Middle East Books for Tweens and Teens

~posted by Ruth

The list of picture books we recommended to help understand the Middle East are also wonderful resources for teens and tweens, of course.  They can serve as an enticing introduction to the contemporary life of youth growing up in this region of the world.  There are also some well-written and deeply moving novels that are perfect to help empathize with the lives of young teenagers half a world away.  The following three short novels are among the best I have read that focus largely on the conflict in Palestine and Israel—stories that show bravery, compassion, friendship, and a striving for understanding and peace.  I think they would be especially appropriate for book groups and discussions within a classroom, as well as read-alouds at home.

Running on Eggs by Anna Levine

Karen lives on an Israeli kibbutz, and Yasmine lives in a nearby Palestinian village. Their unlikely friendship develops when they are team-mates on an Arab-Israeli track team.  Friends and family of both girls distrust any friendship between the two cultures.  What happens when Yasmine and Karen meet secretly to run on No-Man’s Land, a strip of woods that separates the communities?  This is a frank and honest portrayal of life in contemporary Israel, and shows the promise and dangers of cross-cultural friendships.  Readers will be drawn to the two characters and understand the key theme of friendship that is at the heart of the book. A fine introduction to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

*

A Stone in My Hand by Cathryn Clinton

Set in Gaza City in 1988,  this moving novel tells the story of 11-year-old Malaak through her eyes and inner voice.  Traumatized by the disappearance of her father, she can barely speak and immerses herself in a fantasy life with a dove her father had given her as her companion.  This is a wrenching book that tells of the realities of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinians.  The story is also about Malaak’s 12-year-old brother Hamad and the dangerous decisions he makes.  We see the sadness and heartbreak–and the anger that causes escalating violence.  A thoughtful and beautifully written book with an ultimately humane message.  I think it’s appropriate for grade 6 and older.

*

Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

In Habibi, acclaimed poet Naomi Shihab Nye brings her lyric talents to the story of Liyana Abboud.  Liyana, along with brother Rafik, American mother Susan and Palestinian-American father Poppy, leave St. Louis for a new life in Jerusalem, her father’s native city.  Throughout the novel, Liyana makes sense of her new world through writing in her journal, and we as readers share her insights and her flair for poetry.  Liyana yearns for the friends and familiarity of home, but is intrigued with new smells, food, language, customs and all the noisy relatives who are ready to love her.   We get a glimpse of the challenges anyone faces in a new culture as we walk with her through the Jerusalem streets, but Liyana’s friendship with a Jewish boy challenges her family and the traditions of a divided city.

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