~ A ROUNDUP ~
★ Starred Review – School Library Journal
I’m a big fan of personification in picture books so I was curious how Kazi would bring the moon to life in her new Ramadan story. In her debut, she shows a cheerful crescent moon grinning at a diverse group of Muslims across the planet.
Ready for a month of peace and fasting from sunrise to sundown, people are busy cleaning and preparing. Moon’s view of celebrants takes us first to Egypt, then to Turkey. We learn the early morning meal is called Suhoor. The daylight hours are devoted to good deeds and kindness. When Moon glances down at Indonesia, it’s time to break the fast at Iftar. Here we’re treated to a spread of a dining room table filled with all the delicious foods of the holiday including dates. In the United Kingdom, Moon lights the way for children “delivering baskets of dried fruit and honey-soaked pastries.” Zakat, or charity during Ramadan, is discussed by leaders of the community in New Zealand. One example is by putting coins in sadaqah jars for those in need.
As the days pass, Moon grows fuller. So by the time this story reaches Somalia, it is full, signaling the halfway mark of the holiday. An Iman leads worshippers in the nightly prayer of Taraweeh. One of my favorite spreads, in rich purples and blues, is about breaking bread with people of different faiths. Set in the United States. Moon has reached its last quarter and is shaped like a loaf of bread that has risen. In Dubai Moon gets a glimpse of smiles and hennaed hands. A gorgeous star-lit outdoor scene greets a new Moon in Argentina as she “magically melts into mulberry and lavender hues.” People fill the streets as the month of fasting nears its end. First India for Chaand Raat, the night of the moon, and then for our return back to where everything in Kazi’s picture book began, in Egypt for the joyful Eid al-Fitr festivities. The positive energy of Kazi’swarm art, achieved using scanned watercolor textures and digital pencil, and uplifting prose pulsates from the pages!
The endpapers depict the phases of the moon and back matter includes an Author’ Note, a Ramadan Glossary, illustrations of different foods, and Ramadan items such as the lantern, the sadaqah jar, the traditional skullcap, and more. A rewarding read now and for years to come!
★ Starred Review – Kirkus
Introduce your children to Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that begins with a crescent moon above, by sharing this heart-warming new picture book.
Zain is so excited that Teita has finally arrived from Egypt. Everyone will help her make the delicious dessert called ka’ak that she is known for. She’s brought along special ingredients, too. The mouth-watering cookies take time and patience to make and though Zain is eager to get started, author Khalil takes us back to Egypt via several fabulous flashback spreads to when Zain’s Mama and Teita were younger. That was a time when the whole family would stay up all night to bake the ka’ak and then offer them as gifts to others. Those three pages of recollections convey the significance of this tradition that Zain’s family continues.
Zain brings the cookies to school where they are a hit even with his class’s pickiest eater. This is a super scene because it’s inclusive—there’s a student in a wheelchair, a Black student, a White student, one girl in a headscarf, and one boy wearing a yarmulke. When Zain’s teacher wants the recipe he is filled with pride. Wait until he tells Teita! You can feel the love emanating from the huge hugs and smiles he shares with his teita once home.
The charming illustrations, which include a lively kitty popping up in fun poses and places, have a childlike quality that I find appealing and feels so right for this story. They were created using mixed media including acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, crayon, and pencil on watercolor paper. The saturation of colors such as pink, orange, and teal adds vibrancy to this tale that is already so full of life.
Seeing the scenes when Mama was a child helps reinforce how the memories of time spent together during the holiday are a cherished part of the experience. Young readers are treated to not only the history of ka’ak going back to the pharaohs’ rule but to the fun involved when everyone pitches in now to help prepare them. Khalil’s prose makes us almost taste their sweetness and shows how important it is to honor this joyful tradition. Six pages of back matter end the book with an explanation of Eid, a ka’ak time line, lovely author photos, and a recipe to try your hand a ka’ak making. Don’t miss this timeless intergenerational story!
I loved where this wonderful story went and how the title can be interpreted to refer to more than one blessing that occurs in Zahra’s Blessing. One clue is given in Nirza’s beautiful cover artwork.
The story begins at bedtime with the main character, Zahra, telling her teddy bear that during the Ramadan moon, her mama says “… blessings are all around us during this month.” So Zahra prays for a sister, someone to bake with. I’m adding play with, read to, and love because it’s clear Zahra is a girl full of love.
One blessing during the holiday is to give to others so along with her Mama, Zahra chooses clothing to box up and donate. Afterward, she realizes that she cannot find Teddy, her stuffed animal, despite a thorough search. This loss weighs on her. A sister could help her look for Teddy.
When they bring their items to a refugee shelter, they will also spend time there volunteering. And though Zahra is missing her beloved Teddy, her mother explains the shelter residents have lost so much more since fleeing their homelands. That helps Zahra understand their difficult circumstances. Mama introduces Zahra to “someone special,” a young refugee named Haleema who is painting. This a second clue kids might not pick up on. They may also not get that Haleema refers to her parents in the past tense. Her Baba was an artist she tells Zahra. Her mama was an architect. Here I must note I did wonder if kids will infer Haleema’s parents had died. What is clear is that Zahra and Haleema bond over painting, reading stories, and then breaking the fast together. Soon it was time to go home and I was moved when Zahra longs to find Teddy so she can give him to Haleema who was sad to see her new friend go. Moments like this demonstrate Zahra’s maturity and humanity.
Over Ramadan, Zahra and Haleema spend more time together, growing closer every day. Just before “Eid Day dawned dazzling bright” Zahra’s parents share a delightful secret with her which readers ultimately learn a few spreads later. Zahra’s wish for a sister has come true in the most wonderful way so when Eid festivities end, this family of three grows to a family of four with Haleema! There was no denying the blessing of Ramadan that Zahra’s family could feel.
The two pages of back matter explain the holiday, and its customs, and also address displacement, shelters, and foster care. The interconnectedness of Shamsi’s lyrical writing with Mirza’s jewel-toned, ebullient art makes this a standout story for children. Zahra’s Blessing presents a story of empathy, kindness, and the joy of giving in an engaging and accessible way while beautifully blending the richness of Ramadan and Eid.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel