction, to continue on course or to resume a course of action we once started. This is true for many parents when it comes to reading to our children.

Some of us began reading to our children from babyhood and all the way into kindergarten age. Then slowly we let the read-aloud habit fall to the wayside as our child grow into independent readers. But regardless of age our children benefit ftom hearing us read, from our expressions and pronunciation of words. Did you know that our children can listen at a higher level than they themselves can read?

So read, read, read. We must read everyday with our baby, toddler, preschooler, kindergarten, elementary and middle school child. We may even try reading to our teenagers too as I have heard of one parent doing. 

Here are 10 Great Reasons to Read to Your Children

  1. “A Command” – The Qur’an, the best book and guidance, begins with the word “Read”. Read the Qur’an, read the hadith and then read some more. There are many Islamic books (and the numbers are growing) for you to read aloud to your child (see the book reviews on this blog).
  2. “Learn the Deen” – Sharing books is one great way of teaching children Islam.
  3. “Together Time” – Reading brings families together. What better way than to spend time together sitting and sharing books.
  4. “Warm Connections” –  Holding the very young in your lap, sitting snugly with an older child on the sofa, or just sitting on the corner of the bed reading aloud can be a warm and loving experience. A child feels happy and secure having his/her parent’s time and attention.
  5. “Reading Readiness” – Children who are read to grow into readers. Reading aloud to your child from young makes him/her familiar with the sound and appearance of the printed word. Making this connection makes it highly possible for this child to develop into a confident reader from an earlier age.
  6. “Imagination and Expression Booster” – Develops the imagination of an older child as he/she must picture the story, settings and characters in his mind. They as well as younger children learn how to express words by hearing you read.
  7. “Life Skill” – You are giving them a life skill. Reading is essential in all functioning as a Muslim and a human being. Besides, it has also been said, every teacher and librarian you ever meet will thank you!¹
  8. “Attention Span Grows” – Listening to stories will help learn to concentrate and develop your child’s attention span.
  9. “Word Power” – Reading aloud helps to build vocabulary and improve pronunciation of new words. Children can communicate their ideas and feelings better when they use a variety of words.
  10. “Just Fun” – Yes, reading is fun and talking about the illustrations are too!