Reviewed by Brad Manker
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Book Author: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Young Abdul loves storytelling, and his tales are inspired by the people who live in his neighborhood. But when it comes to writing those stories, Abdul feels his handwriting is messy and he has difficulty forming letters and spelling words. He questions the value of such stories because the people he knows do not appear in books he reads at school. One day an author, Mr. Muhammad, visits his classroom. Mr. Muhammad looks like him and even wears the same type of shoes! Abdul sees himself represented in the stories Mr. Muhammad shares with the class. When Abdul hides out of embarrassment over his smudged, torn paper, Mr. Muhammad shows him his own messy notebook, inspiring Abdul to draft a story regardless of any mistakes. Mr. Muhammad returns to the class a few days later and selects Abdul’s story to read aloud, earning the boy a round of applause. After doubting himself for so long, Abdul finally identifies himself as a writer.
Abdul’s struggles are familiar to children who have difficulty writing or who are navigating learning disabilities. They are familiar to me. Throughout my elementary school years, my self doubt and fear that my teachers and peers would expect perfection led to “writer’s block.” I failed to find joy in the process of writing!
Mr. Muhammad had “lines straighter than straight around his beard and hairline,” and “his sneakers, like Abdul’s, had not a single crease or scuff,” but his notebook was a jumble of notes, giving Abdul hope that he, too, can “find a great story in [his messy scribbles]”. A younger me would have benefited from Mr. Muhammad’s message.
In addition to being a supportive adult accepting of all abilities, Mr. Muhammad advises children to “create [their] own superheroes” when the characters in books they read do not reflect themselves or their lived experiences. Truly, Mr. Muhammad (a successful Black writer), Abdul, his classmates Kwame and Jayda, and even their neighbors, represent exactly what Mr. Muhammad described — people living in a vibrant community who are not often represented in children’s books. Just as Abdul was urged to create a story to represent his reality, the author Jamilah Thompson-Bigelow and illustrator Tiffany Rose have produced a story that is both inspirational and representational.
Author Jamilah Thompson-Bigelow — an English teacher, fellow with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), and Black author — has made an impact on multicultural literature by crafting stories centering Muslim protagonists. Like Abdul, illustrator Tiffany Rose is left-handed. Her drawings feature a diverse class of students, including Jayda, a girl with a head scarf. Some Muslim men are shown in prayer, while a girl of color is shown getting her hair braided by an older woman. Her vibrant illustrations bring Thompson-Bigelow’s colorful characters to life and show Muslim people doing everyday things.
Brad Manker serves as a fellow with Teaching for Change. He is an educator, curriculum designer, and independent researcher with a background in elementary education.
Abdul's Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Published by Simon and Schuster on March 29, 2022
Genres: Education, Muslim
Reading Level: Grade K, Grades 1-2
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Also by this author: Mommy's Khimar
Publisher's Synopsis: A 2022 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids!
A little boy who loves storytelling but struggles with writing learns that it’s okay to make mistakes in this charming and encouraging picture book from the author of Mommy’s Khimar.
Abdul loves to tell stories. But writing them down is hard. His letters refuse to stay straight and face the right way. And despite all his attempts, his papers often wind up with more eraser smudges than actual words. Abdul decides his stories just aren’t meant to be written down…until a special visitor comes to class and shows Abdul that even the best writers — and superheroes — make mistakes.
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