Thursday, January 22, 2015

Palestinian Childhoods

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat


This book was gut-wrenching. Talk about putting yourself in someone else's shoes and walking around in them. Unless you were 3-year-old Ibtisam Barakat.  Then you have to walk barefoot in her tracks.  She was too young to tie her own shoes, and it was too dark for her to find her other shoe when her family fled, leaving her behind when enemy tanks invaded Ramallah in 1967, soldiers shooting over her head. Barakat relates a heart-breaking story of a family's survival in the midst of cruel and unsettling (literally, unsettling) circumstances without villianizing any people group. What she tells is her story, but its more than just plot. She's artfully crafted a narrative that pays tribute to the gift of language, which was for her the gift of empowerment. She uses a language, based on a common mother-tongue, to pose questions of national boundaries versus common ancestry, and whether language can bring hope and refuge.

Awards & Honors for Tasting the Sky:

Arab-American National Museum Book Award for Children’s/YA Literature

“Careful choice of episodes and details brings to life a Palestinian world that may be unfamiliar to American readers, but which they will come to know and appreciate.”
--Kathleen Isaacs, School Library Journal Review

“Ibtisam’s reverence for language informs nearly everything she does, and it keeps her alive, whether corresponding with her pen pals or crafting this memoir: ‘a thread/of a story/stitches together/a wound.’”
--Publisher’s Weekly Review

“What makes the memoir so compelling is the immediacy of the child’s viewpoint, which depicts both conflict and daily life without exploitation or sentimentalilty.”
--Hazel Rochman, Booklist

Vital Stats:
Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Harrisonburg, VA: RR Donnelley & Sons, 2007.
ISBN 9780374357337

A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird with Sonia Nimr


An interesting story about life within the confines of occupied Palestine, in this young adult novel three boys from Ramallah unite to clear away a piece of land for a soccer field between curfews, only to realize that their dream may never hold. A Little Piece of Ground explores the human cost of the occupation of Palestinian lands through the eyes of 12-year-old boys Karim, Jony and Hopper. In response to a Palestinian suicide bombing, curfews are tightened again, and Karim who gets caught outside takes shelter in an abandoned car right under the nose of enemy soldiers, wondering if he will survive.

Rewards & Honors for A Little Piece of Ground:

A Little Piece of Ground deserves serious attention and discussion.”
--Coop Renner, School Library Journal Review

“The heartbreaking personal drama visualizes the realistic challenges of wartime life at home, as well as the diversity of opinion about religion, class, and politics in the community.”
--Hazel Rochman, Booklist

Vital Stats:
A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird with Sonia Nimr
Chicago: Haymarket, 2006.
ISBN 9781931859387  

Further Resources for Understanding (from the Appendix of Tasting the Sky):

Promises, a film by Justine Shapiro, B.Z. Goldbert and Carlos Bolado)

Seeds of Peace

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Collection: Lost in Translation

From Arabic to English: Lost in Translation
In speeches and conversations, American poet Robert Frost has often been quoted as saying, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation. It is also what is lost in interpretation.” A few months ago, the English Department asked me if the library had any books originally written in Arabic that had been translated into English that were written for Young Adults.” I had no idea.  Thus began my quest.  It has been delightful.  I’m proud to announce a new featured collection “From Arabic to English: Lost in Translation,” which examines the difficulty of translating traditional Arabic forms of literature—from Kalila wa Dimna to Hayy ibn Yaqzan—into English.  When I ask them about bits of Holy Koran or Arabic poetry, so many students say, “Miss, it’s just not the same in English.”  However, after studying authors like Ghassan Kanafani, Mourid Barghouti, Hoda Barakat, Tayyib Saleh and Mahmoud Darwish, I feel compelled to share their voices, even in broken English. These are works of profound significance, worthy of translation, no matter if some poetry may be lost, no matter the risk of misinterpretation.  Here is a list of available Arabic titlestranslated to English as well as our New Arrivals.  Please drop by to have a look or go online or to your local libraries to find some of these titles.  They are worth looking into. Reading translated literature imbues the reader with a sensitivity toward the outside world that people who don’t read can sometimes lack (John Connelly, The Book of Lost Things).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Winter Is for Reading

Winter gives us the perfect excuse to curl up with a good book, write in our journals or read with our children.  The poet William Carlos Williams challenges the howling North Wind in his poem, “January”:

Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.

You can always take shelter from the winter winds in your library.

Over the break, I discovered a fantastic reading app that kept my children entertained on the iPads for longer than they should have been.  Reading Rainbow, a show that aired on the Public Broadcasting System in the US for over 20 years, has now put all their wonderful experience into creating a safe, online environment for kids.  If your kids are like mine, you can never have enough reading apps.  You can check Reading Rainbow out for free.

Snowstorm Huda blasted Amman, but I was prepared.  I finished Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, I'd save this book for college students, or those familiar with Conrad or Achebe.  I don't know that very many high school readers would catch the nuances of the text, post-colonialism, deconstruction, some existentialism, some great feminist stuff.  You need a lot of lenses to unpack this text, which makes it really good reading for those of us who love to read, but probably a little too confusing and complex for those just starting out.  I really liked it though.  It would be great to teach in World Lit.  

I also read Jane Yolen's collection of short stories, Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast. It was interesting, but just that, a collection of fantasy short stories for Young Adults.  There were some "horror" stories, but they weren't very scary compared to what kids read today.  My favorites were "Mama Gone," a story set in Appalachia, wherein the young protagonist must face her vampire mother.  "Winter's King" sticks with me, not because of the plot, but because of its beautiful writing.  It reminded me of Game of Thrones.  I thought it was beautiful.  "The Babysitter," perhaps the most "horrorific" of them all had a nice twist at the end.  

My favorite was Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. My Goodreads reviews are now linked, but I'll repost it here.  I would give one caviat.  In a conservative culture, I would recommend this for 16 and up, no younger, just to be on the safe side with parents.
I wish John Hughes were still alive, because ELEANOR & PARK needs to be made into a John Hughes movie, circa 1986, the year in which it is set in the most unlikely of Midwestern towns, Omaha. Rainbow Rowell, did you make Eleanor into Molly Ringwald on purpose or was it typecasting? It took me two days to read this, and it felt like I was 16 again, hoping, praying, that some boy, any boy, would notice me, but not quite sure how to make it happen. And the bus rides, oh, the bus rides. Wondering what mean girl was stalking you, why you felt ostracized. The music, the Smiths, the Smithereens, U2, Foreigner, the soundtrack of my life. And the quiet, mysterious boy, the one who took martial arts, who probably kept a journal, who didn't talk about it, who melted your insides. Learning to drive. That first kiss. That promise of something more you know will never come true. The golden moment caught in time, like a picture, in your yearbook. Friends Forever, Eleanor & Park. 

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. London: Hachette/Orion. ISBN 9781409120544. Pbk.