A couple of months ago, I was asked to review a new children’s book series that took place at the masjid. So I checked out their website to make sure that I could review the books with justice. You see, a good number of books I’ve encountered at Muslim bookstores have issues to say the least. From typos to questionable interpretations to being limited to one cultural representation per book, a book review could turn out to be ranting and raving of my pet peeves, and I so do not want to do that. So my policy is if I think a book just isn’t any good, I just refuse to review it.
So when I first stumbled upon the Compass Books page, I was delighted to see a multicultural and colorful representation of folks at the masjid. My eye was caught by a beautiful brown-skinned woman in hijab wearing a baby in a sling with a little boy right next to her. She was to represent the color yellow. I seldom saw anyone who looked more or less like me–baby sling and all–in a Muslim children’s book. So I agreed to write this review.
When I first received the package from Canada, I was a bit surprised. The books were smaller than I thought…tiny, very much pocket books. And as I flipped through, I wondered to myself, “Where is the narrative?” For the most part, the series has one word/idea/concept per page. I was preconditioned to think that I was going to be reading a story that merely featured numbers, colors, opposites, and shapes at the masjid. I wasn’t ready for this–I’m used to reviewing books that have at least 500 words per page, academic that I am. So I put the books down and let my two-year-old daughter, Noora, decide.
I couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t put the books down. Everywhere I looked, the books followed me to be read aloud. She kept having me read the one word-idea-concept pages over and over. I’d yawn, but I’d comply. It was a little scary…and a little boring at first. But hey, the books weren’t to teach me concepts–they were to teach Noora concepts. So I got the idea to test out if these books were truly educational. Noora knew some of the words already, but not all. I got my answer when I questioned Noora about concepts on various pages…”what shape is this?”…”where is this person?” The AHA! moment clicked for me when Noora described the old/young page in the Opposites at the Masjid book. She said the old man was Papa. She knew the difference between old and young and applied the illustrations to her real-life great-grandpa. Wow, mashAllah.
On a more practical note, complete with a board book case, the At the Masjid Learning Series books are great for traveling and putting in the diaper bag. Pocket-sized, they are great for small hands. Authored by Katherine Bullock and illustrated by Heather Greenwood, the series includes Numbers at the Masjid, Colours at the Masjid, Opposites at the Masjid, and Shapes at the Masjid and I highly recommend them for preschool age children. I don’t think any child is too young to discover the concepts presented in these books. Everyday, general concepts have been given a creative Islamic setting–the series is a winner by all accounts. And I must say I especially love the slogan/motto of Compass Books: “Guiding Readers Through the World of Books.”
I’m not sure if Noora has a favorite of the whole series, but I know that the series has definitely grown on me. I look forward to being hunted down, and for Noora to “read” the “stories” aloud to me. I never was a fan of minimalism, but I now understand the concept of “keep it simple sweet” that my mother always chimes. And with only one word-idea-concept per page, the At the Masjid Learning Series gives Noora and other imaginative children like her the chance to invent their own stories per page. And what’s more, there are also free coloring pages from the books available now for your little one to color any way he/she sees fit! :D And I must say that truly, I don’t feel that it’s me who is the reviewer of these books–it is only through Noora’s eyes that I was able to see the treasure this series offers us beyond the multicultural and colorful illustrations that first caught my eye.