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Monday, June 05, 2006

Get a kid’s-eye view of being Muslim

REBECCA YOUNG; The News Tribune Published: May 30th, 2006 01:00 AM

Because of Islamic extremists, Muslim families living in the United
States are the victims of stereotypes and misconceptions, especially
harsh since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Maybe two new books can help head off that sort of ugliness among

One is nonfiction, the other, fiction. One tells the story of a
virtually all-American little boy, the other is about a girl newly arrived
here. Neither names the family’s country of origin. Both depict charming
children with interesting cultural and faith-based traditions.

In the end, in both books, the same good message emerges: Children
are children.

“Salaam: A Muslim American Boy’s Story”

by Tricia Brown is illustrated with black-and-white photographs by
Ken Cardwell. Children often prefer color, but these are well-composed
and fun to look at.
Imran is an adorable 7-year-old who likes to do the same things as
other boys his age. He plays in the park, eats peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches, takes karate lessons and dreams about being a rock star when
he grows up. He and his best friend, Trevor, like to tell jokes to
their teacher.

But much of the book is devoted to the story of what it means to be a
Muslim in one American family. Brown gives voice to Imran as he
explains his faith to Trevor. The writing is clear, interesting and accessible
to children, many of whom will recognize common elements in their own

An example: “Trevor asked me if we believe in God. I told him we
believe everybody has the same God. We call him Allah, and the Qur’an is
our holy book.
“We believe the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad, our most important
prophet, 1,400 years ago. Some of the other prophets we believe in are
Jesus, Abraham, Moses and David.”

The book deals briefly with the prejudice issue. Imran’s mother
wasn’t born a Muslim and, at first, faced resistance from her family when
she married his father. Brown also describes a hateful phone call the
family received.

On a page sharing Imran’s father’s thoughts, the book alludes to the
biggest misunderstanding about Muslims – that they are a violent
people. “Islam teaches us to love and respect everyone. We are not supposed
to fight or argue. We are not supposed to be mean to anyone.”

• The fictional offering, “One Green Apple” by Eve Bunting, is a
more tightly focused story.

On Farah’s second day at her new school in her new country, her class
goes to an apple orchard. Bunting immediately pulls the reader into the
observant little girl’s head. We learn quickly that she doesn’t speak
English. She knows none of her classmates. Some look at her coldly as
they settle into the hay wagon.

Farah’s jeans and T-shirt look like theirs, but no other girl wears a
head covering.
We can see, feel – and nearly hear and taste – every detail of the
day in the orchard through Farah’s first-person narration and Ted Lewin’s
beautiful watercolors. Some things remind her of home: the crunch of
dogs eating, a crooked wood house. Other things are so different. Boys
and girls would never sit together in a wagon.

The children each pick an apple to run through a cider press. All
except Farah grab shiny red fruit. She chooses a small, green apple that
was on a branch by itself. Her teacher is confused. But Farah tosses the
apple in the press and joins her classmates in the hard work of pushing
the handle. Later, when she sips the cider, she thinks she can taste
her special apple.

It’s a lovely metaphor. By the end of the day Farah has made two
friends, Anna and Jim, and has said her first word out loud – “App-ell.” We
can see that soon she will blend with her class, yet keep her own
distinct flavor. One Green Apple By Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Ted Lewin
Clarion Books, 32 pages, $16; ages 5-10

Salaam: A Muslim American Boy’s Story
By Tricia Brown
Photographed by Ken Cardwell
Henry Holt, 36 pages, $17.95; ages 5-10


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