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My Name is Bilal Hardcover – August 1, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Grade 3-6–A well-done treatment of a subject not often seen in children's picture books. Bilal transfers to a school where he and his sister are the only Muslim children. After an incident in which a boy pulls off Ayesha's headscarf, Bilal decides to hide the fact that he is Muslim until an understanding teacher, who is also Muslim, gives him a biography of Bilal ibn Rabah, a black slave who became the very first muezzin because of his steadfastness in the face of religious persecution. Attractive watercolor illustrations emphasize the parallels between the persecution faced by Bilal ibn Rabah and that faced by the American boy. This is an important book for most libraries as it will enhance discussions of cultural diversity and understanding.–Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 4-7. Bilal and his sister, Ayesha, who are Muslim, start school in a new city. At first Bilal tries to blend into the largely non-Muslim environment, calling himself Bill and ducking out of sight when two boys try to pull off Ayesha's head scarf. Encouraged by a sympathetic teacher and his own faith, Bilal finds the courage to stand up with his sister the next time the boys tease her. Bilal and Ayesha point out to their adversaries that they too were born in America and that being American means that they can wear what they want. By standing up for his sister, Bilal earns the boys' respect and takes the first step toward a possible friendship. The story is told in picture-book format, though the text is longer than that of most picture books. In the illustrations, the students appear to be in middle school, but the book is accessible to younger children as well. Appearing on nearly every double-page spread, large-scale watercolor paintings clearly portray the actions and attitudes of the characters. A good starting place for discussions of cultural differences, prejudice, and respect for the beliefs of others. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Except this one is about being Muslim, and written by a Muslim, a woman yet. I suppose this gives the story authenticity. It's still as hollow as a ping-pong ball.
Of course it is a bad thing to pick on people for their ethnic and/or religious background. I agree completely with the implied message. But this book won't help. "Standing up for oneself" is not a believable answer. In my considerable experience both as a former child and now a professional in children's services, I can say that impulsive "standing up for yourself" usually only makes the situation worse.
On top of which the author totally stacks the deck in favor of the protaganist. His teacher turns out to be Muslim. And his teacher is not only Muslim, but a very nice person. And this very nice coincidentally Muslim teacher just happens to have a book about the hero our protaganist is named after. And there's another Muslim boy (or two) in the school in need of somebody with whom to pray.
This has all the force and depth of those old books where the one who doesn't make the glee club is delighted to be able to pass out programs at the concert. It's contrived, unrealistic, and likely to give either false hope or a feeling of hopelessness to any child in the situation.
I can't understand why the professional reviewers listed didn't say, "We've seen this plot, and it didn't work last time, either."
The few things this book has in its favor are that at least it __is__ a book about Muslims for kids --there are not very many--the illustrations are pretty, and although the plot is a waste the structure of the writing itself is clear and soothing.