All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney
I have read a few excellent YA novels with Muslim protagonists. These novels have offered many valuable perspectives on both positive and negative aspects in the lives of young Muslims. Like them, this book also deals with the protagonist’s Muslim community and family, secular society, negative stereotypes, hostile strangers, perspectives on dating, school, etc. Like real, live, Muslim people – of course – Muslim protagonists’ attitudes, ideas and beliefs vary. This is, however, the first protagonist who begins the story with very little understanding of actual Islamic teaching.
Allie Abraham’s father was raised Muslim, his first languages were Circassian and Arabic. His mother doesn’t speak English. He wanted his daughter’s childhood to be different from that. He refused to teach her Arabic, they don’t pray daily – or ever, really - they celebrate Christmas but don’t fast at Ramadan, etc. Allie’s mother is blonde and American, and, although she converted, she and Allie – red-haired – aren’t recognized as Muslim, unless they tell people, which Allie never has. Her family moved around a lot while her dad sought tenure through various short term positions. Now, that he has a stable career, Allie's family has settled for the first time. Mirroring this development, Allie is establishing roots in a new way, too. Throughout the course of the book Allie buys her first Quran, her first hijab , makes her first Muslim friends, etc. With them, she studies her Quran, is excited to learn Arabic, and looks forward to a new connection with her grandmother. She asks her friends, “what do we believe?”, because, even though her knowledge of Islamic history is extensive, she has never known what certain Islamic beliefs actually are. As Allie learns, the reader learns. Studying her Quran and praying, offer Allie a new peace and solace. She learns why Muslims fast at Ramadan and then - for the first time - she fasts, too.
Where other books with Muslim protagonists have been more plot driven and focused on exterior challenges, while the faith of the character remains fairly constant, this book focuses on Allie’s spiritual life and how her faith grows, enriching her life and relationships. Although much more is going on, I felt this aspect of the book to be brilliant and extraordinary.
Check out Nadine Jolie Courtney's interview with Kirkus Reviews!
Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr2777857
Itty Bitty Princess Kitty: The Newest Princess by Melody Mews / Illus. by Ellen Stubbings
A colleague recently commented that his daughter loves a popular series for fledgling readers; said series shall remain unnamed to protect the guilty. He and his daughter read the books together, which is lovely. Lovely, except that the plot of every book is exactly the same, which he finds tedious. Enter Itty Bitty Princess Kitty!
In this first book – also targeting fledgling readers – Itty Bitty Kitty learns that she will become a princess. Suddenly, she is entitled to tutors, new dresses, hairdressers and a renovation of her room. These things make her feel sad and uncertain. She wants to keep going to school with her friends; she likes dresses she can run and play in; she likes her hair plain – the way it is, and so on. She feels guilty, and worries she’s letting everyone down. Her parents realize something is bothering her, so they sit her down. Once she tells them how she feels, all is resolved.
Although most little girls aren’t likely to become princesses, they will have to face change, and this book will help them with that. Itty Bitty Princess Kitty (which is just so much fun to say!) is a sweet little character, with a positive relationship with her parents. Supporting characters, her friends, an “announcement fairy”, etc. all have some level of character development, which kids and parents will find fun and funny.
Full disclosure - I am a cat person (in case you didn't know already). Dog people might not find this series so much fun. I particularly loved the scene in the climbing room: Itty Bitty Princess Kitty finds her parents climbing and leaping around in a room covered floor to ceiling with impressive climbing structures. When I was little, I would have loved to imagine such a place. Little girls will also enjoy Itty Bitty Princess Kitty’s adventures. Beyond this, I think the Itty Bitty Princess Kitty series – there are four books scheduled so far - promises adventures dads and daughters can enjoy together, while also opening opportunities for important, positive conversations.