We’re veering west this week, exploring Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Islamic cultures weave amongst all these areas somewhat uniting them, so although many of the titles in my post about Islam in children’s literature aren’t country-specific, most of them would work to supplement this leg of the tour.
Central Asia was by far the least represented region as I looked for children’s literature. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan — just a void in the ol’ card catalog. Middle Eastern titles are predominantly about recent wars. I’ve Mused about the significance of all this recently. The link for that is at the bottom of the blog along with links to earlier stops on our tour.
We’ll start at our easternmost point and move south and west today.
Caravan, written by Lawrence McKay, Jr., illustrated by Darryl Ligasan published in 1995 by Lee & Low Books
Jura lives in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. He’s a young Kirghiz boy, the son of a caravaneer who treks over some of the most rugged mountains in the world, camels laden with felts and furs, to trade in the city for food. This year Jura is 10 and finally old enough to ride in the caravan.
See the craggy mountains, experience the frozen altitudes and snug warmth of a fire-lit cave, enter the city with its grand mosques and bustling bazaar, right along with him. This is such an intriguing window onto a rich culture. Handsome illustrations capture the grandeur of Jura’s homeland and the warmth of his relationship with his father. Ages 3 and up.
I See the Sun in Afghanistan, written by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese published in 2011 by Satya House Publications
This is part of the I See the Sun series from Satya House that follows one child through her day in various cultures. It’s a very well done introduction to ordinary Afghani life for ages 4 and up.
Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, written and illustrated by James Rumford published in 2008; a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press
Wow! This book is so beautiful. It’s the account of a young boy in modern Baghdad who loves the ancient art of calligraphy. James Rumford has infused his pages with these sweeping lines, like the sketched path of a figure skater gliding effortlessly across the pages. The exquisite Islamic tiles featuring these same shapes also serve as backdrop to his warm, gorgeous human figures.
Although little Ali’s story harks to the ugly, fearful war around him, and the way that the loveliness of calligraphy is like a shelter for his mind from that terror — still, the bulk of this book is not about war; it’s about an amazing part of Ali’s culture and for that, and for the gorgeous representation of his world, I am really thankful. A small stunner, for ages 4 or 5 and up.
Nasreen’s Secret School
A story of the courageous young girls and their teachers who, under the Taliban, stole in secret to schools despite laws forbidding their education. Read my full review here. Ages 4 and up.
Razia’s Ray of Hope
Also about a young girl’s dream for education. Razia has to overcome the objections of her father and oldest brother with the help of her grandfather. Part of the excellent Citizen Kid series. My full review is here. Ages 6 and up.
Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan, written by Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan, photographs by Tony O’Brien published in 2008 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Documentarians O’Brien and Sullivan traveled to Afghanistan to interview children, asking them questions about their families, lives, and hopes. Asked what their wishes would be. Asked what they would like to show children visiting from America.
Meet street workers and pickpockets, girls and boys, children from Kabul and from the countryside. Hear the common theme of longing for an education. Striking, photographic portraits bring us face to face with these young, dear witnesses of devastation. Their own words serve as captions.
It’s a poignant, beautiful collection, best suited to slightly older readers, ages 9 through adult.
The Turtle of Oman
An absolutely gorgeous, lyric story of one young boy who must move away from Oman for a time, and all that his homeland means to him. This is a chapter book suited to ages 9 and up. My full review is here.
I found this when searching for fantastic fiction under 100 pages. It’s a suspenseful tale about a goatherd named Khalid in the mountains of Oman and his struggle to protect these mysterious creatures. Great for ages 8 or 9 and up.
United Arab Emirates
Jamal’s Journey, written and illustrated by Michael Foreman published in 2017 by Andersen Press
The unusual setting of Dubai makes this book shine out from among the rest. I am always excited to see new parts of the world appear in children’s books.
Follow a little camel named Jamal as he treks through desert dunes and sandstorms as part of a Bedouin caravan heading for the colorful marketplace in the great city of Dubai. Simple story, evocative illustrations, just right for ages 3 and up.
Going to Mecca, by Na’ima B. Robert, illustrated by Valentina Cavellini published in 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This is one of the books you’ll find in my blog post about Islam in children’s literature. It’s a fantastic, guided tour to all that’s involved with making a hajj to Mecca, for ages 5 and up.
The White Nights of Ramadan, by Maha Addasi, illustrated by Ned Gannon published in 2008 by Boyds Mill Press
Find out about the special celebrations that occur half way through Ramadan as a little girl named Noor prepares to celebrate with her family. Ages 5 and up.
The Three Lucys, written by Hayan Charara, illustrated by Sara Kahn published in 2016 by Lee & Low Books
Hayan Charara based this poignant story on his family’s experiences in Lebanon during the July War of 2006. A little boy named Luli loves to sit in the shade of an olive tree and play with his cats, the three Lucys. He loves to travel with his family to visit relatives in the bustling city of Beirut and then return to his peaceful home near the sea.
When war breaks out and bombs drop on his village, Luli’s family must flee. Sirens, sheltering, and worry over the Lucys dominate his life until a cease fire allows them to return home. There they discover that all is not lost, but all is certainly not well. Luli learns to grieve his losses while looking forward with hope. A steady but not overly harsh look at the costs of war, for ages 5 and up.
Oranges in No Man’s Land, by Elizabeth Laird, illustrations by Gary Blythe published in the UK in 2006; this edition 2008 by Haymarket Books
A poignant short chapter book about one young girl’s experience in war-torn Beirut — the traumas, dangers, courage, heartbreak, and generosity of spirit she encounters. For emotionally-mature readers. Short, but packed with a punch. Ages 10 and up.
Syria and Jordan
My Beautiful Birds
I featured this book in a blogpost about refugees. It’s the story of a little boy who flees Syria with his family and lands at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. The book is more about his experience as a refugee than it is a window into either of this places, but as a refugee camp is newly-home for so many Syrian children today, it’s fitting to include it. My full review is here.
Tasting the Sky
This fabulous, sorrowful memoir of life as a Palestinian refugee is a great choice for ages 12 through adult. Read my full review here.
Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp, written by Trish Marx, photographed by Cindy Karp published in 2010 by Lee & Low Books
The sad truth of Israel is that generations of children have grown up regarding their neighbors as their mortal enemies. This is everyday life for far too many kids. At Peace Camp, Palestinian and Jewish children come together to spend time side by side and hopefully learn a little about one another, grow in respect for one another, begin to trust one another.
Spend time with the children at this summer day camp, find out how the camp attempts to bridge this gap, and learn the history of the conflict in this documentary-style book, accessible to ages 7 or 8 and up.
Everybody Says Shalom, written by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Talitha Shipman published in 2015 by Random House
Meander about Israel in this warm, sunny, holiday scrapbook. Visit open-air markets, a kibbutz, the Dead Sea, the Western Wall. See Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows and Jerusalem’s gates. Munch some dates and ice cold yogurt.
Minimal text and cheerful illustrations provide a thoroughly happy and almost-entirely Jewish perspective in this book. Added information on the sites visited is included in the back pages. No complexity here. Just sightseeing. Ages 3 and up.
Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, written by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie published in 2005 by Lee & Low Books
I’ve reviewed several middle grade novels about the Lost Boys of Sudan as well as others impacted by the horrific civil wars in that country. This picture book provides a way for slightly younger readers to learn about these refugees, some of whom have made their way to the U.S. and Canada.
Garang is a young boy who once lived a happy life with his family in southern Sudan. He is thrust into a world of violence and fear, into roles of leadership well beyond his 8 years of age, into arduous journeys and heartbreaking losses, when his village is attacked and his family killed. Follow him among the thousands of boys walking to Ethiopia, and then to Kenya when further war forces them to flee once again.
It’s an incredible, gripping story of what life has been like for some of the children in our world, boldly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. I’d suggest ages 8 and older.
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret, written by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin published in 1990 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Ahmed is a young boy who works on the streets of Cairo driving a donkey cart laden with bottled gas canisters. Travel with him on one of his typical work days and see the sights of modern Cairo, a melange of the very old and new.
Ahmed is proud to be helping support his family, but today he has a new source of pride. It’s such a big secret, his heart is about to burst with it! As he holds that secret close to his chest all day, our curiosity mounts. What could it be! The revelation is a joy and an inspiration. I am so glad this book exists. It’s a rarity for all the reasons I’ve mused about earlier. If you can find it, you’ll love reading it along with children ages 4 and up.
Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya, illustrated by Susan L. Roth published in 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers
During the tumult of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the library of Alexandria was threatened by vandals. One brave librarian was not enough to protect this treasure, but many brave protestors who linked hands and formed a ring of safety around it were enough.
This is their story, and a lovely look at contemporary Egypt. Includes back pages with photographs of this stunning library, and more information about Alexandria’s ancient library, current library, and the revolution itself. Great little read for ages 5 and up.
The Butter Man, written by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli published in 2008 by Charlesbridge
Most books about Morocco are centered in the colorful souks of Marrakech and Fez, but this touching story takes place in the High Atlas Mountains, so that’s the first great point in its favor!
It’s the story of a young girl named Nora who is impatiently awaiting the delicious lamb-and-vegetable couscous her dad is making for dinner. It smells so good. Her tummy is rumbling so loudly. Finally she groans aloud: “I’m staaarving!”
Her father, who really did live through a time of starvation in his childhood, does not scold Nora for her outburst, but he does tell her the story of the butter man. It’s a personal story of endurance as his Berber community faces a severe shortage of food, and the unique way his mother tries to distract him from gnawing hunger pains. Illustrated with colorful, naive artwork, the book brings this rather hidden region to life. An Author’s Note tells lots more about the Berber culture.
Great read, well worth sharing with children ages 5 and up.
My Father’s Shop, written and illustrated by Satoma Ichikawa first American edition 2006 by Kane/Miller Books
Head into the souk and meet young Mustafa who is helping out in his father’s rug shop. Those fabulous carpets draw tourists from around the world, and Mustafa’s dad thinks he ought to begin learning some of the many languages the customers speak so he can grow into a fine market man one day.
Mustafa’s method of learning languages is quite unusual, humorous, and entertaining, but in the end, he certainly does manage to bring in the business!
Beautifully drawn with all the spicy colors and liveliness of a souk in Marrakech, this is a funny, lighthearted story, ideal for ages 2 and up.
The Storytellers, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin published in 1998 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
Winding among the ancient, cobbled streets of Fez, young Abdul and his grandfather walk to work. As they squeeze past donkey carts piled with brass bowls, wool dyers wringing water from scarlet skeins, brassworkers hammering noisily on metal, weavers clickety-clacking at their looms, Abdul compares all the various jobs with the work lying ahead of him.
Every time, he feels lucky. Lucky to be doing…what? What is it that occupies Abdul and his grandfather?
So much admiration for the sights, sounds, and traditions of Morocco are tucked into this really eye-catching book. It’s a delightfully tangy read for ages 5 and up.