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Water Cooler: Family reads for Arab American Heritage Month

UPDATED: Tue., April 27, 2021

“Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose” is written by Arab American author, poet and songwriter Naomi Shihab Nye.
“Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose” is written by Arab American author, poet and songwriter Naomi Shihab Nye.

Arab American Heritage Month is new to many, but luckily there is already a wide variety of great children’s books that capture Arab and Arab American experiences and culture. If you and your family want to share together in celebrating Arab American Heritage Month this April, here are a few books you can check out for your next storytime or reading night.

Early readers

“Baba, What Does My Name Mean?: A Journey to Palestine,” by Rifk Ebeid — Saamidah’s friends asked her what her name means. She wasn’t sure of the answer. To find out, Saamidah takes a journey into her heritage and life before her family immigrated to the United States, all brought to life with whimsical illustrations.

“Day of Ahmed’s Secret,” written by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, and illustrated by Ted Lewin — Ahmed spends the day delivering butane gas to customers throughout the Egyptian city of Cairo. As he skillfully moves through the busy streets and between thousand-year-old buildings, he holds a special and wonderful secret. He decides to keep it inside until he returns home at the end of the day, and then reveal it to his family.

“Everybody Bakes Bread,” written by Norah Dooley and illustrated by Peter J. Thornton — In a search for a “three-handled rolling pin,” Carrie and her mother travel from neighbor to neighbor and discover different smells of homemade bread along the way. They enjoy all the delicious variety of the bread at each house, all originating from her neighors’ various home countries.

Intermediate readers

“Sugar Comes from Arabic A Beginners Guide to Arabic Letters & Words,” by Barbara Whitesides — For young readers whose interest is piqued by different languages, this is a great book to read. Each Arabic letter is introduced in the order of the Roman alphabet, with explanations and information in English. Learn how to spell your own name in Arabic and get insights into the linguistic connections between the Arab world and the Western world.

“Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose,” by Naomi Shihab Nye — Author, poet and songwriter Naomi Shihab Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and much of her work is inspired by childhood memories. She won the 2013 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature for her body of work. This collection of Nye’s poems and prose is perfect for spring reading as it revolves around the work of a honeybee and the life of its community.

“The Cat Man of Aleppo,” written by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu — Alaa loves animals so much, that he decides to stay home after his neighbors flee from war so he can take care of all the left behind pets. Soon it becomes too much, and Alaa has to seek help from others to keep his new pet friends safe.

Advanced readers

“Map of Salt & Stars A Novel,” written by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar — This coming of age novel captures the experiences of second-generation immigrants as they move from New York City to Syria to reunite with their family following their father’s death.

“Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry,” edited by Sharif Elmusa and Gregory Orfalea — A collection of contemporary Arab American poetry that captures a people-centered and passionate literary and cultural renaissance in a community which has been largely isolated from the American mainstream.

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