All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

International Day of Peace, Sep. 21, 2018

All Are Welcome

Alexandra Penfold, Author

Suzanne Kaufman, Illustrator

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jul. 10, 2018

Pages: 44

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Diversity, Inclusiveness, Classroom, School, Friendship

Opening: Pencils sharpened in their case. / Bells are ringing, let’s make haste. / School’s beginning, dreams to chase. / All are welcome here.

Publisher Synopsis:

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps or sitting in wheel chairs. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions, share lunches, play hard at recess, share science projects, play musical instruments, and gather as a whole community to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.

Why I like this book:

All Are Welcome celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, sending the message to children and parents that everyone is welcome in their school, in their class, and in their community.  Suzanne Kaufman’s joyful and lively illustrations remind kids that the world is a rainbow of color when cultures merge from every part of the world. There is a beautiful surprise in the book.

The text sings with Alexander Penfold’s simple rhymes and repetitive chant “All are welcome here,” which  will resonate with young children as they will pour over pictures of kids like themselves. Some with dark skin, light skin, red hair, and curly hair. Others wear baseball caps, hijabs, glasses, hearing aids, and sit in wheelchairs.  It is a place where diversity and compassion advance the culture of peace.

As a new school year begins, All Are Welcome is a must-have book for pre-schools and elementary schools everywhere. It demonstrates on how much fun children have together in the classroom, on the playground and in the lunch room. “Time for lunch – what a spread! /A dozen different kinds of bread. / Pass it around till everyone’s fed. / All are welcome here.” 

I first learned about this book from Pragmatic Mom’s website last summer. Check out the story behind the story of how the author started a movement with a poster.

Resources: I believe this book would be a wonderful discussion book for today’s UN celebration of International Day of Peace. It is a day for engaging kids in peace-building activities.  And what better way than to remind kids they live in a rainbow world. Encourage kids to talk about ways to create peace at school, their communities and in the world. Whatever you decide to do, remember to pause at noon, (no matter your time zone) for a Minute of Silence and think about how you will build peaceful relationships.

Alexandra Penfold is the author of Eat, Sleep, Poop (Knopf, 2016) and the forthcoming picture books The Littlest Viking (Knopf) and Everybody’s Going to the Food Truck Fest (FSG). She is also a literary agent at Upstart Crow, where one of her clients is author-illustrator, Suzanne Kaufman! Learn more about Alex on Twitter at @agentpenfold and Suzanne on her website  or on Twitter at @suzannekaufman.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Book (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Indentured servants, Pakistan, Family Life, Dreams, Courage

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their grand estate, surrounded by a high brick wall and gate guards.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So  she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them — so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars, will eagerly devour Amal Unbound, a heartbreaking and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger. Saeed’s bold and skillfully penned novel creates an exceptional reading experience that will  touch your soul.

The setting is culturally rich as it is about Pakistani traditions, village schools, small villages, shopping in local markets, food preparations, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and the pressure on mothers to birth baby boys.

The first-person narrative with Amal offers greater depth into her character. Amal is a strong, determined and clever protagonist who loves school and dreams of going to the university and becoming a teacher one day. When her mother suffers postpartum depression after the birth of a fifth daughter, her father makes Amal quit school to care for her siblings. Not one to give up, she manages to find a creative way to keep up with her school work. When Amal stands up to the wealthy Kahn son, Jawad Sahib, at the market and refuses to give him her purchases, her world begins to crumble. As a punishment, he makes her a servant at the Khan family home.  The characters are well-developed, memorable and despicable. They will stay with you after you finish.

The plot is suspenseful and dangerous at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. Even though Amal is living in luxury serving the kind mother of the brutal landlord, it will always be a prison for Amal. But Amal is smart and resourceful and she uses it to her advantage.  Amal Unbound is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The author manages to surprise me with the unexpected ending. Readers will be cheering.

It is so hard to imagine that indentured servitude is a problem that still exists for millions of people globally. It takes many forms and occurs in the United States. It is a corrupt and dangerous business. It is Saeed’s hope that Amal’s story will shine a light on the brave girls enduring servitude.

Favorite Quote:

“I balanced the tray in my hands and walked to the kitchen. I tried to pretend I didn’t care what the woman said, but I did.  I doubted I would every get used to being discussed like cattle at the market.” Page 109

Aisha Saeed is the author of Written in the Stars. As a Pakistani American and one of the founding members of the much-talked-about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diverse books. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal

 


Festival of Colors

Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal, Authors

Vashti Harrison, Illustrator

Beach Lane Books, Fiction,  Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 2-8

Themes: Holi, Indian Festival, Feasts, Dance, Family, Friends, Community, Multicultural

Opening: Guavas are ripening. Lotuses are blooming. And Holi, the Indian festival of colors, is almost here.

Synopsis: A brother and sister, Mintoo and Chintoo, are excited about the upcoming Indian spring festival of colors, Holi. They gather baskets of red hibiscus flowers, purple orchids, orange marigolds, and blue irises. They dry the flowers before they remove all of the petals.  Then they crush the petals into  fine powders. When the special day arrives, family, friends and neighbors dress in white and gather with their bowls of colorful powders. Everyone begins to toss the colors and shout “Holi, hai!”

Why I like this book:

Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal have created a visually appealing, joyful and celebratory book that introduces children to Holi, an Hindu festival of colors. The annual spring festival offers Indians “fresh starts, friendship and forgiveness.” It also introduces children to a different culture, home life and a strong sense of community. Everyone sings, dances and feasts during the celebration.

Children will learn about how dried colorful flower petals, will create vibrant colors of red, yellow, blue, and purple powders. They will also learn how to prepare the beautiful colorful powders.

Vashti Harrison’s illustrations are a feast for the eyes and senses. Her artwork communicates the sheer joy of the event! I especially like how she shows the diversity of skin-tones among the Indian community. Some are very light and others very brown.  This is something I noticed immediately because I have an adopted son from India who is very dark. He would see himself in this book.

Readers will learn from the book’s endnotes that Holi celebrates “inclusiveness, new beginnings, and the triumph of good over evil.” This book is a treasure and belongs in every classroom!

Resources: Use the book to create your own colorful powders from flowers in your yard. All the steps are in the book.

Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal are the authors of A Bucket of Blessings and The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar


Lucky Broken Girl

Ruth Behar, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, April 2017; Puffin Books reprint April 2018

2018 Pura Belpré Award

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Cuban-Americans, Immigration, Second languages, Injury, Trauma, Family relationships, Friendships, Multicultural

OpeningWhen we lived in Cuba, I was smart. But when we got to Queens, in New York City, in the United States of America, I became dumb, just because I couldn’t speak English. So I got put in the dumb class in fifth grade at P.S. 117. It’s the class for the bobos, the kids who failed at math and reading.

Synopsis: When Ruthie Mizrahi moves with her family from her homeland of Cuba to the bustling streets of New York, it’s a lot to take in. There are new sights, new sound, and a new language. But Ruthie is adjusting. She’s already mastering English and has made some new friends. In her neighborhood, she is  known as the Hopscotch Queen. And she dreams of getting a pair of “go-go” boots, like her friend Danielle.

After she and her family spend the day with old friends on Staten Island, Ruthie and her family are in a car accident on the way home. Ruthie’s leg is broken in several places and she ends up in a body cast that stretches all the way from her chest to her toes. Just when she was starting to feel like life in New York would be okay, she’ll have to lie in bed for eight months and be treated like a baby again. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grows larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how a diverse group of friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

Why I like this book:

This novel has heart, courage and hope. It’s uniquely diverse community of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers will restore your faith in humanity. And readers will cheer Ruthie as she overcomes her fears and learns to walk again.

I especially like how Ruthie turns her anger and hate towards the boy who injured her into forgiveness and hope. She is relieved her parents won’t sue the boy’s family, because she realizes that they lost their son and are suffering. Ruthie concludes that people makes mistakes, but that doesn’t mean their bad.

It is a perfect book for readers recovering from a trauma or injury. As an adult I endured two traumatic injuries, so I understand how frightening this would be for a child. When Ruthie’s cast is removed after eight months, the real recovery begins on both physical and emotional levels. Ruthie is fearful and doesn’t feel safe outside of her bed.  She has to find her personal power again in a most remarkable way with the creative help and laughter of many memorable characters supporting her.

Lucky Broken Girl is based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, as a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl who is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed by a car accident that leaves her in a body cast. The interview with Ruth Behar at the end of the book is a must read. It will give readers greater insight into the story. Visit Behar at her website. There is a short video with the author. This is a great summer read!

Ruth Behar is an acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction. Lucky Broken Girl, is her first book for young readers. She was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in New York City, and has also lived in Spain and Mexico. An anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, she is the author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart, An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys, and other books about her travels, as well as a bilingual book of poetry, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and travels often to Miami and Havana.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Ten Cents a Pound by Nhung N. Tran-Davies

Ten Cents a Pound

Nhung N. Tran-Davies, Author

Josée Bisaillon, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Family Relationships, Love, Sacrifice, Educating girls, Poverty, Multicultural

Opening: Mama, I see your hands / Coarsened and scratched, / By the twigs and bark of the trees, row on row, / By the leaves and berries, picked one by one. / I will stay with you.

Synopsis: A young girl is torn by her desire to stay home with her family and the familiarity of their village, and her desire to go to school and discover the world beyond the mountains that surround them.

Every time the girl insists that she will stay, her mother repeats that she must go — that there is more to life than working in the coffee fields. Their loving exchange reveals the struggles and sacrifices that they both will have to make. But her mother is determined to give her a better future.

Why I like this book:

Nhung N. Tran-Davies’ endearing tale is about an Asian mother who works in the coffee fields to earn ten cents a pound to buy her daughter books, pencils and shoes that will make it possible for her  to attend school. She wants to give her daughter the opportunities that she never had. The daughter is concerned because she sees her mother’s stooped back, calloused hands, and strained eyes. She can’t bear to leave her mother, but she knows that education is the only way for her to make a better life for herself and her family. There is love, heart and a deep bond between mother and daughter.

This lyrical and sensitive picture book begs to be shared and discussed with children. It is important for readers to understand the difficulties children face in order to attend school around the world. Josée Bisaillon’s  illustrations are exquisite and expressively depict the mother’s struggle, while showing the whimsy of the girl reading and dreaming of far away places. They work beautifully with the text and illuminate the message in the story.

Resources: This story will generate lively classroom discussions. and is a great exercise in empathy. Ask children what would they do to get to school? How important is school to you? Why do children in poor villages want to go to school? Ask children about how they would feel if they didn’t have a pair of shoes to wear to school?

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. 

Krista Kim-Bap by Angela Ahn

Krista Kim-Bap

Angela Ahn, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 18, 2018

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 158

Themes: Korean food, Culture, Family relationships, Fitting in, Friendships, Diversity, Multicultural

Book Synopsis: Krista and Jason have been best friends since preschool. It never mattered that he was a boy with reddish-brown hair and green eyes, and she was the “Korean girl” at school. And Jason has always loved hanging out with Krista’s family — especially for the food!

Now in fifth grade, everyone in Krista and Jason’s class is preparing their Heritage Month projects. But Krista has mixed feelings about being her school’s “Korean Ambassador.” Should she ask her sometimes grouchy grandma to teach the class how to cook traditional Korean kimbap?

With a new friendship pulling her away from Jason, and the pressure of trying to please her grandma, grade five is going to be interesting.

Why I like this book:

Angela Ahn has written a sweetly satisfying coming of age novel about an 11-year-old girl, who is a third-generation Korean-Canadian trying to fit in at school. The author creates a nice balance between cultural traditions, differences, family relationships and friendships.

Krista is a feisty protagonist who seems comfortable with herself. Somewhat a tomboy, she prefers jeans and t-shirts and wears her hair in a pony tail. She spends a lot of time with her best friend Jason, until she’s invited to a “Red Carpet” birthday party by a popular girl at school. This means Krista has to wear a dress and her older sister helps her modernize a traditional hanbok. Her outfit is a hit and the girls invite Krista to hang with them at lunch and after school. This cuts into time with Jason and she is torn between wanting to fit in, be true to herself, trust her instincts and be loyal to Jason.

There are many mouth-watering food scenes in this story and readers will learn about Korean dishes, like kimchi and kimbap, as Krista builds a relationship with her traditional grandmother. She asks her grandmother to teach her how to cook and be part her classroom family heritage project.

This story is perfect for diverse classroom settings. It is a fun, realistic and fast-paced novel that tackles interesting issues for a Korean-Canadian tween living in Vancouver. It’s a book worth reading!

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

       World Refugee Day, June 20, 2017

The Only Road

Alexandra Diaz, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Book, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Child Refugees, Immigration, Guatemala, Courage, Hope, Freedom, Multicultural

Awards: Pura Belpre Honor Book and ALA Notable Book

Book Synopsis: Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly he knows Miguel, his cousin and best friend is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a  powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed — like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice. Accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother, Tomas, in the United States.

Inspired by true incidents, The Only Road tells an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better Life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

Why I like this book:

Alexandra Diaz’s novel is powerful and timely. It is about two cousins fleeing from dangerous drug  trafficking gangs in Guatemala and making the treacherous journey north to the United States. There are no guarantees that they will survive. Their story is heartbreaking, but it underscores the problem of why many Central American children illegally immigrate to America.

The richly textured Latino text is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which contribute to the reader’s experience. At the end of book, there is a glossary of words and expressions used throughout the story.

The story is distinctly character-driven. Jaime’s third person narrative will move readers. Twelve-year-old Jaime is driven by his grief over the death of his cousin. Jaime is brave and compassionate. He’s also a talented artist and sketches his journey. Fifteen-year-old Ángela is  a mother figure for Jaime and to other younger children they meet along their trip. She’s smart, cautious and reminds Jaime they can’t trust anyone. She’s particularly adept at changing her Guatemalan accent to a Mexican accent so she can fool immigration officers (la migra) and town locals. When they need more money for safe passage across the border, Jaime draws portraits and Ángela alters clothing for women.

The plot is multilayered, gripping and complicated. The trip is long and hazardous, which Diaz handles with care. Jaime and Ángela dodge brutal gangs, bandits, and immigration officers. Food and water is scarce. They are herded into a freight car heading north and nearly suffocate from the heat. They rest at safe houses and make friends with other teens who teach them survival techniques. They learn how to hop freight trains (la bestia) and ride on top the cars as they travel north through Mexico to the border of New Mexico. Their final challenge will be to find the right smuggler (coyote) who will help them safely cross the Rio Grande.

Immigration is a hot topic today. The UN reports there are 10 million refugees world-wide. This is an important book for middle school libraries to help students gain a better understanding of refugees, immigration and the reasons they risk their lives to find freedom.

Alexandra Diaz is the author of When We Were, which was an ALA Rainbow List book and a New Mexico Book Award finalist. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Make sure you read her Author’s Note at the end of the book that will give you further insight into immigration. Visit Diaz at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Hand Over Hand by Alma Fullerton

Hand Over Hand

Alma Fullerton, Author

Renné Benoit, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fishing, Gender roles, Courage, Empowerment, Intergenerational, Multicultural

Opening: On the shores of a Filipino fishing village an old banca boat rocks as waves lick its keel. WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH.

Synopsis: Nina wants to convince her grandfather – lolo –  to take her fishing with him on his old banca boat. Lolo’s answer is always the same: “A boat is not the place for a girl. Your job is on shore.”  Nina doesn’t want to dry fish with the women and is determined to show her grandfather that a girl can go fishing and do everything a boy can do. When she promises lolo that she will bait her own hook and remove her own fish, her grandfather says “Okay, we will try it. Just for today.”  The other fisherman scoff.  While lolo’s buckets fill with fish, Nina waits for a single tug. Will she prove to her village that a girl can fish?

Why I like this book:

Alma Fullerton has written a charming story about a Filipino girl with big ambitions and a lot of courage. It is also an empowering story for children to see Nina believe in herself. She wants to prove to her grandfather and her village that a girl can do what ever she wants. She’s smart and doesn’t give up, especially when she’s not getting any nibbles.

This a beautiful intergenerational story that celebrates the relationship between  a grandfather and his granddaughter who spend the day fishing together. Lolo is very patient with Nina and offers her helpful advice. And Nina makes lolo proud when she reels in the biggest catch of the day and proves that she can do anything.

The text is lyrical and has a rhythm to it like the rocking of a boat. Nina observes lolo’s fluid and swift movements “hand over hand ” and “fish after fish.” Children will enjoy the repeating this refrain with Nina throughout the story. Renné Benoit’s illustrations are soft and soothing watercolors that contribute to the mood of the story and show the joy of Nina’s journey .

Resources: This is a perfect classroom discussion book for all young children. Use Hand Over Hand to start a conversation about how girls and boys see each other. Can girls put worms on hooks, become scientists, or drive a truck? Can boys tap dance, babysit, or become a nurse?  The story takes place in another country. Do they think there may be more gender stereotypes for children living in another country like the Philippines?

Alma Fullerton is the award-winning author of the picture books A Good Trade, Community Soup and In a Cloud of Dust, When the Rain Comes. Visit Fullerton at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Seasons of Joy by Claudia Marie Lenart

Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play

Claudia Marie Lenart, Author and Illustrator

Loving Healing Press, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-4

Themes: Seasons, Nature, Animals, Multicultural Children, Playing outdoors

Opening: Wake up! It’s Spring. / Trees are tipped in wisps of green. / Let’s stretch our legs and run on soft, fresh grass. / Up and down the hills we hop and jump / Like newborn bunnies do.

Book Jacket Synopsis: The pure and simple delight of children playing outside is captured in needle-felted wool paintings created by Claudia Marie Lenart. The picture books pairs dreamy images of multicultural children, animals, flowers and trees with verse that expresses the joy young children experience in nature’s seasons. Children can see themselves in the diverse characters and can be inspired to spend more time playing outdoors and connecting to nature.

What I like about this book:

Claudia Marie Lenart’s Seasons of Joy is magical.  Her rhyming prose conjures such beautiful visual images of each season and encourages young children to go outside to picnic in a meadow, watch butterflies dance, float on waves, pile leaves high, gather nuts and pine cones, make snow angels and build snow castles. Just read the opening (above) and let her words roll around your mouth and feel their power.

Accompanying her lyrical language is Lenart’s signature wool artwork, which will captivate children as they study all of the beautiful detail in each dreamy scene. Children will experience the wonder, joy and adventure in spending a day romping in nature throughout the seasons. This is a perfect bedtime story.

Resources: Spend a day outdoors picking violets, climbing a tree, playing games in the meadow with friends, exploring creeks or counting the stars at night.

Claudia Marie Lenart is a fiber artist whose passion is needle felting.  Her soft sculpture characters are created by repeatedly poking wool and other natural fibers, like alpaca, with a barbed needle. She illustrated three books for the late children’s author Jewel Kats: Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer, Prince Preemie, and Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist.  To learn more about Lenart’s artistry and books, visit her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Amina’s Voice

Hena Khan, Author

Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction,  Mar. 14, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pakistani and Asian Americans, Friendship, Peer Pressure, Family, Muslim Culture, Community, Prejudice, Racism

Opening: Something sharp pokes me in the rib. “You should totally sign up for a solo,” Soojin whispers from the seat behind me in music class. I shake my head. The mere thought of singing in front of a crowd makes my stomach twist into knots.

Book Jacket SynopsisAmina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American,” now that she is to become a citizen. Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with  these questions, her local mosque is vandalized, and she is devastated.

Why I like this book:

Hena Khan has written a timely and empowering novel about a young Muslim American girl, who finds her voice with the help of friends, family, and community.

Khan’s novel is multi-layered with many themes. The central theme of Khan’s book is about what it’s like to be a Muslim girl growing up in America. She takes her readers into a loving and strict Muslim family, where cultural traditions are at the center of their lives, from praying, studying the Quran and meal preparation, to the respect shown to visitors and the value of community.

The main characters are multi-dimensional and diverse. Amina is a kind-hearted, shy, and talented pianist and vocalist. Her best friend, Soojin, is Chinese and wants to change her name because no one knows how to pronounce it. Bottom line, she wants to fit in. This raises important questions for Amina. Would the popular kids like her better if she changes her name? How does she be true to her Muslim values and still be American? Many readers will identify with the angst of middle school as they navigate through those sensitive years. Amina’s story will also resonate with children of immigrants.

The language is carefully crafted and uplifting. The plot is realistic and leaves readers with hope even after the Islamic Center is attacked and vandalized. It is heartwarming to see how the community rallies behind the Muslim community by inviting them to use their churches and providing labor to rebuild the center. It beautifully demonstrates to readers the meaning of our common humanity. I know my community would come to the rescue of our Muslim neighbors. Verdict: This book belong in every middle grade library. It’s a treasure!

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American who was born and raised in Maryland. She enjoys writing about her culture. She is the author of several books, including It’s Ramadan, Curious George, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and Night of the Moon. You can learn more about Hena Khan by visiting her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.