As a child, I remember the excitement of borrowing a book from the library that had a Muslim/Indian character in it. It felt awesome to be able to identify with the character but unfortunately those books were very few in number. Fast forward to a generation later and the amount of diverse books that’s available on the market is amazing! With Ramadaan literally around the corner, and excited mothers sharing their Ramadaan reads for their little ones, its easy to forget about the older ones.
Here are some suggestions from my 9-year-old’s bookshelf. Depending on your child’s reading ability, I would think the following would be suitable for kids aged 8-12 years.
Zayd’s Curious Little Stories by Aneesa Omar (Maqbool Books, Pakistan)
This is a boxed collection of 10 books which I initially thought was for very young children. However, after my son Zayd read it (and yes, I must admit I was only drawn to this collection because of the protagonist’s name), I realised the content was for an older age group. Zayd is a curious boy and these 10 stories find him experiencing different scenarios in his life where he learns more about something new. The Islamic way of life is gently weaved through the narrative and children learn more about a particular subject along with Zayd, as in keeping with his curious nature, when he asks questions. This does not come across as overly preachy. Grandpa Passes Away was an extremely emotional read yet it explained to children the reality of death. My son also loved reading Zayd Studies the Stars since he thoroughly enjoyed his own camping experience and could identify with the character while learning more about the verses in the Quran that talk about the stars. I was thrilled to learn that the author is a fellow South African.
The Ibrahim Khan Series by Farheen Khan (The Islamic Foundation, UK)
The two titles that we own are Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Roaring Lion and Ibrahim Khan and the Mystery of the Haunted Lake. These short chapter books see the protagonist Ibrahim Khan, a third-grader, and his cousin Zayn, solve mysteries in the town of Greenwood. They are fast-paced reads.
Blackout! By Sumayyah Hussein (Ruqaya’s Bookshelf, Canada)
This chapter book deals with a very serious and real situation. Ahmed is a Syrian refugee who has lost his father and is now moving to Toronto to stay with his 12-year-old cousin Yusuf. Yusuf is excited for Ahmed’s arrival and prepares in advance to welcome him and to teach him about life in Canada, but does not count on welcoming him without electricity – which is what happens when an ice storm hits his town and there’s no electricity for three days. Yusuf finds himself also learning about life during the blackout.
My husband and I usually explain to our son the reality of war in other countries (sans the gory details), just to make him aware of what is happening and to appreciate what he has. However, this book was able to do that since it was very well-written and engaging, eliciting empathy from the reader.
The Muslims by Zanib Mian (Sweet Apple Publishers, UK)
This hilarious laugh-out-loud book is written in a graphic novel format (a book that mixes text with illustrations) and was read in one sitting by my son in about an hour and then reread a few times since! Omar is 9 years old and finding himself having to undergo certain changes in his life when he joins a new school. His parents are scientists and he has a know-it-all elder sister Maryam and a younger brother Isa, whom he adores but won’t admit it. Part of the story is set in Ramadaan, which also makes it a perfect book for this list. The family comes across as an extremely likeable and authentic Muslim family and the book is very well-written and humorous (even for adults!).
The Great Race to Sycamore Street by J. Samia Mair (Kube Publishing, UK)
This 180-page chapter book sees siblings Hude and Amani visit their grandmother in the town of Cherry Hill for the Summer. Being in the countryside, Hude assumes it’s going to be boring while Amani thinks it will be relaxing. The siblings find themselves dealing with a not-so-happy neighbour, bullying and even annoying bugs! This book is quite fast-paced and readers also learn more about archery, a Sunnah sport.
The House of Ibn Kathir: The Competition Begins by S. N. Jalali (Blackstone House, UK)
The format of this 250-page novel can be loosely compared to boarding school stories like Harry Potter and even Malory Towers with the children separated according to their year groups and in different houses, each with a housemaster. The Dar al Ilm Academy is a hifdh boarding school for boys and Yusif, an 11-year-old, is leaving his parents for the first time to attend the school, in the coastal town of Hastings. I loved that this is an Islamic boarding school novel, especially since the houses are named after famous Islamic scholars (Ibn Kathir, Abu Hanifa, Ibn Majah and Ibn Ajeroom), and children can be exposed to these scholars in a fun way. Yusif meets Reda, Daud and Warsoma and so begins their adventures in Quran memorisation in the picturesque and prestigious school. I purchased this book when Zayd was 8 and definitely too young to attempt it, since it is 250 pages (it does include some illustrations) and the recommended reading age is over 10 years. However, after turning 9, he began reading it (a chapter at a time while reading other books), until halfway through the novel where he really got into it and began thoroughly enjoying the idiosyncratic characters.