Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle by Reza Jalali, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Welcome to Ramadan at Shirin’s house: she sky-gazes with her father, listens to stories told by her grandmother, helps her mother sort squares for a new quilt … and, well, tries not to get too annoyed with her older brother Ali. More than anything, Shirin wants to fast with the rest of her family during the holy month. Deemed too young at age 9, she’s encouraged to participate in other ways: “‘remember there’s more to Ramadan than fasting. Why don’t you think of some good deeds to help others in our family?'”
As she learns more about Ramadan each day – about prayers, different traditions and expectations, the moon’s cycles, special foods, and more – Shirin realizes that the one person who might most need her good deeds is actually the one person she least expected. In spite of his know-it-all attitude, her brother is still just a kid, and fasting is not nearly as effortless as he boasts …
Of the many Ramadan-centered books I’ve read this month (and no, I didn’t even post them all!), Moon Watchers is the most reflective of our 21st-century multi-culti American lives. Iranian-born author Reza Jalali seamlessly incorporates the family’s Iranian American heritage throughout his narrative: Shirin’s grandmother’s incantation of “‘Yeki bood, yeki nabood'” as she begins a story, which Shirin translates as “‘Once upon a time …'”; references about Auntie’s headscarves in “her country,” in contrast to “‘not every Muslim woman covers her hair'”; Shirin’s enjoyment of the “crispy rice from the bottom of the pot,” a delicious result of the traditional Persian style of making rice called tadik (my favorite!); the “Ramadan spa”-henna hand painting Shirin shares with her mother as Ramadan ends and Eid begins.
Artist Anne Sibley O’Brien (herself a bicultural, bilingual daughter of medical missionaries raised in Korea) enhances the multi-culti mix on nearly every page, from the children’s jeans to Maman-Bozorg’s headscarf, from the typical kiddie soccer league photo on top of the piano to the intricate prayer rugs, from the curvy glass Persian tea glasses to the bowl of Wheaties-like cereal, and more.
Yes, by book’s end, Shirin’s good deeds miraculously improve her relationship with her brother. Even more important, however, is how author and illustrator’s talented efforts have rendered Shirin’s Ramadan lessons into an undeniably all-American story, as well.