Books on our Minds: Winter 2019

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Dear World: A Syrian Girl's Story of War and Plea for Peace

Bana Alabed

When seven-year-old Bana Alabed took to Twitter to describe the horrors she and her family were experiencing in war-torn Syria, her heartrending messages touched the world and gave a voice to millions of innocent children. Bana’s childhood was abruptly upended by civil war when she was three years old. Over the next four years, she knew nothing but bombing, destruction, and fear. Her harrowing ordeal culminated in a brutal siege where she, her parents, and two younger brotherswere trapped in Aleppo, with little access to food, water, medicine, or other necessities.  Facing death as bombs relentlessly fell around them—one of which completely destroyed their home—Bana and her family embarked on a perilous escape to Turkey. In Bana’s own words, and featuring short, affecting chapters by her mother, Fatemah, Dear World is not just a gripping account of a family endangered by war; it offers a uniquely intimate, child’s perspective on one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. Bana has lost her best friend, her school, her home, and her homeland. But she has not lost her hope—for herself and for other children around the world who are victims and refugees of war and deserve better lives. Dear World is a powerful reminder of the resilience of the human spirit, the unconquerable courage of a child, and the abiding power of hope. It is a story that will leave you changed.

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Zahra's Paradise

Amir & Khalil

Set in the aftermath of Iran’s elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished into an extrajudicial twilight zone. What’s keeping his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of his mother, who refuses to surrender her son to fate, and the tenacity of his brother, a blogger, who fuses tradition and technology to explore and explode the void in which Mehdi has vanished. The book weaves together fiction and real people and events. As the world witnessed the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections, through YouTube videos, on Twitter, and in blogs, this story came into being. The global response to this gripping tale has been passionate—an echo of the global outcry during the political upheaval of the summer of 2009. 

Zahra’s Paradise is a first on the internet, a first for graphic novels, and a first in the history of political dissidence. Zahra’s Paradise is being serialized online at zahrasparadise.com.  Zahra’s Paradise is a Publishers Weekly Best Comics title for 2011.

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Registers of Illuminated Villages

Tarfia Faizullah

Faizullah's work extends and transforms her powerful accounts of violence, war, and loss into poems of many forms and voices--elegies, outcries, self-portraits, and larger-scale confrontations with discrimination, family, and memory. One poem steps down the page like a Slinky; another poem responds to makeup homework completed in the summer of a childhood accident; other poems punctuate the collection with dark meditations on dissociation, discipline, defiance, and destiny; and the near-title poem, "Register of Eliminated Villages," suggests illuminated texts, one a Qur'an in which the speaker's name might be found, and the other a register of 397 villages destroyed in northern Iraq. Faizullah is an essential new poet whose work only grows more urgent, beautiful, and--even in its unsparing brutality--full of love. 

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Disoriental

Negar Djavadi

The story of a young girl and her family, at the core of an exploration of Iranian history. Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five, with a new life and the prospect of a child, Kimiâ is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which reach her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them.  In this kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimiâ herself—punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own “disorientalization”—who forms the heart of this bestselling and beloved novel.

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Muslims in the Western Imagination

Sophia Rose Arjana

Sophia Rose Arjana argues that fictive Muslim characters, and in particular male Muslim monsters, have contributed to the Western construction of knowledge about Islam. The belief in monsters has its origins in anxieties about race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. The book examines how Christians, then Europeans, and later Americans have formulated an idea about Muslims that is situated in these concerns.

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Zahhak: The Legend Of The Serpent King (A Pop-Up Book)

Hamid Rahmanian (Visual Art), Simon Arizpe

A tale from the Persian Book of Kings springs to life in this stunningly produced and ingeniously crafted pop-up book. Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King retells the myth of the misguided Prince Zahhak who is easily swayed by the devil to murder his father and usurp the throne. Cursed with monstrous snakes that grow out of the king’s shoulders, the Serpent King grows infamous throughout the land for his treachery and oppression. He rules for one thousand years before a noble and valiant Feraydun gains the strength and army to defeat the unjust King. The fantastic world of Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King literally pops off the page with intricately crafted spreads, two pop-up folds per page, and complex construction that will delight readers young and old with every turn of the page. 

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I Should Have Honor

Khalida Brohi

A memoir about tribal life in Pakistan--and the act of violence that inspired one ambitious young woman to pursue a life of activism and female empowerment

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Peace in the Middle East

Martin Gitlin

A collection of 23 short essays representing a variety of viewpoints about contemporary Middle Eastern issues.  Each article is an opinion essay and doesn't represent all perspectives on an issue.  The variety of view points in invaluable.  2018 Youth Non-Fiction Middle East Outreach Council Award Recipient

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Afghanistan

Ruth Bjorklund

An introduction to Afghanistan, this book contains colorful photos and well-organized, well-written content.  This youth book stands out from others about the Middle East because of its balance and avoidance of stereotypes. For example, women/girls are shown in a variety of roles – political, educational, athletic – and the book includes stories of children’s lives that highlight the commonalities, as well as differences, with the lives of children in the U.S. 2018 Youth Non-Fiction Middle East Outreach Council Honorable Mentions

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Young Palestinians Speak

Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young

A collection of interviews with Palestinian children/youth, this book will help U.S. young people hear the stories of their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza. The book is valuable in that it provides a variety of voices and insights that U.S. young people rarely have the opportunity to encounter.  Youth Non-Fiction Middle East Outreach Council Honorable Mentions

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The Map of Salt and Stars 

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

This book 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 Youth Literature Middle East Outreach Council Award Recipient

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Escape from Aleppo

N.H. Senzai

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.  2018 Youth Literature Middle East Outreach Council Honorable Mentions

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The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen's Escape from War to Freedom

Nujeen Mustafa and Christina Lamb

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.  2018 Youth Literature Middle East Outreach Council Honorable Mentions

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Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad

Asne Seierstad

Two Sisters tells the story of a family divided by faith. Somali immigrants raising a family in Norway, one day discover that their teenage daughters have vanished--and are en route to Syria to aid the Islamic State. Asne Seierstad's traces the sisters' journey from secular, social democratic Norway to the front lines of the war in Syria and follows their father’s harrowing attempt to find them.  Seierstad puts the problem of radicalization into painfully human terms, using instant messages and other primary sources to reconstruct a family's crisis from the inside. Two Sisters is a relentless thriller and a feat of reporting with profound lessons about belief, extremism, and the meaning of devotion.

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Tata's Earrings

Desiree Calderon de Fawaz

When Maya discovers that her grandma, Tata (the most unusual granny around town), is concealing a pair of magical earrings under her headscarf, she immediately wants to find out how she got them and what makes them so special.  The story and its illustrations allow readers to embark on a colorful trip around the world with Tata as she retells the story of how these magical earrings were created due to grandpa’s acts of compassion and his constant quest for social justice for all people, across all faiths and cultures.  2018 Picture Book Middle East Outreach Council Award Recipient

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Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes

Hena Khan; Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

From a crescent moon, to a square garden, to an octagonal fountain, this breathtaking picture book celebrates the shapes and traditions stemming from Islam and predominantly Muslim contexts.  Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets is a beautiful picture book that simultaneously explores shapes, Islam, and the cultures of Muslim people. It would equally be at home in a classroom reading circle and on a parent's lap being read to a child and will inspire questions and observations about world religions and cultures. 2018 Picture Book Middle East Outreach Council Honorable Mention