This book is about a multi-generational Muslim family of Indian descent living in the U.S. It deals with the protagonist's struggle to find confidence about her own identity--does she want to make the effort to fast during Ramadan? Will wearing the hijab make her a target of more teasing to her classmates?
The straightforward vocabulary makes this a pretty accessible book for fifth and sixth graders who may not be the strongest readers, especially those who have trouble comprehending symbolism--it's very direct. The story doesn't work well as a novel study because the answers to questions it poses are all told instead of shown. "How does Aliya change from the beginning of the book to the end?" That's answered in the cover letter of her final Sunday School report. "How might Aliya be more confident about the way her family's cultural traditions are different from most of her peers at school?" That's displayed in the form of a frustratingly almost perfect Muslim character who moves to town, is completely confident, and has no faults. "What do you think the author's most important message in this story is?" That's presented for you before the first chapter, and re-visited at the end, in case you missed the symbolism that nurturing a seed is similar to thinking carefully about your choices as you decide what kind of person you want to be. There are several incidents of ethnic stereotyping in the book, which might prompt powerful discussions, but there is no subtlety to the message. This book has potential, but the execution was more frustrating than if it were a complete miss, because it almost works. Best recommended for independent reading.
The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.
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