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.

Shifa Safadi