Illustration of girls of different backgrounds surrounded by blue thread and the text "Home"
Anne Lambelet


When her family welcomes a new brother, Aleena’s life turns upside down. Will things ever be the same?

By Hena Khan

Learning Objective: Students will use inference to figure out how a girl’s feelings about having a new little brother change throughout the story.

Lexile: 600L-700L
Guided Reading Level: R
DRA Level: 40
Other Key Skills: key details, character, plot, analyzing, character’s motivation, how a character changes, theme
UP CLOSE: Inference

As you read, look for what you can figure out, or infer, about Aleena’s feelings about having a new little brother.

Mama!” I yell. “Hakeem messed up my room again!”

I look around my room, which is a blur through my angry tears. Before Hakeem came home with us a month ago, it was perfect. The walls were painted exactly like I wanted: pink and gold. Now there are ugly marker scribbles everywhere that won’t wash off. Baba promised to paint over them more than a week ago, but he still hasn’t done it.

Mama rushes in.

“It’s not so bad,” she sighs as she surveys my books dumped out of the bookshelves and all my LEGO creations smashed into pieces.

“It’s not your room,” I sniffle. “Why can’t I get a lock on my door?”

“We are not going to lock your brother out of any part of the house, Aleena. He has to learn.”

He has to learn. Hakeem gets a pass on everything because he’s 4 and doesn’t understand English, or because he’s never seen books or LEGOs before. Sometimes it feels like he hasn’t learned anything since we brought him to Virginia from the orphanage in Morocco.

Before I can stop them, images of the orphanage fill my mind. I picture Hakeem’s cot, and I start to feel guilty . . . until I spot the slime.

“Aaaaah!” I wail. “Look!”

Right in front of my closet, all my plastic bags of colorful slime are open and have oozed onto my cream-colored carpet.

“Oh,” Mama says, frowning. “This is bad.”

“I know!” I start to cry again. “This was my best batch of slime. I used all my glitter in it!”

“You can always make more slime. This carpet is another story. Did you have to dye this stuff pink and orange?”

“All you care about is the carpet—and his feelings,” I mutter.

It’s the same way with my dad and my older brother, Bilal. They always take Hakeem’s side. It’s not fair, because it’s always my stuff he messes up, not theirs.

Hakeem sticks his head inside the door, smiles his most charming smile, and points at me. That’s usually enough to make me smile back and forgive him. But not today.

“Get out !” I slam the door.

Whenever I complain about Hakeem ruining my life, my parents like to remind me of the day I said yes to adopting him. But what did I know? I wasn’t even 11 years old yet.

As we pull up to the soccer field, Bilal comes running to the minivan in his training jersey.

“Can I take Hakeem to meet the team?” he asks.

“Now? I need to get back by six for a call,” Mama says. “And Hakeem didn’t take a nap today. He’s really tired.”

Mama yawns as she says the last words, and I can tell she’s tired too. The rest of us get a break during the day, but Mama works from home. I overheard her last week complaining to Baba that she can’t get anything done and needs time to herself.

“I’ll be quick. Come on, Hakeem, the guys want to meet you.”

“Guys,” Hakeem repeats. He’s turned into a parrot the past few days, repeating everything we say. It’s cute, but I’m still mad about the slime incident.

“Yes, we’re going to see the guys. Come on, Aleena.”

I scramble out of the car behind them. Bilal’s team is always psyched to see me, especially if I’m in my soccer uniform. I love it when they call me Little A and let me kick the ball around with them.

“There he is!” Bilal’s best friend, David, is beaming as we approach. “Hey, big guy. You know how to kick a ball?”

“Ball!” Hakeem says, and David and the rest of the team laugh.

The next thing I know, Hakeem is running all over the field and the whole team is cheering for him. I stand on the sideline, feeling invisible. After a couple of minutes, I walk back to the car.

“What are they doing?” Mama asks.

“Playing soccer,” I grumble.

“I have to get home. Can you please go get them?”

I’m deciding whether to protest when I see Bilal and David walking to the parking lot. David is carrying Hakeem.

“Hi, Mrs. Siddiqui,” David says. “Hey, Little A! Next time we need you to play too, OK?”

I nod as Hakeem says, “Little A!”

“Let’s go home,” Mama says.

“Home?” Hakeem asks, turning to me. I’m the one he always turns to when he doesn’t understand something.

“I’ll show you what it is when we get there,” I promise with a sigh.

As we pull into the driveway, I motion toward the house. “Home, Hakeem,” I say. “This is home.”

At bedtime, I hear Hakeem and Mama in his room. For the past week, before getting tucked in, Hakeem has been pointing at his wall with the airplane decals, his bucket of cars, and his other things, saying “thank you” to each of them. Tonight, I hear him pause and then add, “Thank you, home.”

Can you make sure he doesn’t bother us?”

I’ve planned out every detail of my art-themed 12th birthday party. With eight girls coming over, the last thing I want is for Hakeem to get in the way.

“Yes.” Mama exhales slowly. “I’ll keep him inside.”

As everyone starts to arrive, Hakeem is surprisingly calm. Maybe he’s acting shy because there are so many girls, but he stands behind Mama and peeks out at them.

“He’s so cute,” Priscilla says with a little wave. “Hi, Hakeem!”

“Don’t talk to him,” I warn. “He’ll want all your attention, and you’ll have to high-five him 50 times. Let’s go to the backyard.”

We start with a sand art project. I carefully fill a bottle with layers of different-colored sand and top it with a cork.

“Are you girls thirsty?” Mama comes outside carrying a pitcher of pink lemonade and some cups.

We take a break and sit in the grass under the tree. We’re sipping our drinks and talking when I hear Hakeem’s voice.

“Leeeeeena! Play?”

I turn around and see Hakeem beckoning me from behind Izzy.

“You’re supposed to be inside,” I say. “Go back.”

Hakeem shakes his head and waves his fingers at me like he’s casting a spell. That’s when I notice that they are covered with sand. Multicolored sand.

“Mama!” I yell as I run to the sand art station. Sure enough, it is destroyed. Hakeem dumped out every one of the little bottles into an empty flowerpot.

“What did you do?” I cry as my friends catch up to me.

“What a monster!” Priscilla declares. “You were right!”

“You ruined all our work!” Keisha accuses Hakeem, and I see him shrink from the harshness of her words. Part of me is glad. He deserves it.

Mama and Baba come running.

“I thought he was with Bilal!” Mama says.

I stare angrily at Hakeem.

“Leena . . . ,” he starts to say. But then his face crumples, and he runs to Mama and hides. I’ve seen him cry only twice before—when he said goodbye to the kids at the orphanage and one night at home when he first arrived.

“I’m sorry, hon,” Mama says to me. “Don’t let this ruin the party, OK? Hakeem, you come with me, mister.”

Hakeem follows my parents into the house. There are tears on his face and sand all over his shoes.

“I’m so glad I don’t have a little brother,” Izzy declares.

“But I wanted one so much,” I remember.

“Yeah, until he trashed your room,” Carmen adds. “I would be so mad.”

I don’t even remember telling my friends about that. Baba finally painted over Hakeem’s scribbles on the walls, and a steam cleaning made the carpet stain a lot lighter. It finally feels like my room again.

“No wonder you don’t want us to come over here most of the time.” Keisha sighs. “I don’t blame you.”

I know my friends are trying to make me feel better, but it isn’t working. Instead, their words swirl inside me and make me feel emptier than the bottles without any sand left in them.

“No. You shouldn’t say those things,” I finally respond. “Hakeem’s learning. He just wanted to play with the sand. We can put it back in the bottles even if it’s mixed up, maybe add glitter or beads.”

I look at my friends and wait for their reactions.

“OK.” Keisha shrugs.

“He is cute,” Priscilla concedes.

Mama brings out cupcakes arranged in a tower. Each one has a candle on it. Baba and Bilal trail behind her.

“Ready to sing?” Mama asks cheerfully.

I glance around and see Hakeem standing alone inside, his face pressed against the glass of the sliding door.

“Hold on.”

I walk to the door and open it. Hakeem grabs my hand and practically dances outside.

“Now I’m ready,” I say.

Everyone sings to me, including Hakeem, although he’s making up his own words. Hakeem’s birthday is next month. I decide that he needs to practice before he turns 5, so after I blow out my candles, I ask Baba to light them again.

Hakeem is so excited that he almost touches a candle. He sticks his finger in a cupcake, licks off the icing, and spits while he blows. We all cheer for him, and he beams and gives everyone high fives.

I suddenly remember my birthday wish from last year, back when we were talking about Hakeem becoming part of our family. It came true.

Hakeem is home—and I’m the one who got to teach him what that

Write to Win

Imagine you’re Aleena. Write a brochure called “What It’s Like to Have a Little Brother,” based on your feelings and experiences. Send it to “Home Contest” by February 1, 2022. Five winners will each receive a copy of Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan. Visit the Storyworks Contests page for more information.

This story was originally published in the December 2021 / January 2022 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Reading and Discussing

 SEL Focus, Close Reading, Critical Thinking

3. Skill Building and Writing

4. Digital Spotlight

5. Differentiate and Customize

Striving Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners

6. Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras

1. Preparing to Read

Engage Students, Preview Vocabulary, Set a Purpose for Reading

  • Prompt students to think about who is in their family. Ask: Are you the oldest, middle, youngest, or only child in your family? What are the advantages and challenges of your position in your family? Invite volunteers to share their responses.
  • Distribute or assign our Vocabulary Skill Builder to preview four words. Students will be able to add other unfamiliar words from the story as well. Vocabulary words include surveys, incident, beckoning, and harshness.

  • Prompt students to read the Up Close box on page 11 to set a purpose for reading.

  • Preview the questions in the margins of the story. Encourage students to think about the questions as they read.

2. Reading and Discussing

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Have students read or listen to the audio of the story independently. 

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Put students in small groups in your classroom. Ask them to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins. Circulate among the groups to listen to discussions. This can be a good way to informally assess whether students are comprehending the story. Answers follow. (In some cases, you’ll need to refer to the story to see the context of the question.)

  • Discuss the critical-thinking questions as a class.

  • Discuss the SEL focus either before or after the critical-thinking questions.

SEL Focus

Managing Emotions

Have a discussion about what emotions Aleena experiences throughout the story and how she expresses them (or doesn’t). Ask students: Can you think of a time you felt jealous or annoyed, like Aleena does at times in the story? How did you express that emotion (or not)? Have students reflect on the importance of figuring out how to express and share negative emotions in a way that isn’t hurtful to others.

Close-Reading Questions


  • Morocco is a country in North Africa. What have you learned so far about Hakeem? (key details, p. 11) So far, I’ve learned that Hakeem arrived in Aleena’s home in Virginia a month ago from Morocco. Aleena’s family adopted him. I’ve also learned that he’s 4 years old, doesn’t understand English, and is encountering many new things.

  • Aleena has expressed a number of feelings so far. What are some of them? (character, p. 11) The feelings she’s expressed so far are frustration, guilt, anger, and sadness.

  • Why does Aleena feel invisible? (inference, p. 12) Aleena feels invisible because her new little brother is getting all the attention from their older brother’s teammates. Aleena used to be the center of their attention.
  • What does this tell you about the relationship between Hakeem and Aleena? (inference, p. 12) It tells me that Hakeem feels close to his older sister, Aleena, and looks to her for help with adjusting to his new environment.

  • Why do you think Hakeem says “thank you” to his things? Why does he add a “thank you” for home tonight? (inference, p. 12) I think Hakeem says “thank you” to his things because he is expressing gratitude to everything his new family has given him. I also think he’s practicing the new English words he’s learning. I think he adds “home” to his list of thank-yous tonight because he just learned the meaning of the word from Aleena. He might be feeling grateful that he now has a home, rather than living in the orphanage.

  • How has the scene changed at this point? (plot, p. 13) At this point, the story is taking place at Aleena’s 12th birthday party.

  • Why is only “part” of Aleena glad? How might the other part feel? (inference, p. 13) Only part of Aleena is glad that Keisha speaks harshly to Hakeem because while Aleena is upset by what Hakeem has done, she still feels bad that Keisha isn’t being kind to Hakeem.

  • Do you think the comments Aleena’s friends make here and on the next page are helpful? Explain. (analyzing, p. 13) Answers will vary but should be similar to: I don’t think the comments are helpful, because Aleena is already upset with her brother. Her friends’ comments are mean and don’t help make her less upset with Hakeem.

  • What does Aleena realize that makes her say this? (inference, p. 14) Aleena says this because she realizes that being mad at her little brother makes her feel empty.

  • Why does Aleena bring Hakeem outside? (character’s motivation, p. 14) Aleena brings Hakeem back outside because she wants to show her little brother that she’s not mad at him anymore. She wants to include him in her party and have him practice blowing out the birthday candles. She wants him to feel welcome in his new home.


Critical-Thinking Questions

  • Compare the reactions Aleena has to Hakeem in the first and last scenes of the story. How have Aleena’s feelings toward Hakeem changed? How do her reactions in these two scenes show this change? (how a character changes) At the beginning of the story, Aleena feels annoyed at Hakeem for spreading glittery slime all over her room. At the end, she’s annoyed at Hakeem for ruining her birthday craft project, but this time she forgives him and includes him in her celebration. Students will likely say that these different reactions show that she’s feeling more kindly toward her brother and wants him to feel loved and cared for in his new family.

  • Think about the home Hakeem has at the end of the story. What makes it a good home? What else do you think makes a good home? (theme) At the end of the story, Hakeem has a good home because he has family members who care about how he feels and support him in growing and learning. Answers to the second question will vary.

3. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Inference
  • Distribute or digitally assign the Inference Skill Builder to help students figure out, or infer, Aleena’s feelings about having a new little brother. Available on two levels!
  • Ask students to respond to the writing prompt at the end of the story. Encourage them to submit their responses to our writing contest!

4. Collaboration Station

Try Our NEW Collaboration Choice Board

  • Have students work together in small groups to choose an activity to complete in our Collaboration Choice Board. We’ve designed each activity on the board for several students to work on together.

Differentiate and Customize
For Striving Readers

If students are unfamiliar with (or need a refresher on) the featured skill for this story, inference, share this fun animated video from our new Skills Collection. As you guide students through the questions on the side of the story that are marked “Inference,” refer to what they learned in the video.

For Advanced Readers

Put students in pairs to brainstorm two more questions that could go into the margins of the story. Have pairs write their questions on sticky notes and place them at appropriate spots in the margin. Students should then exchange magazines with another pair to answer each other’s questions. If students are reading digitally, have them write their questions on a separate document.

For Multilingual Learners

Before reading, invite students to listen to the audio version of the story at Storyworks Digital. Then have them listen a second time, reading along with the story. Encourage them to reread or relisten to parts of the story as many times as they wish to feel comfortable with their understanding of what they’ve read and heard.

Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Make a Geography Connection

Share this Britannica Kids site about Morocco with students so they can learn about the country from which Hakeem was adopted.

Learn to Be a Good Sibling

Share this article from KidsHealth called “Getting Along With Brothers and Sisters” with the kids in your classroom. KidsHealth also has a page on welcoming new babies into the family, which you can share with students for whom it might be relevant.

Cope With Tough Emotions

Dealing with feelings like the ones Aleena experiences in the story can be really tough, but your students are not alone. Hear how other kids cope with difficult emotions in this short video from CBC Kids. Then take a look at this Edutopia article for some tips on how to integrate mindfulness in your classroom and empower your students to use these tools on their own!