Elem. – Abdul’s Story

Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Abdul’s Story. Salaam Reads, 2022. 978-1-534-46298-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Abdul, a Black boy, lives in a vibrant neighborhood and has many stories to tell. However, when it is writing time at school, Abdul is frustrated by his inability to make letters and words on the page. His letters don’t look right, spelling challenges like silent letters confound him, and his stories remain locked in his head. When Mr. Mohammad, an author, comes to his classroom, Abdul wants to emulate him. But once again the letters and words trip him up, until he erases a hole through his paper. Mr. Mohammad senses Adbul’s distress and stops to talk with him. Abdul is astonished when Mr. Mohammad pulls out his own writing notebook. It’s a mess! Words run every which way between and around doodles, circles, smudges and erasures. The important part, Mr. Mohammad explains, is getting everything you can down on the paper. You can fix the mess later. Abdul is enchanted, and gives writing another chance. Classmates, all of whom are Black or brown, deride his messy paper when he turns it in, but Abdul shines in the end, when Mr. Mohammad reads his story aloud. This book is obviously designed to encourage children to write, and its simple message will resonate with many youngsters. Illustrations by Tiffany Rose are filled with vibrant colors and exuberant life. Emotions are well presented on the faces of the characters, adding to the empathetic warmth of the story. 

THOUGHTS: The simple, yet important message is well conveyed, and eye catching illustrations will add to the attraction of the book.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun

Khan, Hena. Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun. Salaam Reads, 2022.  978-1-534-49759-7. 127 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Zara and her brother Zayd are anxiously watching activity at the house across the street, curious to see who is moving into the vacant home. Will the people have children their ages? Zara, the confident leader of the neighborhood kids, is delighted when new neighbors move in and she meets Naomi, who is exactly her age. However, Zara’s enthusiasm vanishes rapidly when Naomi unintentionally changes the dynamic of Zara’s friend group with her charisma and fresh ideas. Zara suddenly feels like an outsider. Determined to reclaim her role as Queen of the Neighborhood, she decides breaking a Guinness World Record will be sufficiently attention-getting. But Zara quickly discovers that record-breaking is tough work. Worse, Naomi decides she wants to break a record, too. Zara is frustrated, but Naomi’s sympathetic overtures help Zara understand why her old friends are annoyed with her. Eventually she hits on the perfect plan to bring the neighborhood back together. Zara is an exuberant almost 11-year-old who takes for granted her role as leader, and views herself as keeping her friends’ games and activities fair. When the status quo is disturbed, feelings are hurt. But she observes how Naomi interacts with everyone, and realizes her prior behavior may have been a bit overbearing. Young readers familiar with friendship turmoils will relate to Zara’s situation of suddenly feeling like an outsider. Zara and Zayd are Pakistani; Naomi’s family is Jewish; and other friends are Black, white, and Asian. 

THOUGHTS: An entertaining story that addresses jealousy and friendship issues in an easily relatable way. The book is noted as the first in a series, so look for more adventures with Zara. 

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Zara Hossain Is Here

Khan, Sabina. Zara Hossain Is Here. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-58087-7. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving through Tae Kwon Do patterns is the calm after the storm Zara can’t seem to find anywhere else in her life. Constant microaggressions leave her feeling frustrated and alone. Despite living in Corpus Christi, Texas since she was a baby, Zara is the only Muslim girl in her private Catholic school. Though her father is a respected physician, Islamaphobia isn’t anything new to Zara. Her family still is waiting for their green card approval (nine years later), so she tries to remain under the radar. While presenting her US history paper (on the inequities and indignities of the US immigration system), Zara faces questions from her classmates like “why do we have to take care of everyone else in the world?” and “What about all the illegals that are flooding our country?” Zara actually was talking about legal immigration – like her own family’s – but no one seems to care. When things go too far, and Zara’s dad reacts to defend their family, the Hossain’s immigration status is put in jeopardy. Zara’s family is ready to move back to Pakistan but recognizes that Zara, who really doesn’t remember their home country, will not have the same educational and life opportunities. And Zara may face just as much prejudice in Pakistan, since she identifies as a bisexual female.

THOUGHTS: In Zara, Khan presents a character who is sick of accepting the ignorance of others and who fights for what she believes. Readers will adore and root for Zara and her family. A must have for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

MG – Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series)

Bah, Adama. Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series). Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01663-2. 112 p. $16.95. Grades 5-8.

Adama Bah immigrated to the United States when she was two years old. Her father had come to work in the United States two years prior from Guinea. As a student she attended public school, until seventh grade when she went to an Islamic boarding school to learn more about her religion. Then, September 11, 2001, happened. Upon her return to New York City for Ramadan break, Adama experienced cruelty and hate from strangers because of her dress which identified her as Muslim; she was 13. On March 24, 2005, Adama’s nightmare of hatred and cruelty reached a horrific level. She was ripped from her home and taken into custody, but she did not know why. She was identified as a terrorist and suicide bomber, but no one could share any evidence to these acts except that she was a practicing Muslim. She was stripped of her rights, her family, her pride, and her religion. At the age of 17, she was released back to New York City under the watch of a federal ankle bracelet. Her father, through all of this, was deported. She, as the eldest child, was now responsible for the well-being of her family in New York City and Guinea. She quit school to work but still faced daily hatred, cruelty, and bigotry.  Adama was granted asylum in 2007, but she still fights hatred and bigotry to this day. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic addition to middle school biography collections. The cover is not the most appealing (it appears juvenile), but the book itself is eye-opening. I’m glad I gave it a chance. The print is large with lots of white space (again somewhat juvenile in appearance), but the content is engaging and a very quick read. This is a great text to teach perspective and current U.S. history. It is one of several titles currently available in the I, Witness series.

Biography          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD