The Middle East Outreach Council’s 2012 Middle East Book Awards recipients run the gamut from folktales to cyberpunk thrillers to war memoirs and beyond. Winners were announced at the Middle East Studies Association conference held in Denver, CO, in November. Established in 1999, the Middle East Book Award recognizes quality 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 their portrayal of a Middle Eastern subject, as well as on their characterization, plot, and appeal for the intended audience. For the purposes of this award, “The Middle East” is defined as the Arab World, Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Afghanistan.
The MEOC Book Award Committee is a volunteer committee consisting of MEOC members representing primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions. Past recipients of the awards can be viewed here. Nominations for the Middle East Book Award are made by publishers, educators, librarians and the general public. If you would like to nominate a book, please contact Regina Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CO-WINNER: Folktales from Turkey: From Agri to Zelve by Serpil Ural, illustrated by Dilara Arin (Citlembik Publications)
Folktales from Turkey is a wonderful combination of folktales and stories in combination with historic, geographic, and cultural content. Evaluators especially enjoyed the format: short stories with side panels that offer information on a wide variety of topics. The book is well-written, nicely illustrated, and offers teachers many opportunities for follow-up research or art projects. Overall, “it is an unusual book and reflects tremendous research and creativity on the part of the author and illustrator.”
CO-WINNER: The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan by Ann Redisch Stampler, illustrated by Carol Liddiment (Albert Whitman and Co.)
The Wooden Sword is a charming story with “vibrant illustrations with rich, sensuous colors that epitomize the beauty of the Middle East.” Reviewers also loved the repetition of the phrase “I have faith that everything will turn out just as it should,” which is reassuring to children. It is well-written, engaging, and colorful.
HONORABLE MENTION: What’s the Buzz? Honey for a Sweet New Year by Alison Ofanansky, photographs by Eliyahu Alpern. (Kar-Ben Publishing)
What’s the Buzz? received praise for its information on the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah traditions, the bee industry, and life in Israel. Written for young children, it fills a huge hole in non-fiction for early grade levels. Reviewers especially loved the photographs showing real Israeli children in everyday life.
CO-WINNER: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (Grove Press)
Alif the Unseen is a witty fantasy written for the cyberage and its youthful inhabitants. During the course of a mythical and political thriller, it teaches about Islam, jinns, gender relations, Gulf politics, the importance of freedom with responsibility, and much more. With themes that teenagers will embrace, settings that fascinate, and characters that are bizarre and entertaining, it is a book for high school students who loved Harry Potter but want to explore a gritty fantasy world of both magical and internet wizardry, grounded in the issues and complexities of the Middle East. Note: Some strong language and sexual content.
CO-WINNER: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly)
Jerusalem is a graphic “novel” that gives an account of daily life in contemporary Israel by an outsider who is unsentimental but drawn in, bemused but empathetic. Delisle, a Canadian, sees and wonders at the complications, absurdities, and joys of living in East Jerusalem, and explores other communities in Israel and the Occupied Territories. He came with little knowledge and few preconceptions, but while on the ground, he provides a map for students, teachers, and readers for what it’s like to live and travel in this complex region. His drawings are informative and entertaining. They will draw students in and delight teachers.
CO-WINNER: Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan by Rafal Gerszak (Annick Press)
Beyond Bullets documents photo-journalist Rafal Gerszak’s experiences during the year that he spent embedded with American forces in Afghanistan. However, it is much more than a war story. There are textures and layers to the book as the author struggles to get beneath the surface and reach a deeper understanding of life in Afghanistan. Reviewers commented that the book “shows the power of photojournalism and gave a unique perspective” and that it is especially powerful for high school students whose parents served in Afghanistan but have not yet unwrapped the experience. Overall, the book is an insightful, highly personal reflection.
CO-WINNER: Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979 by Lamia Ziade (Interlink Publishing Group)
Bye Bye Babylon is a graphic novel/memoir of the author’s experiences as a child (age 7-11) in war-torn Lebanon. Reviewers described the book as “fun and colorful” but also appreciated how it “took the graphic novel approach a little further by adding historical context to the memoir.” They concluded that young people will love it – and will also learn more about the transformation of everyday life in Beirut during the 1970s conflict.
HONORABLE MENTION: Living through the Arab-Israeli War since 1948 by Alex Woolf (Heinemann-Raintree)
Living through the Arab-Israeli War since 1948 is commended as an excellent resource on the Arab Israeli conflict because of its “honest attempt to present both sides while not offending any moderates.” It is also very readable, making a complex subject accessible to a high school audience.