As a specialist in Middle Eastern Studies and a father of two small children, I like to mix books about different religions into our nightly story time. Ramadan is a month of fasting and faith for Muslims around the world, and also a wonderful opportunity to explore religious diversity with young children. Whatever your beliefs, these are great books to read aloud. Their focus on family, food, charity and faith are universal qualities for all to explore.
It’s Ramadan, Curious George, by Hena Khan; illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young. Who can pass up a colorful board book about this famous little monkey? In a work filled with playful rhymes, the iconic characters Curious George and the man with the yellow hat join their friend Kareem in a celebration of Ramadan. Together they bake sweets, prepare gifts for donation, and scan the sky for the crescent moon. George breaks fast after sundown and later joins in the Eid festivities at the end of the month: “Happy Eid! The holiday is here. / The mosque is busy and loud. / Everyone is dressed in their finest. / What a good-looking crowd!”
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story, by Reem Faruqi; illustrated by Lea Lyon. Selected for special mention by both the American Library Association and the Anti-Defamation League, this work relates the story of young Lailah, who recently moved from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia. First-time author Reem Faruqi skillfully blends a story about fasting during Ramadan with the challenges of moving to a new school. Lailah misses her old friends and fears that her new teacher and classmates won’t understand why she is fasting: “What if Mrs. Penworth didn’t know about Ramadan? No one else would be fasting with her.” At lunchtime, Lailah flees the cafeteria to seek refuge in the school library. There, the librarian Mrs. Carman offers a creative solution, encouraging Lailah to write about her feelings. Intricate watercolors accompany this touching story.
Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, by Hena Khan; illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Watch the phases of the moon with 7-year-old Yasmeen. Her family breaks their fast with fresh dates, attends and hosts Ramadan parties, and finally prepares for Eid al-Fitr, the festive holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Yasmeen’s parents remind her to share with others, be grateful for what she has and enjoy the beauty of the world around us. As Eid ends, Yasmeen receives a special gift, something “to help [her] watch for Ramadan to come again next year.” The book’s colorful illustrations are framed by geometric and floral designs, evoking traditional Islamic art and architecture.
Under the Ramadan Moon, by Sylvia Whitman; illustrated by Sue Williams. The title of this short book is also the work’s reoccurring rhyme: “We fast by day / under the moon, / under the moon, / under the Ramadan moon.” Whitman and Williams pair this rhythmic prose with vibrant illustrations. We see family and friends chatting and laughing, people baking sweets and hanging traditional lanterns, and images of charity and prayer. The book sparkles with an air of celebration: “We tell stories / and laugh and play / under the moon. / Then together we pray / under the moon, / under the moon, / under the Ramadan moon.”
The White Nights of Ramadan, by Maha Addasi; illustrated by Ned Gannon. Kids get dressed up and go door-to-door for candy and sweets. This sounds like Halloween, but no, it’s the festival of Girgian! Author Maha Addasi grew up in Kuwait and provides a unique glimpse into a holiday celebrated around the Arabian (Persian) Gulf in the middle of Ramadan. Noor and her two brothers enthusiastically prepare for this festive night, decorating bags with colorful beads and ribbons, and then donning their traditional clothes. As the night progresses, they are also reminded that “the true meaning of Ramadan is spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate.” An author’s note and glossary add to the educational value of this sweet story.
The Best Eid Ever, by Asma Mobin-Uddin; illustrated by Laura Jacobsen. Sometimes the best part of a holiday is spreading joy to others. Although this book is about Eid al-Adha, which occurs two months after Ramadan, the themes addressed here fit well with those seen above. After the Eid prayer, a young Pakistani-American girl Aneesa spots two sisters standing alone in disheveled clothing, shyly watching the festivities around them. The girls are refugees and only recently escaped their war-torn country. Their father has to work, even during this important holiday, and cannot celebrate until later. Aneesa comes up with a plan to help, secretly delivering her own Eid clothes and home-cooked dishes of lamb korma, chicken, rice, and sweets. This moving story shows both sides of charity – giving and receiving. The father initially resists the gifts, not wanting to beg, but acquiesces in the end. His daughter’s response eloquently illustrates the book’s warmth and its message: “‘Papa, there’s more food than we need here,’ she said, small fingers gently touching his cheek. ‘Why don’t we share it with the neighbors?’”
Tuve Floden is a freelance writer and scholar specializing in Islam, the Middle East, and expatriate life abroad. After growing up in the U.S., he has lived in Algeria, Benin, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia and the U.K. For more, see tuvefloden.com.