Archive for June 24, 2016

Child of Spring

Written by Farhana Zia

Bastana is a typical child. The only difference between her and the kids reading about her is, she lives in an Indian busti (small community) during the 1960s. In this, Zia’s second novel, the reader explores the lives of the poor in a culture very different from our own.

Bastana and her mother (Amma) cook and clean for a rich family. Bastana has reached the age where she is jealous of her young mistress’ (Little Bibi) wealth. For a time, she even feels justified not returning a lost-then-found ring. Meanwhile, Bastana is dealing with the troubles of her best friend, Lali, and of another friend, who among the poorest in the basti. Bastana is also confronted daily by two very mischievous boys. In addition, she wants to see an older girl pick the right life mate. Through it all, Bastana grows and learns the ways of the world. There is some hope for the characters to rise out of poverty. Little Bibi promises to help Bastana learn to read, and she promises to do the same for Lali. And Bastana learns that generosity is a much better approach than selfishness.

As with Zia’s previous novel, the reader learns a lot about the culture in which the story is set. Indian terms are sprinkled liberally throughout the text, enhancing the feel of being right in Bastana’s world and expanding literacy skills. This would be an excellent book to include in studies of India or Hinduism.

Buy on Amazon

  • Child of SpringTitle: Child of Spring
  • Author: Farhana Zia
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 176 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Culture, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-904-9
  • Extras: Extensive glossary of Indian terms

The Mage of Trelian

Written by Michelle Knudsen

The third book in the Mage trilogy is fun, exciting, and a quick read. Highly recommended for summer reading.

The story opens on Calen, an apprentice mage or wizard, who has been coerced into living and working with the evil Mage Krelig. Krelig has foreseen that Calen will be more powerful than he realizes and will make a valuable tool. Calen’s goal, other than survival, is returning to his former home and friends in Trelian. Krelig is insane and unpredictable, punishing those around him harshly and for seemingly minor infractions.

Chapters featuring Calen are alternated with those featuring Princess Meg, otherwise known as the Dragon Princess. She is the princess-heir of Trelian and has been linked telepathically with a dragon, Jakl. The citizens of Trelian no longer fear Jakl, but have only just begun to discover his usefulness. Together with Calen’s former master and with Calen himself, Meg devises a plan to release Calen from Krelig’s clutches while also fighting a rival kingdom.

Naturally, everything works out in the end, but the path is often unexpected and painful.

Readers can learn a lot about the value of cooperation and the ways that friendship evolves over time and distance. Because the world of Trelian is skillfully constructed, readers can also practice literacy skills without distraction. And they may also want to learn more about medieval times or attempt to create their own worlds as extra reading activities.

Buy on Amazon

  • Mage of TrelianTitle: The Mage of Trelian
  • Author: Michelle Knudsen
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7436-6



The Garden of My Imaan

Written by Farhana Zia

Fitting in is always a struggle in school, but even more so in our American melting pot. As each new generation of immigrants moves into the mainstream, we all must learn to accept one another by seeing how alike we are in reality. Nothing is as successful at that as a middle school story with class elections, clicks, and recess taunts.

Aliya is a fifth grade Muslim girl struggling to find enough courage to talk to the boy she likes. At the same time, she struggles with how much of her Muslim identity she wants to portray at school. But combining the assignments given by her classroom teacher and her Sunday school teacher with the help of parents and grandmother, she comes out of her shell and begins to shine.

One of her projects is writing letters to Allah, in much the same tradition as Margaret wrote letters to God decades ago. It is a technique allowing the author to show the inner thoughts of the main character, as well as giving the reader a chance to notice inner growth over time. Writing unsent letters is much the same as writing a diary.

To Aliya, the hang-up for her classmates seems to be the hijab, the traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women to show modesty. But when a new student, Marwa moves in and wears her hijab proudly instead of with shame, other students respect her. As she says, “what is in my head is more important that what is on top of it.” The introduction of Marwa is a bit contrived and seems “too” coincidental to a writer, but will seem just perfect to a fourth or fifth grade reader.

This book can help overcome misunderstandings between people unfamiliar with the Muslim faith.  Students outside the Muslim faith might begin to understand how much they have in common with their new friends. Students inside the Muslim faith will find comfort in this story, as they see they are not alone.

The inclusion of a Korean friend, Winnie, who is also from a part Jewish family, adds distinction and color to the fabric of the story. When their school project takes on the backgrounds, cultures, and religions of all the students, the stigma is removed from any one students.

Librarians, teachers and parents would do well to include this contemporary story of growing up in an American school in their collections. Especially now, when so many people have become afraid of a whole group of people, that clearly has as many good and bad apples as any other ethnic or religious group.  Core Curriculum standards in literature and geography can be met using this book. It would also make an excellent book club choice for grades 4, 5 or 6 for opening discussions about today’s world.

Buy on Amazon

  • Garden of My ImaamTitle: The Garden of My Imaan
  • Author: Farhana Zia
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback/230
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-921-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary of Muslim terms, Glossary of Urdu terms