This is Week Five of our Read the World Book Club Series. For the next couple of weeks we are going to be posting a pile of our favourite books from each continent… and you are welcome to join us on our journey. This week we are journeying to the Middle East (not a continent I know, but read on), along with The Simple Homeschool Folk and #Giveyourchildtheworld.
Welcome to the Middle East
In this section of the journey we are looking for books from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan and Palestine. We don’t have a Middle East puzzle, like we do for the other areas we have visited, but we do have dozens of friends who live there and we would love to go on a virtual voyage over there.
All virtual voyages require a feast to get them rolling. Pita breads are the way to go…
Se7en of Our Favourite Picture Books from The Middle East
We are Sailing Down the Nile by Laurie Krebs: We love Laurie Krebs’ books, their rhythm and style… inspire small people to ask for these books to be read again and again. A trip through Egypt and the fact pages at the end make this a fantastic “get to know Egypt” book for the picture book generation.
Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortensen: If you haven’t read the grown up version of this book, Three Cups of Tea, then I highly recommend it. Three Cups of Tea and the author are surrounded by controversy, but the story is a good one and worthy or reading to our children. It is the story of a man who is physically and emotionally spent, while trying to climb the notorious mountains of the Himalayas and specifically K2. He ends up in an impoverished village, where the villagers restore him to health. He promises to return and build a school for the children there.
The Seagull of Galata Tower, by Julia Townsend: Galata Tower is an historical tower at the centre of Istanbul, on the Bosphorous river in Turkey… there is a seagull that lives there, who is the descendant of a long line of seagulls… in a land where history is crucial to your story… his genealogy is important. He is a proud seagull and pride comes before a fall… just saying. He does realise that to get by in the world you do need friends. Otherwise there is a nice annotated map on the inside cover and views of life in Istanbul provide the background.
The Librarian of Basyra by Jeanette Winter: This is the story of a librarian, Aliya, who realises that to save her library as war approaches, she will have to take drastic action. Not only that, she is a woman and so has no power to command help, instead she has to outsmart and outthink the enemy. It is a profound example of how one person with a passion, can do great things. During the bitter fighting her library is burnt to the ground, and yet she manages to save every single book.
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter: Nasreen lives in war torn Afghanistan and has been traumatised by the things she has seen. Since her parents disappeared she has been unable to talk at all. In a country where girls are not allowed into school, Nasreen’s granny decides that the only chance to get help for Nasreen is for her to attend school. The challenge is school? for girls? in Afghanistan? Granny finds a way and at school she slowly discovers a world of knowledge completely different to the one she lives in. This is true story and full of heart, look out for it.
Sinbad the Sailor by Marcia Williams: A story book collection wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t have some ancient lore to go with it. Sinbad the Sailor provides a feast of fantastic tales, all set in the Middle East and provide a great back drop for setting the scene. Marcia Williams is a genius at catching the nuances of a story in her illustrations… these stories are classics for a reason… great reading fun and bright and colourful.
Sanji and the Baker by Robin Thanes and Korky Paul: This book is one of our kids favourite books, it is set “somewhere” in the Middle East, and is filled with rich flavours and spices of the region. Sanji lives above the bakery, and the aromas wandering up from the store below him… well that is what the story looks to be about, but actually there is a little lesson in this book. You cannot put a price tag on the simple pleasures in life… The illustrations are rich and lovely, packed with lots of lovely and exotic details. I warn you this book might inspire you to bake all sorts of different delights… cinnamon rolls, currant buns, sesame seed cookies…
Se7en+1 of Our Favourite Chapter Books from The Middle East
Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World: I have said it before and I will say it again, if you read nothing else this year read this book. We reviewed this book earlier in the year, my kids kept saying, “You must read this.” And then I did. I was a bit wary to read a book about something that was so publicised, I felt I had read the story in the news… that’s not enough, read the book. It is compelling to read the story from Malala’s perspective, she paints a vivid picture of the world and life that she lived in… not to mention what she stands for. Grab a copy, settle down and make this your next family read, my littlest wandered off but everyone else was riveted.
The BreadWinner Collection by Deborah Ellis: A classic in its own time. This collection contains three of her books, I wouldn’t recommend them for younger readers, but certainly for teens these are a must read. Traumatic, because for many children around the world, particularly in the Middle East, life is traumatic and difficult and just when we would think things were impossible, some more tenacious spirits just keep on. These are books about perseverance, living on your wits, and desperate, desperate times. They are an emotional rollercoaster and will leave most readers very grateful for what they have. I didn’t know there was a fourth book in this series and we will be looking out for it:
- The BreadWinner: Parvana is an 11 year old girl, living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. She is not aloud outdoors and she is not allowed to be educated. Her father, an academic, is arrested and never seen again. It is left to Parvana to support the family. There is only one solution, to dress as a boy and head for the market place, where she reads and writes letters for folk.
- Parvana’s Journey: This is the sequel to The Breadwinner and an unforgettable read. This follows Parvana on her journey through war torn Afghanistan, she is separated from her family and desperate to find them. Along the way she accumulates a number of children in desperate straits… they venture on together and finally reach a refugee camp. This is a bittersweet read and a good place to start understanding the harrowing effects of war on children.
- Mud City: Is the story of Shauzia, Parvana’s best friend, who finds herself living in a refugee camp in Pakistan. She sees her dream of getting to France and a new life slipping away. She decides to take her chances living on the streets of Peshawar. It is a dangerous and frightening decision to make and life is certainly not easier out there, for this feisty with a strong will to survive.
The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpugo: Another book that we reviewed earlier this year, and is about the friendship between a journalist, with a video camera and a boy with incredible kite making skills. Set on the West Bank, these two forge an unusual bond. I would read this aloud to your middle schoolers… this book has a beautiful ending, and the journalist learns that behind every news story there is a whole lot of heart involved.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahia Lovejoy: Hood #3 describes this as a timeless classic, I take that as a must read! This book is set in an ancient Arab nation and is the story of Buran, one of se7en daughters, who who refuses to sit at home waiting for her father to choose a husband for her. Instead, she disguises herself as a boy and then takes a difficult journey by caravan, to the distant city of Tyre, and establishes her own business. There she meets the crown prince and they end up taking walks and playing backgammon together. Buran realises that if she stays her true identity will be revealed… she flees back to her family.
Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher: Set in the Sultan’s Palace, Sharazad must tell the Sultan a story every night, and every morning he decides to let her live… depending on how interesting the story was. Sharazad is running out of stories and so asks Marjan, who is able to enter and exit the Palace, to go and find stories in the market place. She finds more than she bargained for. This is an interesting story of heroism…
One More River by Lynne Reid Banks: I read this book in high school and it is one of those books that really opens up your world. It is the story of Lesley, in a wealthy Canadian family, whose father decides to to return to Israel, embrace their Jewishness more fully and live on a Kibbutz . Lesley is appalled and resists all the way. However, once Lesley is there, she begins to immerse herself into her new environment and there is a transformation in her. She meets a Palestinian boy, who lives across the Jordan River and they become friends as the world around them becomes more chaotic with impending war. This is an exciting read and well worth it.
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye: This is a similar story, to One More River, except the heroine, Liyana’s family, are from St. Louis and they are moving to Palestine. Liyana is friendless, she doesn’t speak the language and is finding herself quite out of her depth. She has never met and can’t understand the people that are now called “family.” And then she meets Omer, a Jewish boy, and of course they cannot speak to each other… not just because of language barriers, but because of cultural barriers. Throughout the book the tension between Israeli soldiers and the Palestinians… doesn’t quite lurk beneath the surface, but rather erupts and escalates as the book goes on.
Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples: This one is new to us, waiting on the review pile… but someone has already sneaked a read from it and gives it the high status of “It’s a keeper.” This story takes place in war torn Afganhistan. It is the story of a young Afghanistan girl and an American Woman who lives in Pakistan after the 911 explosion. Their worlds are so far apart in so many ways and yet the story draws them together, slowly but surely their lives weave together… it is heartbreaking, but one of those books that has to be read. It will be in our next chapter book review – look out for it!!!
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley: When I asked my older boys for a middle eastern book they both replied, The Blue Sword… it ranks up there with the best of the rest for both of them. So… this is a fantasy type book, set in the Middle East. Harry, the heroine, is a young orphan girl who is searching for something, she is not sure what, that is missing in her life. Corlath, King of the Hillfolk kidnaps her and they embark on a journey across the rough and rugged country… this pure action, magic and adventure… Unbeknownst to her, she has a special role to play in the future of the Hillfolk, only when she carries the Blue Sword does she realise her ability. Riveting from start to finish, this is a “keep forever and read again and again” kind of book.
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