Posts Tagged diversebooks

The Importance of Arab Books plus an Arab MG Book list

The importance of Arab books plus an Arab MG Book List

With the world news being full of conflict, it can be hard for young people, as well as educators and parents to know how to approach tough topics.

How do we acknowledge the sadness that comes with seeing conflicts and war as well as grapple with the very real struggles our young people face in growing up in a society in which they might feel helpless and scared.

For Muslims and Arabs, and specifically for Palestinians, that fear and grief can feel extra debilitating, especially when facing racism and stereotypes that seem pervasive in mainstream media and public opinion.

Arabs and Muslim have long faced stereotypes such as the slur “terrorist” (a word that seems to only apply to those who are deemed criminal with Muslim or Arab heritage), the misconceptions of hijab and the idea that it is oppressive (although millions of Muslim women proudly choose to wear it), and even the Arabic language (which is feared and seen as dangerous). I myself have faced these very stereotypes, and it broke my heart every single time to feel like I have to defend my heritage and religion, to ask people to view me as a normal human like anyone else.

As an Arab Muslim myself, and as an avid reader growing up in a post 9/11 world, I learned to find healing in words. I learned to love books and stories, and yet it was only until 2019 that I finally found a book with Syrian and Muslim representation- OTHER WORDS FOR HOME, and with tears running down my face, I realized that I had been searching for a story that reflected my own experiences my whole life. I felt seen.

And it started my own yearning to become an author as well.

Arabs are still very underrepresented in literature. A recent survey conducted by Lee and Low books in 2019 showed Arab books at less than one percent of all books.

For Palestinian Americans, seeing their own people on their phone screens and on tv undergoing a crisis that has gripped the world and the United Nations, a crisis that has garnered headline after headline, with no end to the suffering- can feel like the worst reality to live in. Facing increased Islamaphobia and anti-Arab racism domestically can cause that feeling of pain grow wider. Palestinian American students are facing increased challenges in school settings among peers, and even with misinformed educators. Dehumanization of Palestinian lives has led to many viewing the death toll as a number…and not a real tragedy worth stopping.

And even with peers, many are trying to understand- what does it mean to be Palestinian? Who are Palestinians? Who are Arabs? And how do educators and peers work together to help everyone in society feel included and safe.

Books can help bridge that gap.

Informational books and even fictional books written by own voice Palestinian writers and Arab writers help increase compassion and humanity.

Middle Grade Book List by Arab Authors

  1. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Publisher description:

New York Times bestseller and Newbery Honor Book!

A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US–and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.

But this life also brings unexpected surprises–there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself.

2. Farrah Rocks Fifth Grade by Susan M Darraj (younger MG)

Publisher description:


3. We are Palestinian: A Celebration of Culture and Tradition by Reem Kassis and Nouha Elouti

Publisher description:

A stunning non-fiction children’s book celebrating everything Palestinian!

From culture and food, to music and literature, We Are Palestinian is a celebration of Palestinian heritage. Brought to life by award-winning writer Reem Kassis, every spread is filled with wonderful anecdotes, fascinating facts, and memorable quotes. It is beautifully illustrated by Noha Eilouti, an emerging Palestinian-Canadian illustrator.

Discover ALL about the history of iconic Palestinian symbols like tatreez embroidery, or the inspiration behind Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry. As you turn every page, you’ll find yourself lost in the world of Dabke (the folk dance of Palestine) and amazed by its famous old cities; you’ll try traditional food like knafeh, explore the different religions, and find out much more. Each spread of We Are Palestinian is accessible, richly inspiring, and visually stunning.

Young readers are going to love discovering more about Palestine. This is the perfect book for parents, educators, and caregivers wishing to explore new worlds of culture and custom with children.

4. Ida in the Middle by Nora Lester Murad (Nora is a Jewish American married to a Palestinian Muslim)

Ida, a Palestinian-American girl, eats a magic olive that takes her to the life she might have had in her parents’ village near Jerusalem. An important coming of age story that explores identity, place, voice, and belonging.

Every time violence erupts in the Middle East, Ida knows what’s coming next. Some of her classmates treat her like it’s all her fault–just for being Palestinian! In eighth grade, Ida is forced to move to a different school. But people still treat her like she’ll never fit in. Ida wishes she could disappear.

One day, dreading a final class project, Ida hunts for food. She discovers a jar of olives that came from a beloved aunt in her family’s village near Jerusalem. Ida eats one and finds herself there–as if her parents had never left Palestine! Things are different in this other reality–harder in many ways, but also strangely familiar and comforting. Now she has to make some tough choices. Which Ida would she rather be? How can she find her place?

Ida’s dilemma becomes more frightening as the day approaches when Israeli bulldozers are coming to demolish another home in her family’s village…

An empowering young readers edition of We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders, the memoir by Women’s March coorganizer and activist Linda Sarsour that’s “equal parts inspiring, emotional, and informative” (Kirkus Reviews).
You can count on me, your Palestinian Muslim sister, to keep her voice loud, keep her feet on the streets, and keep my head held high because I am not afraid.
On January 21, 2017, Linda Sarsour stood in the National Mall to deliver a speech that would go down in history. A crowd of over 470,000 people gathered in Washington, DC, to advocate for legislation, policy, and the protection of women’s rights–with Linda, a Muslim American activist from Brooklyn, leading the charge, unapologetic and unafraid.
In this middle grade edition of We Are Not Here to be Bystanders, Linda shares the memories that shaped her into the activist she is today, and how these pivotal moments in her life led her to being an organizer in one of the largest single-day protests in US history. From the Brooklyn bodega her father owned to the streets of Washington, DC, Linda’s story as a daughter of Palestinian immigrants is a moving portrayal of what it means to find your voice in your youth and use it for the good of others as an adult.
Publisher description:
Out of the revolutions across the Arab world comes this inspirational story of hope, freedom, and belonging, perfect for fans of Other Words for Home and A Good Kind of Trouble.
Kareem Haddad of Damascus, Syria, never dreamed of becoming a graffiti artist. But when a group of boys from another town tag subversive slogans outside their school, and another boy is killed while in custody, Kareem and his friends are inspired to start secretly tag messages of freedom around their city.Meanwhile, in the United States, his cousin, Samira, has been trying to make her own mark. Anxious to fit in at school, she joins the Spirit Squad where her natural artistic ability attracts the attention of the popular leader. Then Kareem is sent to live with Sam’s family, and their worlds collide. As graffitied messages appear around town and all eyes turn to Kareem, Sam must make a choice: does she shy away to protect her new social status, or does she stand with her cousin?Informed by her time as a journalist, author Rhonda Roumani’s Tagging Freedom is a thoughtful look at the intersection between art and activism, infused with rich details and a realistic portrayal of how war affects and inspires children, similar to middle grade books for middle schoolers by Aisha Saeed, The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandi, or Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Publisher description:

From two incredible rising talents comes the fantasy graphic novel Molly Knox Ostertag calls “instantly compelling.” A New England Book Award and Harvey Award winner!

Aiza has always dreamt of becoming a Knight. It’s the highest military honor in the once-great Bayt-Sajji Empire, and as a member of the subjugated Ornu people, Knighthood is her only path to full citizenship. Ravaged by famine and mounting tensions, Bayt-Sajji finds itself on the brink of war once again, so Aiza can finally enlist in the competitive Squire training program.

It’s not how she imagined it, though. Aiza must navigate new friendships, rivalries, and rigorous training under the unyielding General Hende, all while hiding her Ornu background. As the pressure mounts, Aiza realizes that the “greater good” that Bayt-Sajji’s military promises might not include her, and that the recruits might be in greater danger than she ever imagined.

In this breathtaking and timely story, Aiza will have to choose, once and for all: loyalty to her heart and heritage, or loyalty to the Empire.

8. Where the Streets had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah (audio-book)

Publisher Description:
Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab’s life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the checkpoints, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat’s best friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble. But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.
Publisher Description:
In this coming-of-age graphic novel with a fantastical twist, Nayra Mansour, a Muslim American girl, is helped on her journey to selfhood by a djinn.
Nothing is going right for Nayra Mansour. There’s the constant pressure from her strict family, ruthless bullying from her classmates, and exhausting friendship demands from Rami -the only other Muslim girl at school. Nayra has had enough. Just when she’s considering transferring schools to escape it all, a mysterious djinn named Marjan appears.
As a djinn, a mythical being in Islamic folklore, Marjan uses their powers and wisdom to help Nayra navigate her overwhelming life. But Marjan’s past is fraught with secrets, guilt, and trouble, and if they don’t face what they’ve done, Nayra could pay the price.
In this beautifully illustrated graphic novel, Iasmin Omar Ata has created a realistic coming-of-age story with an enchanting dose of the fantastical about strength, identity, and, most of all, friendship.

Check out this Ramadan article and booklist for more Muslim book inspiration.

Praying for 2024 to be a year in which peace reigns and people of all backgrounds live together in happiness and health.

WNDMG Wednesday- Debut Author Interview with Thushanthi Ponweera

picture of the book I AM KAVI


I’m so excited to be able to interview debut author Thushanthi Ponweera today for the WNDMG Wednesday blog. Thushanthi’s new book is I AM KAVI (Holiday House) and it launched on September 19, 2023

I am super in love with this gorgeous novel in verse, as I am also a fellow author of a verse novel coming in 2024 and I just adore poetry! I have read an ARC of this book, and I have to say, the book is stunning, poetic, and absolutely heartfelt in every way. And it is a much-needed book highlighting a diverse author and story that is so important.

I encourage everyone to buy a copy for themselves and their classrooms and libraries.


picture of the book I AM KAVI

Description taken from online:

Caught between two worlds- a poverty-stricken village and a fancy big-city school—a young Sri Lankan girl must decide who she really is and where she really belongs.

1998, Colombo. The Sri Lankan Civil War is raging, but everyday life must go on. At Kavi’s school, her friends talk about the weekly Top 40, the Backstreet Boys, Shahrukh Khan, Leo & Kate… and who died–or didn’t–in the latest bombing. But Kavi is afraid of something even scarier than war. She fears that if her friends discover her secret–that she is not who she is pretending to be–they’ll stop talking to her.

I want to be friends with these / happy, / fearless, / girls / who look like they / belong.
So I could also be / happy, / fearless, / and maybe even / belong.

Kavi’s scholarship to her elite new school was supposed to be everything she ever wanted, but as she tries to find some semblance of normalcy in a country on fire, nothing is going according to plan. In an effort to fit in with her wealthy, glittering, and self-assured new classmates, Kavi begins telling lies, trading her old life–where she’s a poor girl whose mother has chosen a new husband over her daughter–for a new one, where she’s rich, loved, and wanted. But how long can you pretend to be someone else?

This dazzling novel-in-verse comes from an astonishing new talent who lived through the civil war herself. Perfect for fans of Jamine Warga, Supriya Kelkar, and Rajani LaRocca, I Am Kavi centers a powerful South Asian voice, and stars an unforgettable heroine each and every one of us can relate to.

Interview with Thuhshanthi Ponweera

I loved getting to talk to Thushanti about her new book I AM KAVI and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Kavi as well.


SSS: What a gorgeous cover that conveys so much power! Who was the artist and anything readers should know about the beautiful artwork?

TP: I was equally blown away by the cover and I need to credit my publisher, Holiday House, for having the perfect vision for it. The artist is Emilia Niwa, who is a Japanese-Australian artist. I think she did such a great job in capturing the essence of Kavi! Initially, I initially didn’t like the fact that Kavi was wearing a jacket, which is uncharacteristic of a Sri Lankan child, but then I wove that detail into the manuscript to make it work!

SSS: Love that!

What is the inspiration behind I AM KAVI?

TP: There is a lot of inequality in Sri Lanka which I was made aware of from a very young age. My parents always made sure to teach me that we had so many privileges that many in the country didn’t have access to, especially during the war, like an undisturbed education or a family that could stay together. Sadly, it is no better or is perhaps worse now. Or maybe it’s the adult lens through which I now view things. These disparities make me very sad/angry and I think channeling that into my writing is how I deal with it.

SSS: I am so sorry. As a Syrian American, reading this story broke my heart- as I know what it is like to feel heartbroken at seeing your homeland plunged into war and feeling so helpless. What was it like to draw on memories and experiences of living through the war as you wrote?

TP: I’m sorry you have felt that pain but I understand. Drawing on those memories as an adult was quite a difficult experience since it was armed with all the adult knowledge and hindsight about why and how the war happened and all its repercussions, which I write about in my author’s note at the end of the book. I wrote I Am Kavi with a renewed understanding but also a renewed sense of heartbreak and disgust. Wars are horrible, no matter where they take place.

SSS: Completely agree.

How is Kavi as a character similar to you? How is she different?

TP: Kavi is very introspective and thoughtful and she is constantly analyzing the behaviors of those around her. She also is sensitive and is quick to jump to the conclusion that she is to blame. These are traits familiar to me. But unlike me, she is brave, outspoken, and adaptable. Maybe these are things I wish I was!


SSS: The subject of belonging is important in the book—can you talk more about how Kavi struggles to belong in her school- and what it means to belong?


TP: Belonging is a theme in this book, and it starts with Kavi feeling like she no longer belongs in her family. So when it comes to fitting into her new life in her new school she is determined to not struggle, because she is so desperate to fit in to compensate for feeling left out at home. For Kavi, this is an exciting challenge and it goes smoothly…till it doesn’t! But really, it’s more about her struggle to feel she belongs with the person who matters the most to her–her Amma (mother). I think one’s own family is where belonging makes the biggest difference, especially at that age.

SSS: Absolutely!

Diverse books are so important (and a passion of mine!). How does culture and faith play a role in your book and in Kavi’s life?

TP: Although Sri Lanka as a whole is a very underrepresented country in children’s literature in the US, it is a very diverse country in itself and is made up of multiple ethnicities, faiths, beliefs, cultures, and traditions which is amazing! However, Kavi hasn’t had a chance to be exposed to all of that as she is from a village that is predominantly Sinhalese and Buddhist, which is a reality in the more rural parts of Sri Lanka. Even her school in Colombo possibly has mostly kids from the same background, which is unfortunately the case in many schools in the country which are often segregated by gender and/or language, which in turn segregates children according to their culture and faith. So in this book, I tried to represent that accurately as it is historical fiction.

SSS: Love that.

Will there be more Kavi in the future?

TP: I would love there to be! Maybe a spin-off? It all depends on how well the book is received and what my editor thinks!

Link to preorder here.


Writing Process


SSS: How did you first discover poetry? Was it love at first sight? (I personally loved poetry from the moment I read poems in Elementary!!)

TP: I attended private speech & drama lessons as a child, and I was lucky to have some wonderful teachers who shared some amazing prose and poetry that I wouldn’t have read otherwise. This is how I learned that not all poems have to rhyme! As a teenager, I used to write (bad) poetry and I guess I slowly got better at it? I still wouldn’t call myself a “proper” poet because my poetry is straightforward and easy to understand! But this makes it perfect for verse novels and storytelling.

SSS: As a fellow verse novelist, I am curious- did this book start out in poetry? (My own book began as prose before I realized verse was what I felt worked better).

TP: Yes it did. I had recently discovered verse novels and had decided to try writing one!

SSS: Any advice for fellow middle-grade authors? For poets?


TP: Can I combine the two and offer some advice for middle-grade authors attempting a verse novel?! I would say, don’t be intimidated by it. And if you’re an underwriter, maybe it’s because the story can be told in verse. Stories with strong character arcs are best suited for this style as you can really hone in on the protagonist’s thoughts and personal experiences. Try it!


SSS: Bonus question! Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with us?

TP: Yes! And that is the fact that I often feel so removed from my debut publishing experience as I’m so far away! So I’d love it if readers share pics of my book out in the wild and message me if they loved my book, especially younger readers.


Thank you so much for this interview, I really enjoyed myself!

Thank you so much Thushanti for answering my questions! I hope everyone picks up a copy of your beautiful book.


Readers: Check out some Back to School books here!

About Thushanthi Poonweera:

image of Thushatnthi Ponweera

Thushanthi Ponweera is an author and poet from Sri Lanka. Before daring to follow her dream of being published, she was a marketing specialist and entrepreneur. Her writing reflects the frustration she feels at the inequality and injustice she sees around her and the deep love she has for her island home. After having lived all her life in Colombo,  Thushanthi recently moved to Qatar with her husband and two children.  I Am Kavi is her first novel.

Keep up with Thushanthi: