Someone has told me that one of the best things I could do for my children is to build them a good home library. So being me, a compulsive reader and passionate book-buyer, I promptly proceeded to fill my kids’ room bookshelves (and soon enough run out of space). We read lots of different books, but I make sure that our Islamic books bookshelf gets extra special attention and whenever there is a new title worthy of adding to that section we jump at the opportunity.
Alhamdulillah, there are more and more people writing and publishing Islamic books for children and the books are so attractive when it comes to illustration that they can easily compete with the mainstream publications. One very productive writer who has published quite a number of Islamic books for the youngest readers is Elizabeth Lymer and we are always happy to discover her new stories and rhymes.
Published most recently by Elizabeth Lymer is Angels and Rainbows – a lovely story in rhyme about a little girl who gets a bit anxious and her dad teaches her the special words to get closer to Allah (SWT), to feel better and brighter: “Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, La ilaha il Allahu, Allahu Akbar”. The scene pictured in the story is that of the peace of the Fajr prayer and it feels really cosy and comforting. The book is beautifully illustrated by Brooke Alam and it bursts with colour. It is a great addition to our library and I really recommend this book, both as a story and as a motivational tool for children to learn dhikr.
Yet another cute little book by Elizabeth Lymer is Five Prayers Each Day – a nursery rhyme with simple illustrations in the style of Bismillah Baby Traveller (another title by Lymer). The rhyme goes: “1,2,3,4,5… prayers each day that we’re alive” so we sing it to the tune of “…once I got a fish alive”. The rhyme is very catchy and it’s great to be able to teach our babies some song that is Islamic in theme and such a beautiful reminder of the importance and meaning of prayer. Elizabeth Lymer has written many more Islamic nursery rhymes, so if you like this one, you’d also love Islamic Nursery Rhymes and other titles (just search Elizabeth Lymer on amazon).
Quite a different book that I had a pleasure to explore with my children recently is My Ramadan Journal Around the World by the Bismillah Babies team. Ok, so Ramadhan is just finished, but this book has lots to it and we haven’t really managed to explore all of it during the blessed month – it would be wise to get a copy in advance of next year. There are fifteen children from different countries around the world telling us a bit about the place they live and about Ramadhan traditions there. With each country there is a related activity: a craft idea, a simple recipe to try out, Islamic knowledge quiz or a brainteaser activity. There are also duas and ahadith, a place to write your notes and thoughts, and for Ramadhan reading, a moon tracker and daily good deeds list. The book is beautifully designed and illustrated, it sends a great message of unity through diversity of the Muslim ummah – and this is a message that is really worth reading all year round.
There is one more lovely new book, that we haven’t been able to put on our shelf as it is only available as an ebook – a pity, but we loved it nevertheless. It’s Aishah learns to bake written by Latifah Peerbux and illustrated by Nurul Ruqaiyah. Aishah and her mum are going to bake a cake – the best cake ever! And they are also going to play a game – Aishah is going to guess where the ingredients needed in the cake come from: dates and sugar, eggs, honey, butter and flour. Together with this curious little girl we discover where it all comes from and learn that Allah’s signs and blessings are all around us – especially in the food we eat. The book combines the fun of a good story and a guessing game and there is a recipe for a date cupcake at the end to try for yourself. With cute illustrations this book is a winner, masha Allah.
Although the Muslim young adult fiction is still very much niche literature the standards are set high by authors such as Na’ima B Robert whose acclaimed novel She Wore Red Trainers won over readers of all ages. Because a good novel is a good novel regardless of the age of the main character. She Wore Red Trainers was probably my first teen read as a grown-up, but I enjoyed it thoroughly and set on the search to find more books in the genre. Some of those I found were really good and some haven’t quite made the cut. Let me share with you some of my recent discoveries.
Does My Head Look Big in This? is the debut novel by Australian born author Randa Abdel-Fattah. Since it was first published in 2005 Abdel-Fattah has written and published six more novels, which I am very much looking forward. The novel follows Amal, a high school Australian Muslim, who makes the big decision of becoming a full time hijabi partly inspired by a scene from the “Friends” television show. Because Amal is not only a good practising Muslim girl, she is at the same time a typical Australian teenager and somehow there is no clash of identity here; Amal feels real and she feels good, like a friend you’d love to have or a niece you’d like to spend more time with. Amal tells us of her experiences as a newbie hijabi, but she never preaches nor explains herself except by saying that it is her personal decision and her personal expression of faith. The novel also touches on many other issues that might be ‘issues’ for a Muslim teenager living in the West, such as modest fashion, praying at school, dating and even terrorism. But not for a moment does it feel like a lecture and I have enjoyed it thoroughly from the beginning to the end.
You’re Not Proper by Tariq Mehmood is another novel that deals with the identity of a young Muslim in the West. Here, however, things are a bit more complicated. Karen, or Kiran, lives in North England with her Pakistani father and English mother, none of them really religious. Karen hangs out with her white friends, but some of her schoolmates make it clear to her that she’s not “proper white”. Confused about her identity she decides to try and be a Muslim, but even then she can’t quite fit in. Moreover her search for identity brings tension to her family relations and some long hidden family secrets are revealed changing Karen’s and her family’s lives forever. As the story unfolds the sense of drama increases and even though the story reaches a thespian breakthrough and a spectacular happy end, some of the questions remain unanswered, such as why the family secret was a secret in the first place? You’re Not Proper is a nice book that will keep you turning the pages, but it doesn’t really explore the question of dual identity deeply, which is what I would expect from the setting of the story.
Happily Ever After by Maria Ahmed is a short novel in three parts telling the stories of three friends, each of whom have some big problem, which actually turn out to be a trial making them better Muslims in the end. Hannah has a baby sister, whom she feels a bit jealous about, but when there is a suspicion that the baby has a serious medical problem, Hannah realises how much she loves her, asks Allah (SWT) to give her health and altogether gets back on the straight path. Maryam has a big sister whom she hates, but when Faaria gets into some pre-marital problems, she steps in and helps her, and so sisterly love is established. Saara is a very good Muslim and she continues to advise her friends on how to become a better Muslim throughout the book. Her trouble is not much hers – it’s actually the troublesome half-brother that manages to change for better in Saara’s part of the story. Those stories could become a basis for a good novel, but I felt it was too brief and because of that you didn’t get a chance to really get to know the characters and at times the book felt too preachy. Still, it’s a good attempt at YA Muslim lit.
Klaudia Khan is a Muslim writer living with her husband and three daughters in the UK.