Burning Boats by Zaynab Dawood

Burning Boats by Zaynab Dawood


burning boats

This book came highly recommended from a friend that read it aloud to her Kindergartener and I ordered a class set based on her raving review.  After trying to get into the book on three separate occasions I concluded that yet again I should have waited and read the book myself before ordering it.  So I handed it over to my avid reading eight-year-old who read it in a day and said it was pretty good, asked a few questions, and continued on her way confused as to why I couldn’t finish it.  So, I started it again determined to get through it and with Ramadan quickly approaching I thought I could motivate myself to do so.  However, I could not, and it sat on the shelf for the entire month with a book mark only a few chapters in.  At the prodding of my guilty conscious to return the book to my friend, I continued reading from where I left off, rather than starting over, again, and found that by dismissing completely who any of the characters are and how they are related, the story does get off the ground and I was able to finish it.  That being said, I think the story might have appeal if read aloud one chapter at a time. To read it in one setting did not help the story that can’t seem to decide it if wants to be character driven or action driven.  The sheer number of characters is completely over the top, there are at least 20 characters mentioned by name and the book is only 137 pages.  And honestly I never bonded with any of them.  There is action in the book, but the details seem misplaced.  The author details characters all saying salam and walaikumasalam to one another and giving moral reproaches based on Quran and Sunah, but I never felt I understood why the main characters were leaving, why the villain was so bad, or how (spoiler alert) a pivotal character in the book died. I guess by never connecting to the characters or feeling an emotional tie, positive or reproachful, the book didn’t live up to it’s potential.  The book is recommended for ages 12 and up, but I think younger children could read it and even younger could listen to it being read to them without any major concerns.  With guidance the book is by no means a waste of time, but if you recommend it to a child and they struggle to get into it, you might just have to let them find something else to read.


A small fishing village is being harassed by a corrupt businessman’s attempts to take over the entire industry in Tobay.  The principal of the school and a few close friends are trying to stop him, but have decide they cannot and thus are planning to move elsewhere.  The children are forbidden to go to the harbor as boats are being burned and crimes committed to persuade the local fisherman to abandon their solo endeavors.  With few places to play, the loss of the harbor affects the children greatly as well.  A tropical storm complicates matters as it tears through the village destroying the poor inhabitants meager dwellings as well as the damaging the school and the mosque.  With friends taking in homeless neighbors and the main family planning to leave the children plan one last game that turns dangerous when all the boats in the harbor are set a blaze.


There are some definite good qualities in the book, despite the holes.  It opened up a good discussion between my daughter and I about preparing a body for ghusl and Janaza.  It does show that people can change and that when people are sincerely apologetic and are striving to correct their behaviors, those around them should offer forgiveness in not just their words, but in their actions as well.  It also shows that good kids can make bad choices, and that the consequences can also be very real.  Similarly it shows that adults also don’t always know what to do, and that they can be forced to reconsider as well.


There is violence in the book and death.  Nothing too graphic, but one might have to explain to younger, more sheltered reader,  that just because someone has a Muslim name doesn’t mean they are practicing Islam and are good people.


There aren’t any online tools, but I would suggest having the readers keep a character journal.  Every time a new name appears, write down who they are, (and who they are related to), so later they can look back on it if they become confused.

Because of the “holes” in the story I would probably ask the students to give their thoughts as to what happened or why the characters decided to do what they did and then turn it back on them and ask them what they would do.

Why was Ibrahim leaving? Would you have left? What made Nasser change? Would you have forgiven him? How do you think Ayesha died? Etc.

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