Add to Queue: 10 books on Palestine to read to children

A selection of curated media lists from our global community
words – yousra samir imran
location – yorkshire, uk

In times of mass crisis, as global conflict forces conversations rarely otherwise centred by western media, relaying fast moving events with complex narratives can be challenging to us all. Finding appropriate manners of informing children of such information presents its own difficulties, yet storytelling can bridge the gap and combine the human element with a vital grounding in cultural history. 

Palestinians are renowned for the art of storytelling as a form of preservation of family memories and Palestinian culture. As Israel’s war on Gaza continues, the following books provide a crucial touch point to help children and young people understand the history of the region and the people too often hidden behind the headlines. 

01_‘These Olive Trees,’ written and illustrated by Aya Ghanameh

Oraib is a little girl living in the Al Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus who loves helping her mother harvest olives, but this time, she notices her mother picking the olives earlier than usual. Set in the 1960s and inspired by Ghanameh’s own grandmother Oraib, These Olive Trees is a Palestinian child’s tale of displacement when war arrives for the second time at her family’s doorstep – or in this case, tent.

In the book, Oraib recalls her parents telling her how they had to leave their home during the 1948 Nakba. Oraib realises she can’t take the olive trees with them, but she can take the olive pits and plant more trees – and hopes to return one day to harvest them. Children will enjoy the textured illustrations in this book and it’s a great introduction to understanding displacement, as well as learning about the different things that can be made from olives.

 

02_‘Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine,’ written by Hannah Moushabeck and illustrated by Reem Madooh

Taking inspiration from her childhood and the tales her father told her and her siblings growing up as Palestinians in America, Hannah Moushabeck’s delightful picture book is about three sisters who look forward to their father’s bedtime stories about his boyhood in Jerusalem. Full of humour, Homeland brings all the sights, sounds and smells of Jerusalem to life, and helps children understand what it means for Palestinians who live in exile, as well as learn about second and third-generation Palestinian immigrants who have never been able to visit their own country. In addition, Homeland is a vital representation of a Palestinian Christian family.

 

03_‘Sitti’s Secrets,’ written by Naomi Shihab Nye and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

First published in 1994, this was one of the first picture books about Palestine for young children written in English. Mona is a Palestinian American girl who visits her grandmother in Palestine. Mona can’t speak Arabic and her grandmother can’t speak English, but that doesn’t stop them from bonding and making up their own language.

Mona learns her grandmother’s secrets and when she goes back to America, she sees the news and decides to write a letter to the President, telling him Sitti’s secrets, how he would like her and that all she wants is peace. The illustrations look like oil paintings and the language is vivid and poetic. There’s a good reason why this book is still in print and loved just as much decades later.

 

04_‘Sitti’s Olive Trees,’ written by Ndaa Hassan and illustrated by Soumbal Qureshi

This tender picture book is a celebration of storytelling and preserved family traditions. A young Palestinian American child called Reema and her grandmother make hummus together using olive oil sent by Reema’s uncles in Palestine.

When Reema sees her grandmother being careful not to waste any drops, she asks her why. Her grandmother launches into the story of how her family harvests olive oil and why it is so precious to her. A highly educational but fun book that not only informs children and adults alike about the process of making Palestinian olive oil but also serves as a reminder of Palestinian joy.

 

05_‘Baba, What Does My Name Mean? A Journey to Palestine,’ written by Rifk Ebeid and illustrated by Lamaa Jawhari

When Palestinian refugee Saamidah is asked by her friends what her name means, she asks her Baba, who takes her on a journey through the geography of historic Palestine, spanning nine Palestinian cities and told entirely in rhyme.

‘Baba What Does My Name Mean?’ provides a window into Palestinian culture and cuisine through bright illustrations and teaches them why Palestinians hold onto and pass down their old iron house keys. Perfect for teaching both children and adults about Palestinian history and heritage.


06_‘We Are Palestinian: A Celebration of Culture and Tradition,’ written by Reem Kassis and illustrated by Noha Eilouti

Aimed at 9–12-year-olds, this award-winning non-fiction children’s book is a mini encyclopaedia on all things Palestinian. Children will learn about everything from Palestine’s historic cities to famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, how knafeh nabulseyeh is made, to Palestinian performing arts like the dabke.

They’ll understand the symbolism and significance of all of Palestine’s cultural symbols such as tatreez, the colours of the Palestinian flag, and the keffiyeh. The text is accompanied by stunning illustrations and full of little fun facts.


07_‘Sitti’s Key,’ written by Sahar Khader Ali and illustrated by Noor Alshalabi

If you are looking for a picture book about the 1948 Nakba that explains it in a way that is suitable for young children, then Sitti’s Key is a great choice.

Amal’s grandmother has come to stay for the first time in two years and she’s excited because she knows her grandmother will tell her lots of stories about Palestine. When Amal sees her grandmother take out a large old key, she wonders what it’s for, and this is followed by her grandmother telling her all about how she, her family and thousands of Palestinians were forced to leave their homes in 1948 in a tragic event called the Nakba, or catastrophe. A tender book that is easy to read.


08_‘My Garden over Gaza,’ written by Sarah Musa and illustrated by Saffia Bazlamit

An emotional tale that can be appreciated by young children about a Gazan girl called Noura, who loves taking care of her late father’s rooftop garden, alongside looking after her little brother Esam, while her mother works hard as a seamstress to provide for them. She dreams of one day returning to her Baba’s farm. When an Israeli drone sprays chemicals on their rooftop garden destroying it, Noura wonders whether she should give up.

A beautiful tale of determination, as well as a newly learned fact for children, and adult readers alike, about how the Israeli army has used herbicides to kill Palestinians’ crops and gardens, limiting their access to food.


09_‘Sitti’s Bird,’ written and illustrated by Malak Matta

Based on her own childhood experiences of painting through the 2014 war on Gaza, this children’s book written and illustrated by Palestinian artist Malak Mattar is about a little Gazan girl called Malak who goes to school, plays in the sea and visits her grandmother on Fridays.

All of that stops when Gaza starts being bombed, and Malak is confined to her home for 50 days with her parents. She feels scared and worried until she discovers she can overcome her fears by picking up a paintbrush and painting. A sensitive story that can teach children about art as a creative outlet for trauma, fear and anxiety.


10_‘My Name is Palestine,’ written by Nadine Foty and illustrated by Wathmi de Zoysa

Perfect for young children, this interactive rhyming story is about a little girl called Palestine who is also a superhero with a magic power.

The book gives a series of clues [all linked to aspects of Palestinian culture and heritage] getting readers to guess what her magical power could be – eyes that can see a free Palestine. When she finds a return key in a treasure chest, she decides she needs to let all the children know what her magic power is. A light-hearted and fun picture book that will instil a love of Palestine in children.

Editor’s note: This feature was originally published in The New Arab

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