Saturday, June 30, 2012

What's Basbusa reading? (Ramadan Edition)

So it's nearly Ramadan again insha'Allah, and the girls and I are all getting excited! I think I've checked out every Ramadan-related picture book in the entire metro-Boston library network over the past four years, but I haven't found all that many that we're really crazy about - it's nothing like the vast array of Christmas-related picture books that spill off the shelves in the library. We do have two favorites, though, which have now become part of our Ramadan traditions:

Under the Ramadan Moon is both Basbusa's and my favorite so far. It describes the practices and traditions that are part of every Ramadan, in preschooler-friendly language with beautiful illustrations. Basbusa likes all the opportunities it gives us to say, "just like we do, right, Mama?", as we reminisce about Ramadan last year, and she excitedly looks forward to the Ramadan that's about to begin isA. The book mentions fasting, breaking the fast as a community, visiting friends and family, watching for the crescent moon, giving in charity, going to the mosque, and hanging lanterns, among other things, and the illustrations manage to convey the joy and peace of the season. I also like that it seems to be set in the US (or somewhere in the West, anyway) - it's always good to have pictures confirming that being Muslim and being American go perfectly well together :) It's absolutely a book which is describing the experience of Ramadan, rather than trying to convey the underlying religious basis for it, but for Basbusa's age, I think that's just fine (and there is one page at the end, explaining what Ramadan is and why and how it is celebrated). The only thing that's slightly odd is that the mom in the family wears her headscarf in every single picture, even when she's at home in her own living room, but that's a small detail, and Basbusa didn't notice.

Our other favorite is Ramadan Moon, a book I've written about before. We still like it as much as we always have, but I'm surprised to notice that when I described it two years ago, I didn't mention the fact that most of the language was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy over my daughter's head. And it must have been, because she was only two then, and it's still beyond her now, at almost-four! Maybe I hadn't started reading English to her at all yet, so I just translated everything into toddler-level Arabic? In any case, the text is still too advanced, but there's lots to discuss in the illustrations ("Look, Mama, the children are still playing in the park, even though it's night time! It's because it's Ramadan! Can we do that too?").

Since giving to the poor is one major part of Ramadan, I've also been seeking out books about poverty, of which Basbusa doesn't really have much of a concept yet. Her two favorites so far are The Teddy Bear, about a boy who ends up giving his bear to a homeless man, and Two Sandals, Four Feet, about the friendship between two Afghan girls living in a refugee camp in Pakistan. The plot of The Teddy Bear was somewhat unlikely, in my opinion, but Basbusa didn't seem to question it. She focused on the tale of the bear lost and found, and enjoyed it, while I liked that it presented a homeless man realistically but sympathetically, and not as something to be feared. It showed his daily rounds of the trash cans, for example, simply as part of his daily routine, rather than sugar-coating his situation or dwelling heavily and explicitly on his plight. Not the best book we've ever read, but it was more or less what I was looking for.

Two Sandals, Four Feet was a truly touching book, about two girls who shared one precious pair of yellow-and-blue flip-flops, the only footwear they owned. Basbusa did enjoy the book and has asked for several repeats, but I think she'll get more out of it maybe two years from now. For now, she appreciated that the two girls had made friends, and that their friendship helped them and strengthened them in their difficult circumstances, and that it was sad that they had to say goodbye at the end. But she didn't quite understand how hard the girls' lives really were, or how much they had lost, or how much the friendship meant to them as a consequence. I don't think she quite appreciated how generous it was of the girls to agree to share the shoes, given how few possessions they had and how badly they both needed them. But at least now when we're donating to charities catering to refugees, I will be able to tell Basbusa that it's for children like Feroza and Lina, and she will have some idea what I mean. 

Linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday and What My Child is Reading.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What's Basbusa reading?

Another too-long blog-silence, but not because of any lack of good books to write about! Since Basbusa has finished preschool for the year (making us officially homeschoolers now, I guess?), I've lost my handy one-child-in-school-and-the-other-one-napping blogging time. But they're getting better and better at entertaining each other, and with the lovely summer weather they can play in the garden much more, so I'm hopeful that I'll get twenty minutes to blog every so often!

My list of to-be-blogged-books has gotten alarmingly long yet again, so I'm going to zoom through some of these reviews in order to catch up a bit.

These first two, however, were such favorites that they can't be glossed over. I found Tallulah's Tutu via a New York Times recommendation for the sequel, Tallulah's Solo. I actually wasn't thrilled with the sequel when we eventually got around to it, but the original story was just delightful. Tallulah, an effervescent preschooler with an adoring little brother, is convinced that she would be a wonderful ballerina - if only she had a tutu. A lavender tutu, to be specific. So, her mother signs her up for ballet lessons, which she loves right from the very first moment. The tutu she so confidently expects, however, doesn't seem to be ready yet... maybe it's being flown in from Paris, she wonders? Three classes later, with no tutu yet appearing, Tallulah's great disappointment leads to the discovery that ballet slippers are not ideal footwear for stamping your foot while shouting! Ultimately, of course, there's a happy ending. Basbusa loved the story of a girl just her age starting out to learn something new and exciting, especially since two of her real-life best friends take ballet. I loved that it was ballet-oriented without straying into the realm of overwhelming girly-ness and idolization of all things pink and frilly, and that the illustrations showed such enthusiastic and engaged little dancers - with the sticking-out tummies and not-so-streamlined profiles of real preschoolers rather than of miniature ballerinas. Plus, there were gentle and preschooler-friendly messages about working to pursue your dreams, being patient, and being flexible (the Tallulah's tutu, in the end, is not lavendar, but red).

Next up is a slightly strange little book which Basbusa must have read about a million times. Complete Adventures of the Mole Sisters is a compendium of ten (very very) short stories about the two not-particularly-cute moles shown on the cover. Plots ranged from the simple-but-cute (uh-oh, rain is coming into the mole-hole - let's dig a bath and swim in it!) - to the simple-but-odd (don't worry, little clump of moss, your life needn't be dull - we'll carry you up a hill and leave you there! Ummm... what?!?). These peculiarities didn't seem to bother Basbusa in the slightest, however, and she was delighted (as usual) with the small size of the book, and thrilled with how easily she could read the the easy-reader-like text. So, in the spirit of reflecting Basbusa's own true preferences, it's two thumbs up for the Mole Sisters.

And now for some quick reviews (please excuse the lack of detail!)
We chose Dog Blue because we had both really liked Penguin by the same author. In terms of plot, it's a little boy finally realizing his dream of getting a dog. Simple but sweet. I liked how the boy filled in with his imagination while waiting for his dream to come true, and I liked his creative solution when his dream-come-true turned out to be slightly different from his dream.

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat is a story about what happened to Rose while she was waiting for her mother to finish her conversation with Uncle Fred. Party suppliers, guests, caterers, a band and a magician all make their appearance, much to Rose's astonishment and Basbusa's amusement, and then hurriedly disappear again when Mama finally gets off the phone. I think the other main factor that made this one appealing was that any little child can sympathize with a mother's seemingly endless "just a minute"s!

Let's Go describes a boy's trip to the corner grocery to buy some apples for his mother, but we see the journey has he views it through his imagination. The two-block walk takes him through a deep, dark forest, a rocky mountain, a beautiful but pirate-filled sea, and finally on tiptoe through the pirate's camp. The text is minimal, and very new-reader-friendly. Basbusa loves imagination games, and found the text encouragingly accessible (she read this one all alone, right off the bat). The illustrations are appealing, with a slight hint of "where's waldo" as you search for the boy in the midst of his imaginary surroundings.

Magnolia's Mixed-Up Magic was a fun, quick chapter book, just right for Basbusa's level: short chapters, exciting but preschooler-friendly plot, and a reading level that was a comfortable stretch. Magnolia and her grandmother discover an old magic book which turns out to have real, working spells in it - but the pages which explain how to undo the spells are missing. Mild mayhem ensues which is soon put to right, scaring off a thieving raccoon along the way.

And finally, a request: can anyone recommend preschooler-level picture books about poverty? With Ramadan coming up, I want to introduce Basbusa to the importance of helping the poor and giving in charity, but I don't think she has much of a concept of what "being poor" actually means. Thanks for any suggestions!

Linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday and What My Child is Reading.