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Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan

Kaadan, Nadine. Tomorrow. Picture Book. Lantana Pub, 09/2018. 32 pp. $17.99. 978-1911373438. (RECOMMENDED). Ages 4-7.

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When I first heard about Tomorrow I was very excited to read it. Not many books written in picture book format bring alive what a child is feeling while their country is at war. The story follows Yazan a young boy from the country of Syria. All Yazan wants to do is to go to the park and play with his friends. Unfortunately, he is no longer allowed outside, not even to go to school. When his family wants to go out his father makes a lot of phone calls first, when Yazan asks why, his father claims “Traffic! We’re trying to avoid the traffic.” Even his mother, who used to paint and let Yazan paint with her no longer does that. She sits in front of the television all day and watches the news very loudly.

Yazan tries to keep himself occupied by making paper airplanes, drawing and building castles out of pillows. But even that is not enough to stop him from wanting to go play outside. When his parents ignore his request to go out, he decides to take matters into his own hands, grabs his shiny red bike and heads out. However, what he finds is nothing is as it once was, the streets are deserted and nothing seems familiar. His father finds him and takes him back home where his mother scolds him and tells him to never do that again. She then brightens his day by telling him they will paint again and brings a park to his bedroom walls.

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Yazan brings the story to life through her illustrations which are dark and gloomy as the book goes on. This is done to depict the mood of Yazan who is desperate to go out and have fun. There are two illustrations in the book that are bright and happy; the first is when Yazan remembers when his mother used to paint, and the second is at the end of the book when his mother picks up her paintbrush again to paint his room.

Kaadan also adds a note at the end of the story, which notes how her own experience seeing the children in her hometown of Damascus, not understand why their lives were changing, only that they were. Tomorrow is a gentle but somber depiction of the current condition of children in Syria. While Kaadan does not bring the war and devastation to the pages, she brings the everyday life of these Syrian children who no longer go to parks, play with friends or go to school. This would be an enlightening story to read with a child in order to begin to explain what is happening in Syria and to teach sympathy and understanding from the eyes of a child. While this story does not depict or mentions Muslims in anyway, after a little digging with the child, they will learn that Syria is a predominantly Muslim country.

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Posted in Reviews

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound. Middle Grade Fiction. Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin , 05/2018. 240 pp. $17.99. 978-0399544682. (RECOMMENDED). Ages 10-12.

I acquired this book during a library conference. When I sat down to read the book, I had no idea what was in store for me. Unlike most people, I rarely read the back/inside cover of a book before starting it. All I knew about the book was that 1) the author was Muslim, 2) the character was a Pakistani Muslim, 3) it was a kid’s book and 4) the cover was GORGEOUS.

Amal Unbound is a middle grade novel which focuses on Amal, the oldest of four girls. She loves school and wants to become a teacher when she grows up. However, with her mother due any day now, Amal is told to stay home to help out. One day, while running errands for her family, she ticks off the village’s wealthiest landlord and finds herself a new servant in his household.

Aisha Saeed, author of ‘Written in the Stars’, weaves a realistic story through the voice of Amal of what could happen to a young girl from a small village in modern day Pakistan. She meets different servants in the household, those she enjoys being around and those looking to make trouble for her. She even teaches one of the younger girls her alphabets. Trouble begins to stir in the household both for Amal and the wealthy landlord. While Amal begins to wonder if her debt will ever be paid off so she can go home she continues to hang on to the hope of one day finding her way out of her situation and finds her escape in studying.

While Saeed does not touch on the Muslim religion at all, she does, however minimally, bring in different aspects of Pakistani culture and how life for girls can be in Pakistan’s smaller villages. The cultural aspect becomes glaringly obvious when Amal’s father tells her that it is her duty as the eldest to stay home from school and help out even though she is only 12 years of age. As the eldest she is often reminded that it is her duty to look after her younger sisters and the needs of the family come before her own. Amal’s village is divided into two classes: high class, which is held by one man who reigns terror over the village and controls the police and lower class, the rest of the village. Saeed also touches on the cultural aspects of traditional clothing and wedding festivities.

I was able to get through the book in a couple of hours. The book itself was a pretty fast-paced read as things pick up the further along you get. This would be would be a great book for realistic readers looking for a hint of mystery and drama while learning some societal and cultural things about the country of Pakistan.