As summer winds to a close, school is once again on the horizon. Parents can make the most of these last weeks of time at home by exposing their children to beautiful, inspiring literature that they may not come across in the classroom.
The problem with many children’s books today, however, is that they are often made to entertain rather than educate and may promote values that are at odds with Islamic morals. To address this issue, the language arts teachers at ILM Tree Homeschool Cooperative in Lafayette, California, have offered us a reading list of classical and contemporary children’s books that both delight and enlighten. Their message and book recommendations are below:
After years of reading children’s literature, the teachers at ILM Tree have assembled this list of recommended reading by grade, up to the end of junior high. Books were chosen primarily based on the values taught and the quality of the writing, but an effort was also made to ensure the ethnic diversity of the characters. Please note that, although these are books we love, we cannot expect a complete reflection of our worldview in books written by people of other faiths, so discussion is always recommended. Please make du’a for the children of the ummah struggling to hold onto their deen and for the compilers of this list. Jazak Allau khairan.
Age 0 – Kindergarten:
1. The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown: Available as a picture book or a board book, the simple but poetic prose helps children connect to nature while lulling them to sleep.
2. The Hundredth Name by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim: This beautifully illustrated tale features a boy who turns to Allah in prayer out of care and concern for his camel.
3. Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell: A touching story that teaches about perseverance, patience and putting others before oneself.
4. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams: A heartwarming story that teaches about a community coming together to help a neighbor in need; the protagonist is a little girl who looks out for her mother’s comfort.
5. Erandi’s Braids by Tomie dePaola: A valuable lesson about sacrifice and putting one’s own needs aside in order to help one’s mother
First Grade – Third Grade:
1. A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting: A heartwarming story about the importance of telling the truth and the value of honest labor.
2. Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik: Sweet stories about family life; the protagonist has exquisite adab (manners) when addressing his parents.
3. A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban: Teaches about fair play and not letting oneself be taken advantage of.
4. Sara Crewe by Frances Hodgson Burnett: In this book, readers will meet one of the most admirable characters in literature, who teaches us by example that one’s circumstances aren’t what make you a noble person; it’s how you respond to adversities in life that show us what you’re really made of.
5. The Stray by Dick King-Smith: A rare find: a story full of love and compassion for our elders.
6. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich: Readers develop an understanding of Native American ways and compassion for the main character, a young girl who loses her little brother to smallpox.
Fourth Grade – Sixth Grade:
1. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park: A tale of patience, perseverance and selflessness set in 12th-century Korea.
2. When Wings Expand by Mehded Maryam Sinclair: A beautiful example of how a pious Muslim family copes with the loss of a loved one.
3. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder: There’s so much to learn in this classic tale of a pioneer family’s hard work, courage and compassion – but make sure also to explain that Native Americans would have a very different understanding of this history.
4. Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg: Simple poetic verse conveys the story of a young Haitian girl who, in the face of poverty and disaster, loves her family, learns from her mistakes and holds high aspirations to serve her community.
5. Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry: It is refreshing to see a young man shoulder the responsibility of running a ranch with a developing sense of taqwa (God-consciousness); an interesting discussion about perspective can be held because the family is both Catholic and Quaker, and the father is an American soldier serving in Iraq (for an older classic with a similar storyline, try Little Britches by Ralph Moody).
Seventh Grade – Eighth Grade:
1. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham: Readers learn about the American Revolution as they follow this true story of a young man whose life is an amazing example of perseverance and compassion.
2. Silver People by Margarita Engle: Evocative and emotional verse captures the voices and experiences of those affected by the building of the Panama Canal, including the segregated labor force, their overseers, the indigenous population, and even the plants and animals.
3. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor: Some great lessons about what effect your friendships have on your outcome in life; this Newbery Medal winner’s story is set in the South during the Great Depression and is told from the point-of-view of a nine-year-old African-American girl who is learning about racism for the first time in her life.
4. Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix: A heroic tale of friendship and courage which teaches about the history of immigration, labor practices, and the suffragette movement in the United States.
5. Zeitoun by David Eggers: An eye-opening true account of a Muslim man who, after New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina, tried to save others’ lives and property until he was picked up by the police.
6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Valuable lessons about polite manners, generosity towards others and respect towards elders. The second half of this book has some of the most beneficial marital advice a young woman could ever hope to read.