2023 Award winners
IDA IN THE MIDDLE
by Nora Lester Murad (Crocodile Books, 2022)
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? An important coming of age story that explores identity, place, voice, and belonging. Grades 7-9.
2023 HONORABLE MENTIONS
by Diana Farid (Henry N. Abrams, 2022)
Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person who makes her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore. Grades 5-9.
by Deena Mohamed (Pantheon, 2023)
Three wishes that are sold at an unassuming kiosk in Cairo link Aziza, Nour, and Shokry, changing their perspectives as well as their lives. Aziza learned early that life can be hard, but when she loses her husband and manages to procure a wish, she finds herself fighting bureaucracy and inequality for the right to have—and make—that wish. Nour is a privileged college student who secretly struggles with depression and must decide whether or not to use their wish to try to “fix” this depression, and then figure out how to do it. And, finally, Shokry must grapple with his religious convictions as he decides how to help a friend who doesn’t want to use their wish. Deena Mohamed brings to life a cast of characters whose struggles and triumphs are heartbreaking, inspiring, and deeply resonant. Although their stories are fantastical—featuring talking donkeys, dragons, and cars that can magically avoid traffic—each of these people grapples with the very real challenge of trying to make their most deeply held desires come true. High School and Adult.
2022 Award winners
TRAVELERS ALONG THE WAY: A ROBIN HOOD REMIX
by Aminah Mae Safi (Feiwel & Friends, 2022)
Jerusalem, 1192. The Third Crusade rages on. Rahma al-Hud loyally followed her elder sister Zeena into the war over the Holy Land, but now that the Faranji invaders have gotten reinforcements from Richard the Lionheart, all she wants to do is get herself and her sister home alive. But Zeena, a soldier of honor at heart, refuses to give up the fight while Jerusalem remains in danger of falling back into the hands of the false Queen Isabella. And so, Rahma has no choice but to take on one final mission with her sister. On their journey to Jerusalem, Rahma and Zeena come across a motley collection of fellow travelers―including a kind-hearted Mongolian warrior, an eccentric Andalusian scientist, a frustratingly handsome spy with a connection to Rahma's childhood, and an unfortunate English chaplain abandoned behind enemy lines. The teens all find solace, purpose and camaraderie―as well as a healthy bit of mischief―in each other's company. But their travels soon bring them into the orbit of Queen Isabella herself, whose plans to re-seize power in Jerusalem would only guarantee further war and strife in the Holy Land for years to come. And so it falls to the merry band of misfits to use every scrap of cunning and wit (and not a small amount of thievery) to foil the usurper queen and perhaps finally restore peace to the land. Ages 12-14/7-9th Grade
2022 HONORABLE MENTION
by Rutu Modan, Translated by Ishai Mishory (Drawn and Quarterly, 2021)
When a great antiquities collector is forced to donate his entire collection to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Nili Broshi sees her last chance to finish an archaeological expedition begun decades earlier―a dig that could possibly yield the most important religious artifact in the Middle East. Motivated by the desire to reinstate her father’s legacy as a great archaeologist after he was marginalized by his rival, Nili enlists a ragtag crew―a religious nationalist and his band of hilltop youths, her traitorous brother, and her childhood Palestinian friend, now an archaeological smuggler. As Nili’s father slips deeper into dementia, warring factions close in on and fight over the Ark of the Covenant! Backed by extensive research into this real-world treasure hunt, Rutu Modan sets her affecting novel at the center of a political crisis. She posits that the history of biblical Israel lies in one of the most disputed regions in the world, occupied by Israel and contested by Palestine. Often in direct competition, Palestinians and Israelis dig alongside one another, hoping to find the sacred artifact believed to be a conduit to God. Ages 16+
2021 Award winners
EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE
by Daniel Nayeri (Levine Querido, 2020)
Early in Daniel Nayeri’s autobiographical novel, he writes “Persians aren't liars. They're poets, which is worse.” Thus begins the story of Daniel, a refugee and middle schooler in Oklahoma. While his day-to-day school experience might feel typically angsty and cruel for his age -- with bullies, boring classes, and smelly lunches -- his mind is a chaotic compilation of family memories and stories. Daniel blends folklore, legend, and oral tradition into his own experience as a young Persian navigating American school, captivating his teacher and peers with mysterious tales from the times and places before. Daniel blurs the lines between truth and fiction, and simultaneously uncovers the significance of inherited stories when we’re separated from the very people and places that shape us.
Ages 12-18/7-12th Grade
by Tammar Stein (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020)
Tammar Stein’s Beni’s War brings 1970s Israel and the Yom Kippur War into view as families and communities experience the uncertainties and pains of wartime. When Beni’s brother, Motti, gets called to war, the family agonizes over his absence. Beni’s friends and mechanic skills give him the boost he needs to act out of empathy, courage, and sacrifice to protect his community and family. This compelling novel will engage mature middle school readers in discussions about history, cultural context, and the importance of community. Ages 9-12/4-7th Grade
2021 HONORABLE MENTION
... TOO FAR FROM HOME
by Naomi Shmuel, Illustrated by Avi Katz (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020)
Shmuel’s novel highlights diversity within Israeli society with Meskerem, a Jewish girl from an Ethiopian American family. Meskerem is the only child of color in her fifth grade class and will do whatever it takes -- even lie -- to fit into her new school community. As she learns of the struggles her parents and grandmother experienced when seeking asylum in Israel, she begins to accept her multifaceted background. This novel explores what it means to question our identities, stay true to our individuality, and provides hope of acceptance for young readers. Ages 8-13/3-7th Grade
2020 Award winners
NO BALLET SHOES IN SYRIA
by Catherine Bruton (Nosy Crow Ltd, 2019).
Aya has fled Aleppo with her mother and baby brother, arriving in the United Kingdom with only the few items they could carry. Her days are spent at a refugee center, wondering what might have happened to her father. Stumbling upon a ballet class, she is able to join, but wonders if she will ever fit in. The teacher was once a refugee, too, during the Holocaust as part of the Kindertransport program, and the two stories weave together beautifully, bringing to life the hope and the hardships that refugees have faced both in the past and the present. Author Catherine Bruton, an English teacher, gives readers a character to root for. Aya's life in Aleppo comes alive in flashbacks, portraying the harrowing journey her family made to get to safety. Facing a new life in the UK, Aya slowly finds friendship and connection as her love for ballet re-ignites her passion and self-expression. Madam Helena's empathy for Aya and her family envelops them in warmth that they don't often see in the systems that control the lives of newcomers. Bruton presents us with a realistic situation and an unvarnished truth that so many refugees face in their new countries, starting over with very little.
OTHER WORDS FOR HOME
by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray, 2019).
Jasmine Warga presents us with a stunning novel about longing and belonging. Other Words for Home, written in piercing verse, leads us into the heart of young Jude, a middle school girl who has been exiled to Cincinnati along with her pregnant mother, escaping an increasingly volatile life in Syria. She longs for the father and brother left behind, along with her beloved friends and her country. Jude faces learning to belong in Cincinnati. Can she ever feel at home living with a first cousin who ignores her? Will she be accepted in the drama club wearing her head scarf on stage? Will Jude ever hear from her beloved father and brother? Will her devastated mother ever seem like herself again? In Other Words for Home we find that Jude uses love, kindness, patience, persistence and bravery to adapt and eventually thrive in her new world. She discovers how to belong and teaches us her secrets
2020 HONORABLE MENTION
ONCE UPON AN EID: STORIES OF HOPE AND JOY BY 15 MUSLIM VOICES
edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Sara Alfageeh (Harry N. Abrams, 2020).
A collection of short stories from prominent authors of the book Eid: a celebration. These stories weave us through food, family, prayer, and traditions held deep in this marking of the end of the month of Ramadan. From different living rooms and kitchens throughout the world, the reader is given the opportunity to be an observer through the eyes of many. Poetry, illustrations and lyrical sentences of humor and relativity bring us closer to the people in each story. A valuable piece of literature in a time when global awareness is important and necessary. Good for all ages to read alone or together.
2019 Award winners
DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY
by Adib Khorram (Dial Books, 2018)
Darius Kellner knows a lot about tea, Tolkien, and taroffing, one of many Iranian customs Adib Khorram shares with the reader of this revelatory middle school-level novel. When a family trip brings socially awkward Darius to Iran for the first time from Portland, Oregon, he discovers his first true friend and a place that begins to feel like home. The Iran of this novel is as multidimensional as the diverse characters who inhabit it.
by Katherine Marsh (Roaring Brook Press, 2018)
In this world too full of refugees escaping violence and poverty, a novel that paints such a multi-faceted picture is of critical importance. Two boys land in Brussels in the fall of 2015. Max is an ornery 13-year-old American who resents pretty much everything. Ahmed, a 14-year-old refugee from Syria who has experienced a terrifying roller coaster of loss and narrow escapes, hides out in the basement of Max’s rented house. Their ensuing adventures shine a light not just on the devastation of war and the consequences of fear and racism, but on the redemptive power of friendship. 6th grade and older.
2019 Honorable mention
THE LAST WATCHMAN OF OLD CAIRO
by Michael David Lukas (Spiegel & Grau, 2018)
Three interwoven stories unfold in Cairo, Egypt: First, 15-year-old Ali, a devout Muslim, becomes the first watchman for a synagogue that faces religious violence. A thousand years later, American Joseph al-Raqb pursues the provenance of a mysterious gift left by his Egyptian father, another in the long line of the synagogue’s watchmen. Wedged chronologically between Ali and Joseph, British twin sisters and scholars Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis arrive in Cairo to research Jewish manuscripts. This exquisitely rendered work of historical fiction will delight and educate.
2018 award winner
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS
by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (Touchstone, 2018)
The Map of Salt and Stars is part cartography, part poetry, and part call to action. The gripping narrative interweaves the journeys of two strong and intelligent female protagonists: Nour, a Syrian-American girl escaping the violence of the civil war, and Rawiya, a 12th-century girl who dresses as a boy to become apprentice to the famous mapmaker al-Idrisi. Beautifully written descriptions of Nour’s synesthesia help us understand her experiences in new ways.
2018 HONOrable mentions
ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO
by N. H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2018)
Nadia celebrates her twelfth birthday with a pink cake as the Arab uprisings begin, and over the next two years we watch as she and her family suffer through terrible loss and fear. Finally, her family must leave their home in Aleppo, but a bomb blast separates Nadia from the rest, and she must decide who to trust as she makes her way through the devastated country toward the Turkish border to find them. Escape from Aleppo will inspire readers to learn more about the conflict and engender empathy with refugees around the world.
THE GIRL FROM ALEPPO: NUJEEN’S ESCAPE FROM WAR TO FREEDOM
by Nujeen Mustafa & Christina Lamb (Harper Wave, 2017)
Nujeen’s charming and authentic voice shines from page one of this story about a sixteen-year-old girl with cerebral palsy forced to flee Aleppo during the civil war. There are many books that chronicle the experience of Syrian refugees, but Nujeen faces special challenges as her sister pushes her wheelchair from Turkey to Germany, crossing the Mediterranean and finding both help and horror along the way. Nujeen is smart, funny, and relatable, and readers will enjoy her fresh perspective.
2017 Award Winner
by Hala Alyan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
Depicting the story of Palestinian displacement in the 20th century, Salt Houses is a brilliantly written, captivating novel that leaps through time with effortless bounds. From the vantage point of one family’s members through generations, Salt Houses proves once again the truth behind the adage that the personal is political. This novel will engage mature readers with its multiple narratives and perspectives, and provides a superb overview of the major contemporary historical issues in the Middle East.
2017 Honorable Mentions
BALCONY ON THE MOON: COMING OF AGE IN PALESTINE
by Ibtisam Barakat (Macmillan 2016).
Balcony on the Moon continues the memoirs of Ibtisam Barakat, picking up where 2007’s Tasting the Sky (also a Middle East Book Award winner) left off. Told in approachable, engaging language, an American middle or high school student will connect to the author’s experience, which includes her father’s disability, sibling’s angst, and her own desire to live an authentic life. The story captures the unwavering strength of a young woman coming of age in challenging circumstances both personally and socially.
THE GIRL IN GREEN
by Derek B. Miller (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
The Girl in Green is a riveting look at contemporary Middle Eastern politics and conflict with enough action to keep teenagers fully engaged. Miller’s style brings out the complexity of the region’s many different players while simultaneously building empathy through multiple perspectives and frequent use of humor. This book unfolds like a major motion picture but has the exceptional character development found only in a well-written novel.
SAINTS & MISFITS
by S. K. Ali, (Salaam Reads, 2017).
Alternating between humorous and poignant, Saints & Misfits presents Muslim teens and the Muslim community in an honest and fresh way. Moving along at a fast clip, this contemporary YA novel has an authenticity that both adolescent girls and boys will appreciate. We learn above all that Muslim teens think about the same things that all teens do: getting along with their parents, having crushes, going to parties, and how to navigate becoming an adult.
2016 Award Winners
WHEN THE MOON IS LOW
by Nadia Hashimi (Wiliam Morrow).
When the Moon Is Low is a timely novel that gives readers a bird’s eye view of the exhausting and heartrending journey of a family fleeing conflict in Afghanistan. This instructional book could be used with middle and high school students across numerous disciplines including the language arts, geography, social studies, current events and world civilization. The lyrically written book employs a linear plot line that can be followed easily and the story is described in separate voices by the mother and the oldest son of the family. This dual narration adds depth and surprise to the tale and will keep the attention of readers of different ages and genders.
DARE TO DISAPPOINT: GROWING UP IN TURKEY
by Ozge Samanci (Farrar Strauss Giroux for Young Readers).
Dare to Disappoint is a charming coming of age story of an independent and inquisitive strong female protagonist. Young Ozge explores her identity with particular regard for her place in her homeland as she investigates politics, history, and everyday life in Turkey. The book’s true strength is its graphic novel style format which is vibrant and playful, using traditional comic book layout along with quirky sidebar notes to the reader and clever mixed media designs. This book is especially valuable at a time when Turkey is playing a more prominent role in regional and global affairs.
2016 Honorable Mention
IT AIN’T SO AWFUL, FALAFEL
by Firoozeh Dumas (Clarion Books).
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is the semi-autobiographical story of a young girl who must contend with being both the new girl in town and an Iranian immigrant during the late 1970s when the Iran hostage crisis took place. The author deftly handles, with humor and sincerity, the usual middle school struggles with identity, fitting in and finding friends, but the additional challenges of racism and xenophobia make this surprisingly light-hearted tale especially poignant. Middle grade readers of all backgrounds will relate with Cindy on her journey to self-discovery and acceptance, while getting an important glimpse of history. The book includes an author’s note with additional resources.
2015 Award Winner
THE TURTLE OF OMAN
by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow Books, 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.
2015 Honorable Mentions
LIKE WATER ON STONE
by Dana Walrath (Delacorte Press, 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.
2014 Award Winner
FEAR OF BEAUTY: A NOVEL
by Susan Froetschel (Seventh Street Books, 2013).
Fear of Beauty by Susan Froetschel offers a compelling portrait of a rural Afghanistan village, Laashekoh, and its complex relationship with a recently established American military outpost. All of the novel’s players–villagers, Americans, and Taliban–work to figure out each other’s multiple, and sometimes conflicting intentions. The novel begins with a mysterious death and maintains this initial tension. Weaving back and forth between the voice of Joey, the American Special Operations officer, and Sofi, the clever and knowledgeable Afghani mother, Froetschel creates suspense right up to the final and surprising revelation. With complex perspectives on a changing Afghanistan, the U.S. role there, and gender issues, Fear of Beauty is both educational and entertaining.
2013 Award Winner
THE GIRL WHO FELL TO EARTH: A MEMOIR
by Sophia Al-Maria (Harper Perennial, 2012).
With its insight into the rapidly changing society in the Gulf, a world infrequently read about by American youth, and a central character caught between two worlds, one of her American mother and the other of her Qatari Bedouin father, Sophia Al-Maria’s The Girl Who Fell To Earth is this year’s Middle East Book Awards winner. The memoir not only reveals conditions in another part of the world, but will help readers be more aware of similarities, good and unfortunate, between the “other” culture and their own. The central narrator’s engaging and witty, voice manages to weave references from Eastern and Western culture in the 1980s and now. Where else could you read about the starry night in the Qatar desert; Carl Sagan’s videos; star-crossed lovers from East and West; the oilification of the Gulf or Ziggy Stardust- David Bowie as an alien? Humor, surprises, plot twists make this memoir very appealing to readers
2013 Honorable Mention
A GAME FOR SWALLOWS: TO DIE, TO LEAVE, TO RETURN
by Zeina Abirache (Graphic Universe, 2012).
With its compelling plot, characterization and imagery, this graphic novel gives faces and stories to the families from the Lebanese civil war trying to survive. The historical content focuses on the civic geography of living so close to a green zone which divides a city during a war. It is a story about families, war, survival, and above all community. The stark black blocked illustrations work well to convey the content of fear during war. Because of its simplicity, Game for Swallows is a book for all ages; young children will grasp the basic situation: two young children like themselves whose parents are away but who are looked after by other adults. Older readers will be interested in the background of the story and want to discuss why the writer-illustrator created the book as she did. Adults will focus on the subtleties–slight changes in facial expression, for instance–that can reveal a lot about characterization and relationships. This is a compelling and meaningful book for all readers.
A FORT OF NINE TOWERS: AN AFGHAN FAMILY STORY
by Qais Akbar Omar (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012).
Described from a young person’s point of view, A Fort of Nine Towers gives a vivid, intimate, and detailed picture of life in another culture and the violence besetting the society of Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s. The memoir is a complex cultural tapestry of a range of Afghan tribes and dialects through the travels made across nine years of fleeing to safety during the war. The narrator’s openness to the novelty and differences amongst the people he and his family meet is a fantastic contrast to the strife bred by religious differences between warring factions in the country. Told from the perspective of an Afghan youth experiencing what no adult should ever have seen, the memoir brings new perspectives to Western readers.
2012 Award Winners
ALIF THE UNSEEN
by G. Willow Wilson (Grove Press, 2012).
Alif the Unseen is a witty fantasy written for the cyber age 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.
JERUSALEM: CHRONICLES FROM THE HOLY CITY
by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly, 2012).
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.
2011 Award Winner
WHERE THE STREETS HAD A NAME
by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Scholastic Press, 2010).
Where the Streets Had a Name offers an intriguing story set in today’s Palestine, where political realities affect daily life. The narrative is real, sensitive, and often very funny. The young main characters (both Muslim and Christian) are well-developed and easy to relate to, and their adventures on the way to Jerusalem will appeal to young readers. One teacher reviewer commented, “I appreciated the fact that the author’s telling showed multiple perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but did so without sounding preachy from any one perspective.”
2010 AWARD WINNER
by N.H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2011).
In July 2001, as 11-year-old Fadi and his family hastily board a truck to begin their escape from Afghanistan, six-year-old Mariam lets go of her brother’s hand and is tragically left behind. Their arrival in San Francisco is bittersweet as they are all too concerned about Mariam to appreciate their newfound safety and freedom. Fadi struggles with integrating himself into American middle school culture, eventually finding solace in the photography club. Still, he is most concerned with the part he played in losing Mariam and getting her back. A photography contest with the prize of a trip to India seems to be his best means of finding a way back to Afghanistan to help in the search for his sister. An age-appropriate tale relevant to current events.
2009 Award Winner
by Rukhsana Khan (Groundwood Books, 2009).
Inspired by a true story, the winning title has all the makings of tragedy: the titular Mor (“Mother” in Dari) passes away as the story opens, leaving Jameela and her father to seek a new life in Kabul. Jameela’s weak willed father, dominated by his addiction to opium and the will of his new wife, is persuaded to abandon Jameela in the marketplace, and she is taken to an orphanage where she meets a similar group of abandoned children. Rather than succumb to the tragic overtones, however, Khan constructs a multi-layered, nuanced tale about a girl making her way in a patriarchal society, finding those who are willing to bend the rules, and figuring out how to use the strict societal norms to her advantage. Much can be made of the differing forces and how they play off of each other (rural vs. urban; religious vs. secular; ethnic vs. ethnic; Afghan vs. American). There is a great deal here to explore.
2009 Honorable Mentions
A BOTTLE IN THE GAZA SEA
by Valérie Zenatti (Blooomsbury Publishing PLC, 2008).
Also inspired by true events, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is the story of Tal Levine, an Israeli teenager who longs to strike up a correspondence with “someone on the other side.” She convinces her brother, who is serving in the Israel Defense Forces along the Gaza border, to throw a bottle containing a message into the Gaza Sea in the hopes that someone will pick it up and respond. In this way, she meets “Gazaman,” a sarcastic Palestinian who, at first, only mocks her. As their correspondence continues, however, their casual e-mail exchange turns into something deeper. This “letter in a bottle” tale for the Web 2.0 generation does not shy away from deeper issues, especially in the wake of tragedies that afflict both Tal and Gazaman along the way. This timely, topical tale is sure to inspire a myriad of follow-up classroom activities.
by Andrew Clements (Atheneum Books, 2009).
This second honorable mention title is directed at readers in upper elementary and middle school. Abby Carson is a sixth-grade student in rural Illinois whose head is everywhere but her schoolwork (“it’s not that she can’t do her schoolwork, it’s just that she doesn’t like doing it”). In order to be spared the embarrassment of being left behind a grade, she agrees to an extra credit assignment involving writing to a pen pal in another country—and so she meets Sadeed Bayat and his sister Meriem in rural Afghanistan. As their friendship flourishes, problems arise on both sides. This is an appealing book with complex Afghan characters, providing a nuanced view even for younger readers. As if this wasn’t enough, the title received enthusiastic praise from the Award Committee’s school aged children! As with the other two recognized titles, there is much here to explore, and Extra Credit is sure to inspire much classroom discussion and follow up activities.
2008 Award Winner
THE APPRENTICE’S MASTERPIECE: A STORY OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN
by Melanie Little (Annick Press, 2007).
Set in Spain, 1485, this book tells the story of two teens in Córdoba after the reconquest: one is from a Jewish family that has converted to Christianity in the face of the Inquisition, the other a Muslim boy given to them as a slave. Through short passages written in verse, the tale of these of these two boys unfolds as they witness the end of Spain’s military campaign against the Moors and face their own uncertain futures in a country flush with nationalistic fervor that views them with suspicion. This book is simply written, but contains powerful and haunting imagery that will engage even adult readers.
2007 Award Winner
TASTING THE SKY: A PALESTINIAN CHILDHOOD
by Ibtisam Barakat (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).
In this powerful, groundbreaking memoir, Ibtisam Barakat captures what it is like to be a child whose world is shattered by war. While Tasting the Sky deals with many specifically Palestinian issues, it also explores universal themes of conflict with parents and society, the impact of war on children, and living a positive life despite hardships and tragedies. If connecting with the reader is an important aspect of literature, then this book accomplishes that goal.
2006 Award Winner
A LITTLE PIECE OF GROUND
by Elizabeth Laird (Haymarket Books, 2006; originally published in England by Macmillan UK in 2003).
A Little Piece of Ground focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and hopes of easier times ahead through the eyes of a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy in Ramallah. Plot elements such as Karim’s aspirations, sibling rivalry, and efforts at maintaining friendships transcend the conflict and physical setting. Elizabeth Laird, with assistance from Palestinian author Sonia Nimr, also show Karim’s and his friends’ frustrations and fears as they manage daily life with curfews, unpredictability in access to school, and challenges in finding a place to play soccer. The strength of the family, relationships among various groups of Palestinians, and encounters with Israelis are presented with complexity and in ways that will cause readers to think about the violence in the conflict and the responses of those affected by it.
2005 Award Winner
FIGS AND FATE
by Elsa Marston (George Braziller, 2005).
Five short stories about growing up in the Arab world today are told from the perspective of young Arab teens living in Syria, Lebanon, a Palestinian refugee camp, Egypt, and Iraq. Marston beautifully details the rich culture of these youths and their families, in the process helping to dispel negative stereotypes associated with young adults living in these societies. Readers will discover that their personal struggles, ideals, goals, and dreams are surprisingly familiar.
2003 AWARD WINNER
19 VARIETIES OF GAZELLE
by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow Books, 2002).
Nye compiled this moving collection of poignant moments and memories of Jerusalem, Palestine, and her family after September 11, 2001. It serves as a testimony to the painfulness of war, the yearning for peace, and the universal strength of the human spirit.
2002 AWARD WINNER
by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2002).
Set in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s, much of the story takes place in the small apartment where a young girl named Parvana lives with her family, and in the marketplace where her father markets his skills as a reader and scribe. Through Parvana’s experiences, the impact of Taliban rule on everyday life is conveyed, as is the ability of the human spirit to confront and conquer adversity.
2001 AWARD WINNER
SAMIR AND YONATAN
by Daniella Carmi (Scholastic, 2000 [English edition]).
Translated from Hebrew, this story is told in the first-person by Samir, a Palestinian boy who finds himself awaiting surgery in an Israeli hospital. The relationships that develop between Samir and some of the Israeli children in the ward testify to the possibilities for individuals to transcend the violence around them and make peace.
2000 AWARD WINNER
by Naomi Shihab Nye (Simon and Schuster, 1997).
Habibi is the story of 14-year old Liyana, who moves from Missouri to her father’s hometown of Jerusalem. At first it is a most unwelcome change for this American teenager and her family. Gradually, through new friends and relatives, she comes to an understanding of her father’s culture, and finds her place in it. This is a well written, very interesting novel, which holds one’s attention throughout and in a very realistic way portrays the issues that confront Jews and Arabs in Israel and the Palestinian territories.