We didn’t watch much TV when I was a little girl in the far north of New Zealand in the late 80′s, but I was always happy when I caught an episode of the 1960′s Batman TV series with Adam west. I’ve loved Batman ever since (in a little-boy’s-favorite-superhero kind of way) and even have a keychain of the Adam West Batman and Burt Ward Robin hanging on my handbag.
As much as I would like to share my childhood memories with my children, times have changed and Batman isn’t exactly the sort of influence I’m comfortable exposing them to, at least not at 4 and 6. Still, I’d love them to experience the superhero concept, and if the concept can be somehow Islamicly inspired, even better!
Enter Jannah Jewels
A few months ago I came across Jannah Jewels, a series of books aimed at young chapter book readers. It’s a decent length (71 pages) and ideal for about 8-12 year olds in content, length and difficulty level. The cover is adorned with a gorgeous colorful cartoon of the 4 main characters (the Jannah Jewels) and inside you’ll find a page with a breakdown of each characters strength, gadget, role, superpower, fear etc.
Books like this with an Islamic leaning, are virtually non existent. Books like this with an Islamic leaning aimed at empowering Muslim girls, non existent.
I was so excited to get my hands on this book and when Umm Nura, the Author, offered me a copy of Book 1: The Treasure of Timbuktu for review, I couldn’t wait! I admit though, my expectations were low, I haven’t been all that impressed with the Islamic childrens literature I’ve come across over the last 6 years since my daughter was born. So I was excited, but pessimistic.
When we got it in the mail I read half the book immediately, I wanted to read it before I gave it to my then 5 year old (who reads well above age level). As I read, I was waiting for the moment where it all fell apart, so far, so good.
Holy Girl Power Batman!
The story follows a group of four friends, young Muslim Canadian girls who each have a superpower (Archery, Speed, Animal Communication & Breathing underwater) like conventional superheroes but who are also just normal girls who live normal lives and have no idea of their destiny. Perfect for a young Muslim girl to lose herself in, imagining herself as a powerful young Muslima like the Jannah Jewels. They are given the task of collecting artifacts from throughout Islamic history (yes, time travel!), this is one of my favorite things about these books (we’ve read the first of 3 and can’t wait for the others to be released so we can review those too!), Umm Nura has used accurate historical information from throughout Islamic history, so not only is the reader following these powerful young Muslimas around the world via time travel, but they are learning facts about Islamic history at the same time!
The books are written to draw attention to centuries of cultural, scientific and ground-breaking achievements from the Islamic heritage.
I can’t continue without saying it one more time: Powerful Young Muslim Girls! No damsels in distress, no dominating male protagonist, no cliché girly nonsense. One skateboards, one is a gifted Archer, one is a budding scholar, each of them has a sport they excel at. Even the wise elder who is assigning the Jannah Jewels their task, is a woman! And they all wear (varying interpretations of) hijab too! This is exactly what our girls need to grow up reading.
The 6 year olds verdict
Madam (as she’s publicly known) has great trouble getting to sleep at night, she’s one of those people whose minds just don’t rest, mashaAllah, while this carries many advantages, it has made her (and my) sleeping career somewhat frought. In the last few months, she’s found that reading by night light helps her settle down, and while I initially resisted (because she’s still awake!) I decided it was a compromise and at least she’s quiet and doing something beneficial.
In the last month or so, Jannah Jewels has been her nightly read (and this was by her own choice, it’s been waiting for her on the shelf for many weeks). At first I wasn’t sure how much reading she was doing and whether she was just reading bits and pieces to pass time. That’s until she started asking me what certain things mean (eg. robes and manuscripts) and talking about the characters by name, even incorporating them into her play. She now knows the names of all the Jannah Jewels and several of the other characters. She has a bookmark so she can read from where she stopped the night before, and every day we discuss her favorite things about the Jannah Jewels.
Today I told her that some of the things that happen in Jannah Jewels, actually happened a long time ago in History, she was so excited to hear that and exclaimed that she was learning while reading the Jannah Jewels!
She will delightedly tell you her favorite character is Hidayah (the leader of the Jannah Jewels) because her super power is ‘Intense sight and Spiritual insight’, which I think is very fitting for a young girl known globally (as Little Miss Sunshine) for her insight.
Suffice to say, thumbs up from Madam and two thumbs up from me.