A young boy wrestles with his Muslim identify in this picture book for children written by Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin, with illustrations by Barbara Kiwak.
When Bilal and his sister Ayesha move with their family, they have to attend a new school. They soon find out that they may be the only Muslim students there. When Bilal sees his sister bullied on their first day, he worries about being teased himself, and thinks it might be best if his classmates didn't know that he is Muslim. Maybe if he tells kids his name is Bill, rather than Bilal, then they would leave him alone. Mr. Ali, one of Bilal's teachers and also Muslim, sees how Bilal is struggling. He gives Bilal a book about the first person to give the call to prayer during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. That person was another Bilal: Bilal Ibn Rabah. What Bilal learns from the book forms the compelling story of a young boy grappling with his identity.
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.
After some classmates make fun of Bilal's sister at their new school a Muslim teacher helps him gain the courage to accept and acknowledge his faith. Although the book is purpose-driven, the its message of self-confidence is not forced. The realistic watercolors are accomplished. An author's note explains the Muslim call to prayer.
In this message-driven episode, a Muslim child tries to hide his identity after seeing his big sister harassed on their first day in a new school, but regains his footing thanks to help from a Muslim teacher and a book. At first, Bilal introduces himself to his class as "Bill," but after reading about early Muslim hero Bilal Ibn Rabah, he gains the confidence to face his sister's bully down, and even to invite him into a basketball game after school. Drab illustrations and book design reinforce the overt purpose here, but as Bilal isn't just a two-dimensional figure, and the setting is far less scary than that in Hristo Kyuchukov's My Name Was Hussein, illus by Allan Eitzen (2004), this may be useful in sparking discussions with younger audiences about prejudice. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-9)
The classrooms and playgrounds of Average Town, U.S.A., are the backdrop for this picture book about religious prejudice and tolerance. When Bilal and his sister Ayesha arrive at a new school, Bilal is sure that he and Ayesha are the only Muslim kids around, and some of the boys have already bullied Ayesha because of her traditional dress. Bilal wants so badly not to stand out in his new environment, that he initially introduces himself as "Bill." Lucky for him, his teacher is also Muslim (and a family friend) and provides some support-along with an interesting book about a famous Muslim hero whose name was also Bilal. Soon Bilal reconnects with his pride in his religious identity and also makes new friends. Mobin-Uddin, making her picture-book debut, tackles a timely topic and raises some true-to-life situations, but Bilal's struggle is all-too-neatly and quickly resolved. Still, the book does a good job of presenting encouraging, positive images that contemporary Muslims in particular can embrace. Kiwak, also a newcomer to children's books, uses an earthy watercolor palette for a series of moving portraits. Ages 6-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Gr 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 2005 Reed Business Information.