Fatima’s Great Outdoors

Author(s): Ambreen Tariq

Illustrator(s): Stevie Lewis

Publisher: Kokila

Year: 2021

Topics: Camping

Description: 

Fatima Khazi is excited for the weekend. Her family is headed to a local state park for their first camping trip! The school week might not have gone as planned, but outdoors, Fatima can achieve anything. She sets up a tent with her father, builds a fire with her mother, and survives an eight-legged mutant spider (a daddy longlegs with an impressive shadow) with her sister. At the end of an adventurous day, the family snuggles inside one big tent, serenaded by the sounds of the forest. The thought of leaving the magic of the outdoors tugs at Fatima’s heart, but her sister reminds her that they can keep the memory alive through stories–and they can always daydream about what their next camping trip will look like.

Ambreen Tariq’s picture book debut, with cheerful illustrations by Stevie Lewis, is a rollicking family adventure, a love letter to the outdoors, and a reminder that public land belongs to all of us.

Brief Synopsis:

Why I like it: 

  • Homemade samosas on the road trip! Not to mention the shamis kabab and rotis the Khazis had for dinner. The next morning they had anda and roti cooked in ghee and tried halal beef bacon for the first time. With the lack of halal options on the road we also take some homemade food on road trips!
  • The girls cheered as they passed the state park sign! That’s a photo-op for us right there too!
  • The mother was shown as a strong figure – someone brave and who knows what to do. I liked how the father couldn’t light up a fire because he was a city kid and the mother could because she came from a small town. 
  • The anecdote on lighting a fire by blowing through the metal tube brought back my own fond memories of visiting my dadi in a village. 
  • There’s a page briefly about how to make a fire and a lesson that it takes patience.
  • Urdu phrases introduced were “shabash” and “Baaher ajao” (but there’s no glossary at the end)

Things that could be improved: 

  • Fatima’s family went camping for the first time and she loved the experience because she felt more “American” and it was an escape from the bullying at school – that’s the one line summary and take away message from the story. I wish the author had just stuck to the camping aspect of the story or it was more clearly advertised as an “immigrant camping” story from the 80s/90s.
  • There are too many issues/aspects integrated into one story making it a difficult read
    • Camping for the first time
    • Cultural elements of an Indian-American camping
    • Comparison of general life in India to camping
    • Bullying at school
    • Fatima’s need to be more acceptable by her peers
    • Fatima’s relationship with her sister were Aapa is doing great at school and she isn’t
    • Belonging to a poor immigrant family
  • Overall it required too much explaining to young children of desi-origin who have not had similar life experiences.
  • It’s not a “religious” book and there is nothing Islamic in it other than the name Fatima. When we go to national/state parks, one thing we focus on with our children is to “observe nature and think about Allah who created all of it”. Because the author was Muslim, I was hoping something like that to be included. 
  • Unfortunately there’s an entire backstory within the story. There’s lots of anecdotes from their life in India not necessarily needed for the main “camping” story to work plus lots of additional information which could have been omitted to make the story shorter. For example Mama is portrayed to be fearless and knows what to do, because in India she used to catch lizards and throw them out without flinching. However we also learn that she has a funny finger because she was getting rid of a scorpion and it stung her. 
  • The story mentions Muhammad Rafi and Bollywood songs. “”Nani”, Aapa” and “Gaane” are also used, but there’s no glossary at the end for the non-Urdu speakers.  
  • Kids found it unrealistic that a 8-10 year old would be scared of an “8 legged monster” which clearly looked like a shadow of a spider. I could be totally wrong here. 
  • Also I was asked by a child how the girl was “breathing oxygen into the fire” when you breathe out carbon dioxide. And doesn’t a fire extinguisher have carbon dioxide? (Not sure of the science behind that)
  • When papa kept spraying lighter fluid on the logs and couldn’t get the fire started the Mama “shook her head and clicked her teeth in disapproval, the way Fatima’s aunties did”. There’s many issues with this sentence. Just because he couldn’t light up a fire, his mother clicked her teeth with disapproval. Okay that was not nice. But what was the need to add “the way Fatima’s aunties did”. So the entire family disapproves of the Papa for one thing or another?
  • When they couldn’t start a campfire, Fatima looked around at the other families (and they are all depicted white) and wondered why her family was so different and couldn’t be like the others. Also in the story Papa promised Fatima to try halal beef bacon, who just wanted the bacon to be “like the other American families”.
  • I KNOW immigrant families where both parents had two jobs each/had to work long hours, and didn’t have the luxury or finances to take days off for road trips/camping. However, “The khazis didn’t use paper plates because they were too expensive” didn’t sit well with me. 
  • Everyone in the story is white except Fatima’s family. When we go on trips we see every race-  people from all over the world really. In an age where we are moving forward to depict multicultural characters and acceptance of all races, I missed the lack of color in the illustrations. 
  • Of all the ways to describe a smile, the author chose “Jack-o-lantern smiles”
  • I see this book being more valuable as an ‘unique perspective’ once there are many more books available. I am just disappointed that at this time this is the only narrative out there.

Additional Activities: 

Pinterest Board: 

Overall:

We didn’t go camping as children, simply because my parents didn’t know HOW to camp and “back then” there was no such thing as Youtube videos, Google maps, travel blogs and information wasn’t as readily available. However now we are a brown family who love going to national parks, hiking and simply being in nature, so from other reviews I believed this book was an instant must have for us. I really wanted a regular everyday camping story with desi characters for my kids. Or maybe just a book that represents modern desi people camping with our quirks – like packing homemade food due lack of halal food options! Or even just a ‘how to camp story’ for kids.  

Unfortunately, I am not too happy with the book. While I enjoyed the “camping portion” of the story and respect the author’s ownvoice experience, I really didn’t like the story for my kids nor recommend it. 

The story begins with Fatima being bullied at school and getting a C- on a math test. That is all we see from her week at school.  A few pages later, she is doubting if she could help her dad build a tent because “she hadn’t done anything right at school that week”. I simply can not get past this line. At the end “home meant taking tests, doing homework, getting in trouble, and being teased at school”. On another page, it implies that home was where she feels “sad and scared and doesn’t have fun”. 

While I value the author sharing her own experience from her first camping trip and it may be relatable by some adults who grew up in the 80/90s. Being the first book of its kind I personally really didn’t appreciate the association of camping being a break from bullying at school. We go on roadtrips because we enjoy it and aren’t “running away from something”.

The story also “normalizes bullying” with no one addressing how big of an issue that is on its own. At the end Fatima does return to school with her stories from the Great Outdoors, and she feels that now she is a superhero. So now that she camps, she’s “acceptable” by her peers? Also honestly there was way too much focus on trying to be “American” and like everyone else (“everyone else” in the illustrations was white). Having grown up in Canada/America I am very aware of racism against brown people but I have never felt more of an “outsider” than I did reading this book. I really wish the author had stuck to the camping part of the story.

I am trying to raise children who believe in themselves and accept their heritage with pride, and believe that they belong in this country just the way they are – whether they camp or not. I also want them to stand up to any form of bullying (which I really pray never happens.) . 

There are too many issues/aspects integrated into one story making it a difficult read

  • Camping for the first time
  • Cultural elements of an Indian-American camping
  • Comparison of general life in India to camping
  • Bullying at school
  • Fatima’s need to be more acceptable by her peers and more American
  • Belonging to a poor immigrant family (who couldn’t afford paper plates)

Overall it required too much explaining to young children of desi-origin who have not had similar life experiences.

This story is from “way back” in the day and outdated for kids these days (especially second or third generation Americans). I look forward to a story by the author about her camping trips around the world or what a camping trip for her (or any kids in her life) looks like now. I really liked the overall concept of representing ‘brown people camping’ and I hope more books portraying desi people enjoying the outdoors come out.

This book was read once, and will not be a part of my children’s library for now (maybe used as a lesson years later that they are privileged by the access to information and how ‘older times’ were like) Also from other reviews I knew it was “wordy” for younger children, but because of the content I REALLY don’t recommend it for younger kids especially those who don’t understand why a boy would randomly pull the girl’s braid in the hallway.

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