First things first. In Moon Watchers, Reza Jalali tells the story of a Muslim family’s observance of Ramadan. I’m not Muslim, of course. So why am I reviewing a book about a Muslim family?
I’m reviewing Moon Watchers because it is a story about a little girl celebrating a central part of her faith. Sort of like Catherine’s Pascha.
Books like Catherine’s Pascha and Moon Watchers are important. They are important because they allow Orthodox Christian children and Muslim children to experience the joy of seeing their own faith and traditions on the pages of a book. And they’re also important because they allow children who are not Orthodox Christian and who are not Muslim to experience the joy of seeing someone else’s celebrations.
Moon Watchers is a particularly lovely book for an Orthodox Christian child to read during Lent. Our children sometimes think that they are the only children in the world who have a season where they spend more time in prayer and fasting and good works. And reading about another family, of another faith, who also have a season of prayer and fasting and good works, can help them find joy in their own observance of Lent.
And beyond that, the story includes things that every child will understand. The frustration of being told you’re too young to do something that you very much want to do. The relief when your grandmother takes your side. The irritation you feel when a sibling is annoying you on purpose. The feeling you get when you catch someone doing something wrong. The feeling of being caught. As children recognize these feelings in the characters of Moon Watchers, they will better understand their own feelings, and the feelings of the people around them.
So, all of that said, let’s talk about the story. Moon Watchers is told from the point of view of Shirin, a 9-year-old girl. Shirin loves Ramadan. She loves going outside with her father to watch for the moon. She loves the anticipation as she waits for the crescent moon to appear and Ramadan to begin. She loves going outside every night with her father to watch the moon wax, and then wane, as Ramadan continues.
Shirin’s brother, Ali, doesn’t join the moon watching. But he’s 12. He’s old enough to keep the Ramadan fast. And he’s old enough to gloat, just a bit, when their parents say that Shirin is too young to keep the fast. She is too young to go without food from sunrise to sunset. Shirin insists that if Ali can do it, she should be able to as well. That line of argument doesn’t sway her parents in the least. They tell her that there’s more to Ramadan than fasting. She can concentrate on doing good deeds.
Shirin’s grandmother understands why Shirin isn’t happy with her parents’ decision. She tells a story to persuade them to allow Shirin to fast a little bit, as long as she concentrates on good deeds.
Shirin isn’t sure what would count as a good deed. Not until she catches Ali cheating on the fast. She decides that keeping his secret, and not telling their parents, counts as a good deed for Ramadan.
Ali doesn’t expect this kindness from his little sister. And Shirin doesn’t realize that her kindness will result in a Ramadan miracle.
A perfectly imperfect family
One mistake that you often see in picture books – at least, it seems like a mistake to me – is making the family too perfect. Real families aren’t perfect. They can be good, and loving, and wonderful. But even wonderful families have rough edges here and there, because real people are that way.
And Shirin’s family, in Moon Watchers, is a wonderful family. They come across as lovely, real, and relatable people. Shirin’s parents are both kind and firm. And maybe a little bit grumpy here and there from fasting. (If you’re an Orthodox Christian adult, you’ll understand how it feels when Shirin’s mom gets headaches because she can’t have her tea.)
Ramadan starts on May 6 this year, a week and a day after Pascha. Learn more about Ramadan.
17 essential picture books for Orthodox Christian kids: These 17 picture books all feature Orthodox Christian people. Some of the stories are explicitly religous, and some aren’t. They’re all wonderful.
Zachariah’s Perfect Day: A Review: While Moon Watchers tells the story of Ramadan from one crescent moon to the next, Zachariah’s Perfect Day tells the story of a single day during Ramadan. The two books go really well together.
Easter picture books for a child’s Lenten journey: Easter picture books are a terrific way to help your child on their journey to Pascha.