Monday, January 26, 2009

Children's Books About the Middle East

This week I read a few very interesting books pertaining to the middle east. I thought I'd include them with a brief analysis here. I'll probably continue to do this as I learn more about international children's literature this semester.

Habibi by N.S. Nye

I really enjoyed this novel. I thought it was refreshing, unique, and represented a perspective we in the United States rarely hear about: the plight of Palestinians in Israel. I liked that the book represented connections and peaceful discussion between Israeli and Palestinian characters. It demonstrated how intertwined the destinies of these two cultures are and always will be. I also found the characters endearing and the writing style lovely.

I learned about the languages of the different people living in one regions, descriptions of what the region looked like, and information about what it might be like to live an ordinary, modern life in this volatile region of the world.

I think some Jewish readers might be offended by the portrayal of Jewish leaders and soldiers, but I think our news coverage has given a somewhat slanted view of the Palestinians’ view points and we tend to always view them as “bad guys.” It is an interesting change to view the Palestinians as victims.

I also think there is an argument to be made that the American mother in this novel is somewhat two-dimensional in comparison to the wonderfully three-dimensional father in this novel, concerned that his daughter’s American ways of doing things will seem radical to her rural Palestinian family.

The Hungry Coat by Demi

What a wonderful little story! The book’s origins come from the folk tale hero Nasreddin Hoca, who is beloved by many countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Hoca is a legendary satirical Sufi figure who lived during the 13th century. He is a wise man who teaches lessons in a way that is comedic, simple, and profound. The gorgeous illustrations depict traditional Turkish clothing, robes, turbans, shoes, as well as traditional Turkish foods. Plus, the story has a lovely moral that crosses all cultures.

I also read Exiled:Memoirs of a Camel and Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Traditions but I did not fall in love with them as I did the stories above. The main character in Exiled is a haughty camel. The book enlightened me about The U.S. Army Camel Corp which existed briefly during President Buchanan's presidency. I guess they imported camels from Egypt in order to help strategize for war in desert climates. That in itself is fascinating, but the depiction of Native Americans in this novel offended me.

I loved the reasoning behind the book, Daughters of the Desert. The authors strived to create a voice for the women briefly mentioned in the male dominated Bible, Koran, and Torah. By reading about the strengths these women supposedly shared, the reader is supposed to see the commonalities that exist between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religions. Fantastic idea! But the execution of the book consisted of some very contrived, two-dimensional characters that didn't leave me feeling very inspired at all.

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