This list of over 15 middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) books about the Arab world was written as part of the second annual Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month series from Multicultural Kid Blogs.
More information can be found about the series at the end of this blog.
One of my daughters will be entering a new school level this year. She will be going from elementary school to middle school.
When that happens, I always make an excuse to wander into the new school library and see what they have as far as reading material about the culture and history of the Arab world.
There is so much confusion facts coming from the media, I want to be sure that my daughter and her peers read first hand from diverse voices directly in this region of the world.
So next week, I’ll be taking my list below of recommendations to the school librarian when I introduce myself. It’s always good to be proactive in your children’s education and environment.
I hope others may befit from this book list.
Feel free to visit the Crafty Arab Muslim Children Books Pinterest page for children books recommendations.
Marston, Elsa. Compassionate Warrior: Abd el-Kader of Algeria.
A brilliant military strategist, superb horseman, statesman, philosopher, Muslim hero . . . Emir Abdel Kader (1808-1883) was an international celebrity in his own time, known for his generosity and kindness even towards enemies. Today he is recognized as one of the noblest leaders of the 19th century and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue. This fascinating biography of the heroic Arab who led the resistance to the French conquest of Algeria, endured betrayal and imprisonment, and in 1860, in Syria, saved thousands of innocent people from mob violence brings a vital message for our times.
McGraw, Eloise Jarvis. Mara, Daughter of the Nile.
Mara is a proud and beautiful slave girl who yearns for freedom in ancient Egypt, under the rule of Queen Hatshepsut. Mara is not like other slaves; she can read and write, as well as speak the language of Babylonian. So, to barter for her freedom, she finds herself playing the dangerous role of double spy for two arch enemies—each of whom supports a contender for the throne of Egypt.
Ellis, Deborah. Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees.
The United States and its allies invaded Iraq seven years ago. Today the country is still at war, and no one can claim that true democracy has come. Four million Iraqis have been displaced, and about half of them, unable to flee the country, are now living in remote tent camps without access to schools, health care, or often even food and clean water. Iraqi childrens frank and harrowing stories reveal inspiring resilience as the children try to survive the consequences of a war in which they play no part.
Azzoubi, Rana. Million Star Hotel.
Million Star Hotel, the delightful sequel to Through a Mud Wall, by Rana Azzoubi, is a charming children’s book that explores the ways in which friendship can bridge all differences. Nadia, a young Jordanian girl, is excited to have an American visitor, Joey, a 10-year-old American boy. The children and their parents all go on an exciting camping trip in Wadi Rum, a desert in the South of Jordan, but soon become separated from their parents and lost in an adventure. Only by relying on each other can the two children find their way back. Beautifully written and magically told, Million Star Hotel celebrates friendship and the way that exploring another culture can broaden our minds and bring us all closer together.
Raatma, Lucia. Queen Noor: American-born queen of Jordan.
A biography profiling the life of Queen Noor, the American-born queen of Jordan. Includes source notes and timeline.
Alshalabi, Firyal. Summer 1990.
On August 2nd, Danah is ready to embark on the most fantastic vacation of her life–a visit to Disney World, when Iraq invades her country Kuwait. Overnight, her status changes from a spoiled wealthy girl to a homeless refugee. Stranded in New York with her uncle, Danah loses contact with her family in Kuwait. Would she ever see them again? Could she ever say, I’m sorry to her loving parents? Too anxious to wait for an international resolution to free her country, Danah stealthily returns to Kuwait and witnesses the horrors of war and destruction.
Nasrallah, Emily. What Happened to Zeeko.
Zeeko, a painfully sweet Siamese, is introduced as a kitten taken from his cat family to join his newly adopted human one. He finds a steadfast compatriot in his new “mother,” a young girl named Muna. Initially homesick, he adapts quickly to his new home, cared for by the enormously loving Muna. Zeeko embarks on a tenderly mundane and pleasant existence, his life steered by Muna, a pure staying current of peace.
Shanrafeddine, Fatima. The Servant.
Faten’s happy life in her village comes to an abrupt end when her father arranges for her to work as a maid for a wealthy Beirut family with two spoiled daughters. What does a bright, ambitious 17-year-old do when she is suddenly deprived of her friends, family, education, and freedom? Enlisting the help of Marwan, the mysterious, wealthy young man who lives in the next apartment building, Faten finally figures out how to pursue her studies in secret. Even against the uncertain backdrop of the civil war, their romance develops, as Marwan and Faten conspire to exchange notes and meet at an idyllic seaside café. But in Lebanese society the differences in religion, class, and wealth are stacked against them, and their parents have very different ideas about what their futures should be. An engaging and lucidly written coming-of-age novel.
Stolz, Joelle. Shadows of Ghadames.
In the Libyan city of Ghadames, Malika watches her merchant father depart on one of his caravan expeditions. She too yearns to travel to distant cities, and longs to learn to read like her younger brother. But nearly 12 years old, and soon to be of marriagable age, Malika knows that—like all Muslim women—she must be content with a more secluded, more limited life. Then one night a stranger enters her home . . . someone who disrupts the traditional order of things—and who affects Malika in unexpected ways.
Nye, Naomi Shihab. Turtle of Oman.
Simply told yet rich with detail and charm, this novel for intermediate elementary level readers is by the acclaimed poet and National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye. Young Aref must say good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in Oman as his family prepares to move to the U.S. where his parents will continue their studies. Before departing, Aref joins his beloved grandfather Siddi on many adventures that cover Oman’s historical, natural, and cultural heritage. This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of family, nature, and immigration. The author’s warmth and belief in the power of empathy and connection make this an exceptional addition to youth literature.
Barakat, Ibtisam. Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood.
In this groundbreaking memoir set in Ramallah during the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, Ibtisam Barakat captures what it is like to be a child whose world is shattered by war. With candor and courage, she stitches together memories of her childhood: fear and confusion as bombs explode near her home and she is separated from her family; the harshness of life as a Palestinian refugee; her unexpected joy when she discovers Alef, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. This is the beginning of her passionate connection to words, and as language becomes her refuge, allowing her to piece together the fragments of her world, it becomes her true home.
Bsharat, Ahlam. Code Name: Butterfly.
With irony and poignant teenage idealism, Butterfly draws us into her world of adult hypocrisy, sibling rivalries, girlfriends’ power plays, unrequited love…not to mention the political tension of life under occupation. As she observes her fragile environment with all its conflicts, Butterfly is compelled to question everything around her. Is her father a collaborator for the occupiers? Will Nizar ever give her the sign she’s waiting for? How will her friendship with the activist Mays and the airhead Haya survive the unpredictable storms ahead? And why is ‘honour’ such a dangerous word, anyway?
Al Mansour, Haifaa, Green Bicycle
Spunky eleven-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her parents. She desperately wants a bicycle so that she can race her friend Abdullah, even though it is considered improper for girls to ride bikes. Wadjda earns money for her dream bike by selling homemade bracelets and mixtapes of banned music to her classmates. But after she’s caught, she’s forced to turn over a new leaf (sort of), or risk expulsion from school. Still, Wadjda keeps scheming, and with the bicycle so closely in her sights, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Wilson, Tammy. Through My Eyes.
After being caught in Somalia’s horrific civil war, Zamzam escapes with her mother, sister, and brothers to America. But when she arrives, she learns that she has to deal with biases and stereotyping she isn’t prepared to handle. Zamzam dreams of making a difference in this world, and she wants to be seen as a person who has value.
Schami, Rafik. A Hand Full of Stars.
A teenager who wants to be a journalist in a suppressed society describes to his diary his daily life in his hometown of Damascus, Syria.
Schami, Rafik. Damascus Nights.
Upon this enchanting frame of tales told in the fragrant Arabian night, the words of the past grow fainter, as ancient customs are yielding to modern turmoil. While the hairdresser, the teacher, the wife of the locksmith sip their tea and pass the water pipe, they swap stories about the magical and the mundane: about djinnis and princesses, about contemporary politics and the difficulties of bargaining in a New York department store. And as one tale leads to another… and another… all of Damascus appears before your eyes, along with a vision of storytelling-and talk-as the essence of friendship, of community, of life.
Colfer, Eoin. Benny and Omar.
Two very different cultures collide in this hilarious book about a young sports fanatic named Benny who is forced to leave his home in Ireland and move with his family to Tunisia. He wonders how he will survive in such an unfamiliar place. Then he teams up with wild and resourceful Omar, and a madcap friendship between the two boys leads to trouble, escapades, a unique way of communicating, and ultimately, a heartbreaking challenge.
United Arab Emirates
Mason, Prue. Camel Rider.
War has broken out in the Middle East and all foreigners are fleeing. Instead of escaping with his neighbors, Adam sneaks off to save his dog, which has been left behind. Lost in the desert, Adam meets Walid, an abused camel boy who is on the run. Together they struggle to survive the elements and elude the revengeful master from whom Walid has fled. Cultural and language barriers are wide, but with ingenuity and determination the two boys bridge their differences, helping each other to survive and learn what true friendship is.
Ink-filled pens, mattresses, and bars of soap—these are only some of the inventions and innovations that have been passed down through the millennia from the peoples of Arab lands. Readers may be surprised to learn that they have also given us the scalpel, planetariums, and three-course meals. As in the other titles in this series, The Arab World Thought of It uses stunning photos and well-researched information to provide an overview of contributions made in the fields of medicine, architecture, food, and education. Also included is a look at accomplishments in the areas of engineering, transportation, and oil production. Complete with maps, timeline, index, and a list of further reading, this book is an excellent starting point for the exploration of a thriving culture.
Honorary Mention: Adult Novels
Abu-Jaber, Diana. Arabian Jazz: A Novel.
In Diana Abu-Jaber’s “impressive, entertaining” (Chicago Tribune) first novel, a small, poor-white community in upstate New York becomes home to the transplanted Jordanian family of Matussem Ramoud: his grown daughters, Jemorah and Melvina; his sister Fatima; and her husband, Zaeed. The widower Matuseem loves American jazz, kitschy lawn ornaments, and, of course, his daughters. Fatima is obsessed with seeing her nieces married―Jemorah is nearly thirty! Supernurse Melvina is firmly committed to her work, but Jemorah is ambivalent about her identity and role. Is she Arab? Is she American? Should she marry and, if so, whom? Winner of the Oregon Book Award and finalist for the National PEN/Hemingway Award, Arabian Jazz is “a joy to read…. You will be tempted to read passages out loud. And you should” (Boston Globe). USA Today praises Abu-Jaber’s “gift for dialogue…her Arab-American rings musically, and hilariously, true.”
Malherbe, Shereen. Jasmine Falling.
When Jasmine’s mother dies inside their English mansion, hope comes in the form of her multi-million pound inheritance. But with her inheritance threatened, Jasmine is left to contemplate a future she does not know how to live. Jasmine has only ten days to uncover the circumstances of her father’s decade long disappearance before her fortune is lost forever. Forced to return to his homeland in Palestine, she follows his footsteps through stories long ingrained in the local’s minds. She is helped on her journey by a mysterious stranger who guides her through the trails of the Holy Land to the scattered broken villages, each harbouring its own secrets. Under the watchful eyes of the ever-encroaching Occupation, Jasmine must piece together her history in the broken land, before it destroys her future.
Welcome to the second annual Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month series from Multicultural Kid Blogs!
Follow along all month long for great resources on teaching children about the heritage of this region.
Start by reading A Crafty Arab’s post on 5 Arab Olympic Winners, then check the bottom of the post to read a few other similar blogs.
You can also find even more resources on our North Africa and the Middle East Pinterest board.