A thousand year old eco-fable, a story of migration from Oman, and realities faced by children growing up in war zones all are found in the 2015 Middle East Book Awards recipients. Many books recognized in this year’s awards focus on serious and complicated issues in ways appropriate for K-12 students. The Middle East Outreach Council (MEOC) made 10 awards and honorable mentions in Picture Book, Youth Literature, and Youth Non-Fiction categories. Winners were announced at the MEOC annual meeting at the Middle East Studies Association Conference held in Denver on November 21, 2015.
Since 2000, the MEOC Middle East Book Awards have recognized exemplary books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures. Books are judged on the authenticity of the portrayal of a Middle Eastern subject, as well as on their characterization, plot, and appeal for the intended audience. For these awards, the “Middle East” is defined as the Arab World, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and Turkey.
Nominations for the MEOC Middle East Book Awards are made by educators, publishers, librarians, and the general public. Eligible books for the 2015 awards were published in the period from January 1, 2014—June 1, 2015. The Book Awards Committee is comprised of MEOC members with experience in elementary, secondary, and higher education and Middle East-related outreach.
For more information about the awards or to nominate a book for future consideration, contact Dr. Lisa Adeli, Book Awards Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 Middle East Book Award Winners
Picture Book Category—Award Winner
When the Animals Saved Earth: An Eco-Fable retold by Alexis York Lumbard, illustrator Demi. Wisdom Tales, 2015.
In the retelling of this timely 1000-year-old fable found in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions, only animals lived on an island in complete harmony. When humans entered the peaceful setting, all changed negatively for the animals and the environment. A wise boy, a talkative lion, and a spirit leader find a peaceful solution to the conflict and endangerment of the animals and natural world. The well-written story will raise many discussion topics for students. Stunning and colorful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Demi will engage and appeal to lower and upper elementary level students, their teachers, and parents.
New Month/New Moon by Allison Ofanansky, photographs by Eliyahu Alpern, Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2014
Part of a series on Jewish holidays and nature in Israel, New Month/New Moon focuses on the Rosh Chodesh which celebrates the arrival of each new moon. An Israeli family goes into the desert to learn about introductory level astronomy and the desert environment. Elementary level readers will learn about the movement of the moon and the lunar calendar which is significant to both Jews and Muslims. Young readers will enjoy and learn from photographs of a simple science demonstration, interaction among family members, and animal life. The author also included directions for extended learning in the classroom or at home, words in Hebrew, and background information on Rosh Chodesh.
The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston, illustrator Claire Ewart, Wisdom Tales, 2014.
Set in Lebanon, The Olive Tree tells the story of Samir and Muna, young neighbors who have disagreement over who has rights to olives from an old tree that grows on one side of a fence but drops olives onto the other side. In this poignant and uplifting story, the children show compassion and broadened understanding in the lovely conclusion. Younger readers will easily relate to the lessons in the story and will enjoy the sensitive and colorful portrayal of the characters and setting by illustrator Claire Ewart. This is the fourth Middle East Book Award or honorable mention for author Elsa Marston with previous awards in the fiction and non-fiction categories.
The Story of Hurry by Emma Williams, illustrated by Ibrahim Quraishi, Seven Stories Press, 2014.
The Story of Hurry presents the perspective of a funny young donkey set against the backdrop of the many challenges and difficultiesfaced by Gaza Strip residents, especially children. Based on a true story, a creative zookeeper adds joy to children’s lives by transforming a donkey into a “zebra”. Illustrator Ibrahim Quraishi’s compelling mix of photography, painting, and collage images could be used to engage studentsin discussion of the living conditions presented and consequences of the long-term Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Author Williams provides extensive background information that will be helpful for teachers and parents who share this thought-provoking book with younger readers.
Youth Literature Category—Award Winner
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye. New York: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2014.
Simply told yet rich with detail and charm, this novel for intermediate elementary level readers is by the acclaimed poet and National Book Award finalist Naomi Shihab Nye. Young Aref must say good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in Oman as his family prepares to move to the U.S. where his parents will continue their studies. Before departing, Aref joins his beloved grandfather Siddi on many adventures that cover Oman’s historical, natural, and cultural heritage. This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of family, nature, and immigration. The author’s warmth and belief in the power of empathy and connection make this an exceptional addition to youth literature.
Youth Literature Category—Honorable Mention
Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath. New York: Delacorte Press (imprint of Random House Children’s Publishing), 2014.
Written in lyrical free verse that reveals horrific but brief glimpses of the traumatic events of the Armenian genocide of 1915, Like Water on Stone is an intense survival story narrated in distinct voices of three siblings and a mythical guardian. This beautiful but also, at times, vividly brutal historical novel brings a tragic period to life for high school readers. A list of characters, a glossary, and author’s note with historical context are valuable additions, and the author includes enlightening glimpses into Armenian customs and culture. Young adult readers may require guided support from teachers for greater historical context, and to work through and understand graphic or disturbing scenes.
Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2014.
Egyptian-American teenager Mariam resists her protective parents’ rules and restrictions and a family heritage that makes her feel like an outsider at school. After pushing the limits, she is sent to Egypt to live with her notoriously strict grandmother. The trip coincides with the events of the Arab Spring, including youth protests in Tahrir Square. Mariam learns about friendship, family, and Arab culture. Key figures in the 2011 uprisings in Egypt are mentioned, making those events tangible and accessible to young readers. It is an engaging, fast-paced book that will provoke discussion of personal growth, protest movements, and differences in fictional and non-fictional depictions of events.
Youth Non-Fiction Category—Award Winner
Children Growing Up with War by Jenny Matthews, Candlewick Press, 2014.
Children Growing Up with War addresses issues and situations of children affected by war in the Middle East region and elsewhere. Matthews, a photojournalist, describes her experiences and reactions to what she has observed of children in conflict areas and addresses the issue of privilege. She presents this timely topic in a respectful way that balances the horrors of war with hope, agency, and a discussion of the Rights of the Child. The book could be used in high school journalism, social studies, and photography classes although the writing style and photographs also make it accessible to younger students if guided by an adult who could help in discussing the difficult issues.
Youth Non-Fiction Honorable Mentions
Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land by Sandy Tolan, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
Children of the Stone is the story of Ramzi Aburedwan. Growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, Ramzi was the subject of an iconic photograph of a boy throwing a stone at Israeli troops during the intifada. As a teenager, he discovered the power of music, studied at a music conservatory in France, and years later, went on to found a music program to inspire Palestinian young people. The book is well-researched by author Tolan as well as poignant in presenting a story of personal inspiration and commitment. Its focus on music and the experiences of children and youth makes it a story that to which Western young people will relate and find compelling.
Opposing Viewpoints: Egypt, edited by Margaret Haerens, Greenhaven Press (imprint of Cengage), 2015.
Part of the Opposing Viewpoints series, this timely book focuses on Egypt’s transformation after the Arab Spring. Short excerpts by prominent Arab and Western Middle East specialists are grouped into sections based on big issues, for example: “What is the Impact of Recent Political and Social Upheaval in Egypt?” and “What Should U.S. Foreign Policy Be?”. Provided in addition to an individual viewpoint are the author’s credentials, a statement of his/her thesis, and questions to consider while reading. The book encourages critical thinking by high school students as it guides them to a nuanced understanding of complex, contemporary issues.