Friday, April 22, 2022

Review: The Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzie Gilani-Williams

Today's read takes the reader on a trip through time...and that with the help of a button box! As a child, I loved digging out my grandmother's button box and sorting and sifting through all of the buttons she had. So, this theme already had me curious to take a peek at these pages. When I learned that it goes back to ancient Morocco and involves a prince on the run... Well, how could I pass it up?

So, hold on to those buttons because it sounds like this book will take the reader on quite the ride!

by Bridget Hodder and
Fawzie Gilani-Williams
Illustrated by Harshad Marathe
Kar-Ben Publishing
Middle Grade Science Fiction / Time Travel
152 pages
ages 8 to 12

If a magical button and a mysterious cat could transport you to the past...would you save the future?

After Jewish fifth-grader Ava and her Muslim cousin Nadeem are called hateful names at school, Granny Buena rummages in her closet and pulls out a glittering crystal button box. It's packed with buttons that generations of their Sephardic ancestors have cherished. With the help of Granny's mysterious cat Sheba, Ava and Nadeem discover that a button from the Button Box will whisk them back in time. Suddenly, they find themselves in ancient Morocco, where Nadeem's ancestor, Prince Abdur Rahman, is running for his life. Can Ava and Nadeem help the prince escape to Spain and fulfill his destiny, creating a legendary Golden Age for Muslims, Jews and Christians?



This is a fun, short adventure for the lower end of the middle grade range, which packs adventure, addresses bullying and even hits upon history.

After being bullied for their religions, Ava, a Jew, and her cousin Nadeem, a Muslim, decide to ask Granny for advice. When she pulls out a button box and explains that the buttons inside have been collected for hundreds and hundreds of years, that's already amazing. But when they hear one hum, their curiosity shoots through the roof. When Granny lays down for a nap, they open the box and are soon zipped back into time. 

The first pages dive right into the first issue, meeting Ava and Nadeem as they hesitate to tell their Granny what happened at school. Both come across as every day kids, and the Granny is one with quirks to love. While I did, at first, fear this might be a bit cliche on the bullying message, it quickly steers into a very unique and exciting direction. The tension and plot build steadily and smoothly, allowing the reader to sink into Ava and Nadeem in modern times before they are whisked away to the past. This makes sure there's a familiarity, which then keeps readers grounded and makes the past more natural.

This was an interesting way to glimpse back into history and an event, which most readers have probably never heard about. It takes a quick peek at Prince Abdur Rahman during a short section of his flight from the attempt to erase his entire family/bloodline, and that before he lands in Spain. Only a quick summary is given as to what is going on, and yet, it's enough to make the historic figure take root in readers' minds. Of course, the surrounding scenes and world do a great job at displaying how life might have been at that time, and it did this in a way, which made the historic characters come across as naturally as the modern ones. For those, who want a little more depth on the historic figure, there is a slightly more in-depth look at the end of the book.

The last purpose of this read surrounds the two religions: Muslim and Jews. Especially in modern times, it isn't unheard of to have mixed families, and this tale takes a look at that. It works well with the historical angle, too, since Abdur Rahman is known for supporting religious tolerance during his rule in Spain. The two authors have each put a section at the end of the book, which gives different glimpses into the two religions and offers some explanations as well as a little added history. It does emphasis that the two religions worship the same god...however, parents/guardians/caretakers might want to read through this themselves first, since it does offer an over-simplified view and explanation on what is actually a much more complex topic.

I definitely enjoyed how this tale flows and found it very well done, especially in how it presented so many themes in such an entertaining (and never preachy) manner.

And here they are...

BRIDGET HODDER has decades of experience as a reading and communication specialist, working primarily with young people with learning disabilities. Like Ava in "The Button Box," Bridget is Sephardic. She is also the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Her first Middle Grade book, “The Rat Prince,” was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “The Rat Prince” was an ILA -CBC Children's Choice List starred selection, an Amazon Hot List pick, and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society award in Children's Fantasy Literature. After the release of "The Button Box," Bridget and Fawzia's next co-written multicultural children's tale for Kar-Ben / Lerner Books will be published in 2023. Bridget lives in the Boston area. To learn more about Bridget’s life and work, visit her website: ​​ 

Follow Bridget on social media:

Facebook: @BridgetHodderAuthor | Twitter: @BridgetsBooks

FAWZIA GILANI-WILLIAMS, PhD, who is Muslim, was born and raised in England, where she became an elementary school teacher. An internationally experienced educator, Fawzia has worked in England, the United States, and Canada. Her writing explores moral power, quiet heroism, and multicultural cognizance, and her research interests include child identity and empowerment, and Islamic critical theory. She currently works as a cluster librarian in the UAE, where she manages elementary school libraries.  Fawzia's previous book, “Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam,” illustrated by Chiara Fedele and published in 2017 by Lerner Books' Kar-Ben imprint, was awarded a silver medal by the Sydney Taylor Book Award. To learn more about Fawzia’s life and work, visit her website: 

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