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Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs by Conover and Crane

  • September 18, 2010 5:46 pm

Click on image to buy book

Click on image to buy book

I came across this wonderful book of Islamic folk tales somewhat by accident. To tell you the truth, I had never read any Islamic folk tales before, although our family loves folk tales! The authors, Sarah Conover and Freda Crane, put together this collection because “there was, and is still, a lack of compelling material introducing Islam to children and young adults.”

The 39 stories in this book are retellings of tales collected from all over the world: from China to Africa to Indonesia — anywhere Muslims live. Many stories feature the folk character Joha (also known as Mulla Nasruddin Hodja, and Affanti), whose predicaments and funny responses teach the reader through humor.

Several stories feature important women in the Islamic tradition. Rabia Al Adawiya of Basra was a famous Sufi saint. In one story, Rabia stresses the importance of gratitude, and in another, she reforms a thief by teaching him how to pray. Khadija, Muhammed’s first wife, was a wealthy businesswoman and the first follower of Islam.

Women and girl characters are featured in other stories too. A clever girl in China named Sailimai outsmarted the emperor and saved her father-in-law. Fatimah, a clever, hard-working Turkish girl, found herself in China after many misadventures, and was able to fulfill a legend by building a magnificent tent for the emperor.

Because Islam is closely related to Judaism and Christianity, the three religions share some stories. Included in this collection is a story about Abraham; a story about Hagar (Abraham’s second wife, and the mother of the Arab people); and a story about the birth of Jesus.

The stories stress generosity, honesty, cooperation, simplicity, fairness, hard work, equanimity, humility, and the importance of education. Each story is introduced by a quote from Islamic literature. Twelve full-color illustrations by Valerie Wahl add to the beauty and charm of this book.

Background information on Islam is included in the introductory material. Source notes for each story and quote are included at the back of the book.

This is truly a valuable collection, and highly recommended. I am including this on both my girls list and my boys list.

Maggie and the Chocolate War, by Michelle Mulder

  • September 5, 2010 1:59 pm
Maggie and the Chocolate War

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This is a fictionalized version of a true protest led by children: a Canadian children’s boycott of chocolate bars in 1947, when the price went up in from 5 cents to 8 cents.

Maggie, a 9-year-old girl living in Victoria, British Columbia, wants to buy a chocolate bar for her friend’s birthday. She’s saving money from her job as a delivery girl for her dad’s grocery store. World War II is over, and food rationing is a thing of the past, but now the price of food is going up.  Maggie doesn’t pay much attention to the price of butter and bread, but when the price of chocolate goes up, she worries that she won’t have enough money saved in time for Josephine’s birthday.

Then she and her friends find out about strikes being held by kids in other parts of the country. They make signs and begin protesting outside of stores. Although Maggie feels bad that her actions are decreasing customers to her father’s store, she is encouraged by her mother, who has joined with other women to protest the price of food.

Finally, the kids’ actions convince several local shopkeepers to lower the price to 5 cents again.

The book is illustrated with photos of the real protests, and pictures of actual newspaper clippings covering the marches and protests. I found it fascinating to look at the photos and read about the real history behind this novel. Readers will also be immersed in the details of daily life from 1947.

This 90-page novel is part of the Kids’ Power series. I have included this book on my girls list.

Dear Diary: I’m Pregnant — interviews by Anrenee Englander

  • July 10, 2010 5:42 am
dear diary

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Anrenee Englander decided to interview teens who faced pregnancy to help teens understand their choices in this difficult situation, and the possible results of those choices.

Dear Diary features 10 teenaged girls who talk about how they decided to keep their baby; give the baby up for adoption; or choose an abortion. They also talk about the consequences of those decisions: their feelings, their lives after giving birth or having an abortion, and their advice to other teens facing a similar situation.

Interestingly, no matter what their own personal decision, all the young women in this book expressed the belief that women should have a choice in this situation–that no one else should force them to make one choice over another.

The interviews are presented without any judgment, and with very little editorial commentary. The young women talk about failed birth control; lack of birth control; drugs and drinking; being homeless; religious beliefs; boyfriends; parents; their love for their baby; and more.  Many of the girls said they wanted to participate in the interviews to help other teens. “I just want other people to know that they’re not alone,” said Rose. “Having a baby isn’t going to end your life.”

Some of the teens also remarked that the inteview was the first time they’d ever talked about these issues with anyone else, and that the interview process itself was helpful and therapeutic.

To find pregnant teens to interview, Englander posted flyers at health clinics, high schools, hospitals, and homeless shelters. She conducted 40 interviews, 10 of which ended up in this book. Although the young women came from a variety of backgrounds, all of them had endured traumatic, troubled lives, including poverty, single-parent families, and abuse. Englander points out that although teen pregnancy happens in all parts of society, none of the girls who contacted her were from financially stable, two-parent  families in which there was no abuse.

First published in 1997, the book was updated in 2010 with a new resources section, including emergency hotlines, resources for finding a health clinic, and resources for abortion and adoption.

A nonjudgmental book like this one can help teens sort out their own feelings and needs from the demands and opinions of society and family members. I have included this book on my girls list.

Rabbi Harvey graphic novels, by Steve Sheinkin

  • May 15, 2010 8:02 am
Rabbi Harvey

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My 12-year-old son and I just read the latest Rabbi Harvey graphic novel: Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, which is billed as “a graphic novel of dueling Jewish folktales in the Wild West.”

Wisdom and compassion win over cheating and violence in this hilarious book. Rabbi Harvey of Elk Spring, Colorado is challenged by the new (and, as it turns out, evil) Rabbi Ruben (also known as “the wisdom kid.”) Rabbi Ruben and his accomplices (including his mother, “Bad Bubbe”) attempt to imprison Rabbi Harvey, all the while filching money from innocent townspeople in exchange for shoddy advice.

With the help of his own learning and some quick action on the part of his friend Abigail (former gold miner and current schoolteacher), Rabbi Harvey foils the plans, shows up Rabbi Ruben for the cheater he is, and runs him out of town.

Each episode features authentic Jewish folktales, including silliness from the people of “Helms Falls” (the Wild West counterpart to the traditional “Chelm,” the Polish town of fools in Jewish folklore).

The drawings in this book at first appear crude. In fact, the art is dubbed “strange” in one of the blurbs on the back cover! However, as I read the book, the art came to seem perfect for this funny book that brings traditional wisdom to life in unexpected ways.

Other books in this series include: The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey, and Rabbi Harvey Rides Again.

I’ve included these books on my Boys list. Highly recommended!

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Books

  • May 1, 2010 7:54 am

anna may wongIn honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), here is a collection of books from my lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo and Lin Wang

Anna May Wong was one of the earliest Chinese-American movie stars. She was born in Los Angeles in 1905, and started working as an actress in the 1920s, during a time when movies portrayed Chinese people in a demeaning way. Because her family was poor and relied on her earnings, she played these kinds of parts for many years and became a successful actress. In 1936, Anna May visited China and learned as much about the culture as she could. While there, she vowed never again to act in a movie that portrayed the Chinese in a negative light. Starting in 1937, Anna May Wong accepted only roles that showed her character in a positive light. These movies include Daughter of  Shanghai (1937), The Lady from Chungking (1942), and Bombs Over Burma (1943). This picture book relates Anna’s ambitions and struggles using text and pictures appropriate for children six years and older.

Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women, by Irene Hedlund

Folktale, ages 5 and up. A Japanese tale about a wrestler who, on his way to the capital to compete in the Emperor’s wrestling match, encounters three women stronger than he! They help him train for the competition, he wins, and then he returns to marry one of the women.  A funny story with beautiful color illustrations.

Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India,  by Uma Krishnaswami

Folktales, ages 5 and up. Eighteen folk tales from India, including the story of Chitrangada, who chooses to rule her kingdom rather than remain the wife of a handsome prince; and Supriya, who teaches adults about compassion. Told in a simple, engaging style.

 
Tofu Quilt,  by Ching Yeung Russell

Poetry, ages 8 and up. I’ve never seen a book quite like Tofu Quilt. It is a collection of 38 free-verse poems about the author’s childhood in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 1960s, and her desire to become a writer, despite the fact that she is a girl and is not expected to have a career. The poems are simple, story-like, and heartfelt.

Aruna’s Journeys, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Fiction, ages 8-12. Aruna was born in the U.S. and her parents are from India. Aruna hates looking “different.” Just when she finally finds a best friend at her new school, her parents take her to India for the whole summer. There she meets her feminist aunt Vandana who is on a hunger strike to avoid an arranged marriage. Vandana’s example and words encourage Aruna to hold on to her dreams and enjoy being different. Filled with details of urban life in India, and one of only a very few available novels about Indian-Americans. Winner of the 1998 Skipping Stones Magazine Award for multicultural books.

Ela Bhatt: Uniting Women in India, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Biography, ages 10-14. Ela Bhatt overcame her shyness and her stuttering to start a union for the poorest women in India. By really listening to the women and helping them implement their own ideas, Ela helped the women start a bank, worker cooperatives, and child care cooperatives. This inspiring book is part of the Women Changing the World series published by the Feminist Press, which also includes Aung San Suu Kyi: Standing Up for Democracy in Burma, by Bettina Ling.