Alya has been sneaking books in everywhere since she was a child—class, parties, work, you name it—so naturally she should find herself with an M.A. in English specializing in Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. When she isn’t busy editing, chasing her son around the house, or experimenting in the kitchen, you can find her nose in a book or her fingers scavenging for a new one. She also miraculously finds time to write once in a while too, and you can find her ramblings at http://marvellist.wordpress.
Twitter Handle: SimplyAlya
We are over halfway through Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and I’m constantly thinking of ways to introduce and incorporate the significance of the month to my little son. Mind you, I’m a very tired, working, new mom with a child who has the ability to become a perpetual motion machine, so I have had very little time to do any of the things I envisioned. Thankfully he’s still so young (barely eleven months!) so I can get away with that for now, and instead rely on the one constant we do have—reading time.
I’m sure you all can relate to the desire to emphasize a love for books and storytelling to your kids. I never expected that he would take to it so strongly so quickly, but I’m not complaining. He loves selecting a book from the ones I scatter in front of him, and settles in my lap dutifully, waiting to turn each page and marvel at the colors. His love for books makes it easy for me to introduce a variety of Ramadan-related books to him, and there is one in particular that has been especially impactful—It’s Ramadan, Curious George, written by Hena Khan.
Every Muslim parent knows about this book, no doubt; it’s no secret that this book has become one of the favorite ways for parents with young children to herald in the month. Is it simply because of George, that curious if slightly troublesome little monkey who has a way of smiling cutely through all his naughty antics? Well yeah, obviously that’s part of it—Curious George has resided in childhood hearts for decades. But after reading this book with my infant son for two weeks now, I think I’ve cracked through the many layers to understand the appeal of this beautiful board book.
As a board book, It’s Ramadan, Curious George is surprisingly nuanced, fostering an enriching experience for all levels of reading. Every page is tabbed, making it easy for my son to grab and turn the pages (something he really loves to do). Each spread covers a new topic, like “A Day of Fasting,” “Waiting for Sunset,” and “Sharing With Others,” making the content easily digestible. When we first began, we would focus on the pictures on each page, and I’d point out what George and his friend Kareem were up to while mentioning the theme of those pages. After a few days, I noticed my son lingering longer on the pages, beginning to point to the different pictures, waiting for me to describe them in more detail. Eventually he started pointing at the words themselves. He was prompting me to begin reading the book! He doesn’t always do that, but he does enjoy the rhythm of the rhymes in each stanza when we do read them.
Many of the Ramadan books I’ve read focus on specific cultures (like The White Nights of Ramadan) or Islamic motifs and art (like Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns), but this book simply highlights the common Ramadan rituals and traditions Muslims practice across the globe. Many of the traditions slip into the book subtly, through a single line of text or a hint in the artwork. Having a date to break one’s fast is a revered tradition, but Kareem and George enjoy a just brief bite of one before turning to the evening prayer. When George collects all the shoes at the mosque in order to donate them during the food drive being held, we have to glean the information ourselves that Muslims take their shoes off to enter the mosque. It’s never verbalized outright, and that’s what makes this so enjoyable. There is so much to intuit, the book is provocative in its simplicity.
The accessibility of the subject matter renders this an ideal book for non-Muslims, too. Through George we are given an outsider’s perspective of Ramadan, but this perspective is respectful and empathetic, not superior or exoticizing. George actively takes part in the bigger events surrounding Ramadan and Eid, the festival that follows; however, he also involves himself in the daily moments, like helping Kareem maintain his fast, and receiving new clothes to wear on Eid. Non-Muslim young readers witness how to be a part of the festivities and traditions, hopefully learning how to engage with Muslim classmates, neighbors, or friends.
All children should read or be read It’s Ramadan, Curious George during Ramadan. It embodies the basic rituals and lessons of the month, and opens the door for plenty of empathy. From there, an ocean of books await to explore, such as Night of the Moon, also written by Hena Khan, Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi, and Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood. For now, I will continue to regale my son with George’s exploits in Ramadan, and watch as he starts to familiarize it with what he sees at home. Including lots of dates.