When it comes to children’s books, it can be hard to find stories seeped in Arab culture especially ones written in English. Its a struggle faced by Arab expats as well as Arab’s living in their home country who want to teach their kids English through books that represent their culture.
With Arab expats exposed to a western life, from the child’s school to the films they watch, it can be hard to immerse their kids in Arab culture. With Arabs living in Middle Eastern countries, they are more likely than not to stumble upon shelves packed with Western stories and may not even find one about Arab life. To bring Arab culture to families in the East and West, the Scoop team curated a special list of stories showcasing life in the Middle East: From Palestine and Syria to Lebanon and Egypt.
A whimsical fantasy by Egyptian author Asmaa Hussein, it manages to deliver a moral message while also giving readers a look into modern Egyptian life, from its streets to its people. Omar, the story’s main protagonist makes a mistake. He steals a baklava from the Bawab, Amo Mohamed (an Egyptian doorman) and ends up facing the consequences in his dreams. Staring up at the sky, flabbergasted, Omar tries to evade baklavas literally raining from the sky, splatting on the floor and buildings.
The story is inspired by an Islamic teaching. In one of the Muslim hadiths (sayings from the Prophet Muhammed), the Prophet states that bad deeds can be erased by good deeds. Faced with immense guilt, Omar decides to apply this teaching and buys a piece of baklava for Amo Mohamed, replacing his bad deed with a good one.
Salma the Syrian Chef
What better way to connect a child to their culture than through food. Danny Ramadan’s beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Salma, a young Syrian refugee who arrives at Vancouver, Canada with her mum. Her dad is supposed to join them later. Throughout the story, Salma notices that her mum is not at her best as she struggles to settle in a new country, learn the language and find a job.
To cheer her mum up, with the help of the people at a Welcome Center, she decides to make her mum a popular Syrian dish, foul shami (fava beans with oil, garlic and onion). With this book, kids will get to learn about all the ingredients needed to make foul shami, as well as how to say them in English. Learning about one’s culture through food is a great way to connect to one’s identity especially as it can encourage the child to bond with their family by attempting to make the dish like Salma.
Baba, What Does My Name Mean?: A Journey to Palestine
A story that explores everything from the Arabic language to the land of Palestine. Rifk Ebeid takes readers on a journey to explore this Arab country seeped in a tumultuous history. The story begins with Saamidah, the main protagonist, asking her dad what her name means. Once he tells her, he then asks her to use her imagination and envision a white dove. This very white dove literally takes Saamidah all the way to Palestine. They would soar together through its mountains, deserts and hills, passing by cities like Areeha, El Gaza and Al Khalil.
With each city they pass by, Rifk would tell readers of the main characteristics of that city. With Areeha, for example, young readers learn that its the lowest point on Earth and that it has an ancient staircase called Tel El Sultan. This is a great book because it gives young Palestinians access to their rich country and its beautiful cities through the art of storytelling.
The Magical Reality of Nadia
Comedian Bassem Youssef’s children’s book has readers joining Nadia who moved from Egypt to America at a very young age. Nadia’s journey is in a new school with kids question her culture and identity as it turns out, Nadia adorns an ancient hippo amulet that actually carries the spirit of a teacher called Titi who got trapped in this pendant 2000 years ago.
With the help of Titi, Nadia gets to learn all about her ancient heritage by travelling back in time and exploring her country in real time. During one of those trips, Nadia and Titi transform into donkeys to be able to be disguised as she observes the story of Khun Anup (an ancient Egyptian tale) as it unfolds before her very eyes. These trips give her the tools and facts to talk back to bullies as well as prepare an exhibit about ancient Egypt at a Museum.
The Turtle Of Oman
Naomi Shihab Nye’s tale is quite beautiful as it showcases the beauty of loving one’s home country and the passion behind resisting to cut ties to ones roots. Its about a boy called Aref El Amri who does not want to leave Oman. He loves his country and does not want to move to Ann Arbor in Michigan and leave behind his friends and his grandfather Siddi. He stands his ground, even refusing to pack his suitcase. His mother is desperate so asks Siddi to help change Aref’s mind.
Instead of doing so, they go on an special adventure, visiting places special to Aref’s heart. From heading to the Gulf of Oman to fish to heading to the camp of a thousand stars at Oman’s desert, Aref gets to say goodbye to his homeland while making memories he will never forget. Siddi even drops a small memento into Aref’s bag so he can always have a piece of home with him no matter where he goes. The story is great as it will help Arab kids who miss their home country know that it will always be there and that they can revisit it through their memories and mementos.
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