Monday, July 26, 2010

What's Basbusa Reading? (Ramadan edition)

(Update: Please also see this post for more Ramadan-related book reviews)

For readers who arrived via the What My Child Is Reading blog hop, just a quick explanation - with Ramadan coming up soon, I'm focusing this post on Ramadan-related picture books. They can be hard to find, so I thought other Muslim moms might find these reviews helpful. But sorry if this list is a bit too narrowly-focused to be much use to moms of small book-lovers in general!

By far our favorite of the Ramadan books I've found so far is Ramadan Moon, by Na'ima B Robert and Shirin Adl.
  • The illustrations are simply beautiful, and there are lots and lots of details to look for and talk about, which is always a hit with Basbusa. The front cover isn't as enchanting as the illustrations inside.
  • It talks about the importance of Quran and tarawih without making a big "religious" deal of it. An excerpt:
    "And in mosque after mosque,
    Of every shape and size,
    Men, women and children
    Will all stand up to pray.
    The imam will recite the verses
    Of the book that was revealed
    Upon hundreds
    Upon hundreds of years ago."
    For a toddler, I think this kind of description is much more meaningful than a selection of ahadith talking about the rewards and benefits in very complicated language.
  • I really like how it deals with fasting. It's the second aspect of Ramadan that is discussed, rather than the primary one (prayer and the Quran come first), and the book doesn't make a huge deal of how fasting is sooooooooooo hard, but then afterwards we get to eat sooooooooo much. Beside a picture of a family Iftar, this text just says,
    "In daylight, we feel hungry.
    But at sunset, when we eat,
    It makes us a little thoughtful,
    A little humble,
    And very grateful."
  • It truly captures the joy of Ramadan as it's really experienced. It conveys the sense of being part of a worldwide community and of a family; it makes the connection to the waxing and waning of the moon; there's a page showing a street alive with people in the evening, just like you'd see in Cairo during Ramadan, for example. There are people going to Tarawih, but there are also kids playing in a playground, people eating in restaurants, etc.
Basbusa loves the Eid page because she likes all the pics of tasty food and pretending to eat it, but she likes the whole book, really. We read it four times in a row the first time around, and many many times since.

I also really liked Reza Jalali's Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle, but I think it will be more meaningful for Basbusa a few years from now.
  • I loved the close family relationship it depicted, of happy Muslims in the living in the West.
  • I loved how the little girl can't wait to try fasting and sees it as something beautiful, and how she tries part-time fasting since she's too young to fast completely.
  • This bit isn't Ramadan-related, but I also liked (with reservations) how the book addresses the way that the girl's mom doesn't regularly wear hijab, but that her grandmother does. Here's an excerpt:
    "As Mom stands and sits, the soft cloth catches the breeze. She looks beautiful. Later, I ask, "How come you don't always wear a scarf like Maman-Borzog [her grandmother]?" Mom laughs and says, "You know, not every Muslim woman covers her hair." "But in the pictures Auntie sends us she always wears a scarf." "In her country it is the custom. There are different traditions about such things. But all Muslims use the same prayers and we all observe Ramadan."
I do think that all Muslimas should wear hijab, but I really don't like how the whole scarf-or-no-scarf issue is made into such a huge deal, both in the US and elsewhere. "What's she wearing? Oh, she must be _____. All covered up? Oh, she must be_____ . A niqab? Oh, she must be _____. And most of all, "She doesn't cover? Oh, well then, it's obvious, she must be _____." I can't stand this kind of thing, whether the assumptions being made are positive or negative. Wearing hijab is important, but it is not one of the five pillars of Islam. I know some amazing Muslimas who don't wear a scarf and it drives me batty to hear people just dismiss them as "not good Muslims" just because their hair is showing. Plus, in the US, the question of Muslimas who don't cover is definitely going to come up in Basbusa's mind eventually, and I'm going to have to answer it somehow. My explanation won't be exactly the same one as in this book, but the tone of inclusiveness and tolerance, in conjunction with the message that covering or not covering does not equate to "good" or "bad" Muslim, is just what I'll be aiming for.

I was not so keen on Ramadan, by Sheila Anderson (it seems to be part of a series for kids on "Cultural Holidays.") It's non-fiction rather than a Ramadan-related story book. Basbusa enjoys some of the pictures, but the text (in my opinion) is dry and boring. Plus, it's slightly incorrect in some places (for example: "In the evening, people wait for the moon to be seen. Then, they can eat and drink again.") To judge by the names of those involved in writing it, none of them are actually Muslim, and I think it shows: although almost all the facts are perfectly correct, the joy of Ramadan doesn't come through at all.

And finally, we read Night of the Moon by Hena Khan. It has lovely illustrations, but they're not the kind that easily allow Basbusa to piece together a picture of what's happening in the story (which is probably too complex for her to grasp anyway, even in a general way). But this book is also an example of the kind of approach to Ramadan that I'm not so keen on, focusing on the more secular aspects. ("Yasmeen had been looking forward to Ramadan. It was a time filled with delicious foods, new clothes, lots of parties, and her favorite thing ever - presents!") I'm all for sharing the joy of Ramadan, but I think kids will appreciate those parts of it without help :) And they're not what's really important about the month anyway.

Does anyone else have suggestions for good toddler-level Ramadan books? I'd love to hear them!

For more suggestions and reviews (for kids books in general, not specifically for Ramadan), check out the weekly blog-hop at Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns.


  1. Thanks for joining WMCIR and reviewing Ramadan books. We are a secular family, but I would like my daughter to learn about traditions and religions of different people, that's why we focus a lot on geography here. I am adding your book selections to my Evernote to revisit when we visit Muslim holidays.

  2. could you please add anything new. we have been waiting for any update for a long time. we love your blog and we would love to know what is going on in your story with your kid