Tag Archives: MIddle East

How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah illustrated by Carol Liddiment

How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah illustrated by Carol Liddiment

how many donkeys

Whether you know a little bit of Arabic or none at all, this incredibly repetitive counting book will have you able to count to ten in Arabic by the end of its 32 pages.  FullSizeRender (35)Even if you know how already, your little one will enjoy figuring out why the main character Jouha can’t figure out how many camels he has in his caravan.  While Jouha thinks, it has to do with whether one runs off while he is riding, and comes back when he is walking, hopefully by the second or third time, most kids will realize that he isn’t lucky or unlucky, he is just forgetting to count the one he is riding atop of.  Probably good for ages 3-7, the book is silly in its repetition, and the beautiful painted illustrations bring the characters emotions to life.

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There isn’t anything Islamic, but it is definitely cultural as it retells an Middle Eastern folk tale.  The character, a wise fool, is also seen as Goha in Egypt and similar to Nasredeen Hodja in Turkey, all this background is stared at the beginning of the book.  There is also information to hear the story online in a read along program http://www.av2books.com, or to hear the author say the arabic numbers at http://www.margaretreadmacdonald,com.

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Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Chiara Fedele

Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Chiara Fedele

Yaffa and Fatima cover.jpg

Oh how full my heart is after reading this book, and wiping a tear from my eye.  When the daily news angers and frustrates, a story as sweet as two friends helping and worrying about each other gives hope to the future of the world. I know that is probably over reaching the impact of a children’s book, but sometimes it really is just one person helping another person, just finding similarities instead of differences, and above all having a big heart.

Yaffa and Fatima are neighbors and both grow dates.  The two women, one Jewish and one Muslim, share a lot of similarities they both fast, pray, celebrate, and help others. They often sell their dates next to each other in the market and then share their food and customs with each other.  During one growing season, rain is scarce, and each woman begins to worry about if the other has enough- not just to sell, but to eat as well.  Secretly they both help each other and prove the power of friendship and kindness is universal and powerful.


The illustrations are smartly done.  This isn’t the book for bright and colorful or overly cartoonish depictions.  The simplicity of the words introduce the reader to Islamic traditions and Jewish traditions, but the purpose is to show their similarities and the illustrations mimic that sentiment beautifully.  The contrast of red and blue show the differences with the larger muted tones being the same. The warmth in the characters faces mirror the warmth of their actions and the detail is balanced with intriguing the reader without distracting from the text.  The illustrator does a good job of also showing the women covering their hair in public, albeit differently, but not within their homes. And of also showing the different ways the women worship without the words having to do so.


The author has a note at the beginning acknowledging the roots of the story as a tale about two brothers in both Jewish and Arab traditions.  And at 24 pages it works for children of all faiths and all ages, two years old and up.  The book was recommended by a woman, who I hope to meet next week, when she and her Jewish community join us at the mosque for our monthly story time.  With a theme of friendship, this book will be the focus of what bridges and connections we can all make in our personal lives to make the wold a little better.  I can’t wait to share it with our children of both faiths!




Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye illustrated by Nancy Carpenter



Sitti’s Secret was published in 1994 and given the events of the week, I’d say it is more relevant today than it was when written.  And if by some chance the events of the week haven’t affected your children, then the poetry and soul of the book still makes it an amazingly powerful story.

Mona travels from America to Palestine to visit her grandma, her Sitti.  Without the ease of speaking the same language, Sitti and Mona learn to communicate and build a tight bond cut too short by a vacation coming to an end.  When Mona returns she sees the news and writes a letter to the President, telling her Sitti’s secrets, telling him they would be great friends, and telling him they only want peace.

Truly Nye is a poet, even in Turtle of Oman her words transport you to a place where time slows down and the connection between a child and a grandparent make you nostalgically yearn for a simpler time.  Having spent my summer’s abroad visiting my grandma I could relate to so much of this book and truly had to still my heart.  The little things, like examining your grandma’s hand, or hanging out laundry, or brushing her hair. Even that dreaded final hug as you prepare to leave,  I could relate and it was enchanting.

No where in the book does it mention the Middle East or Islam, only at the beginning does she hint at it by dedicating the book to her 105 -year-old Sitti in Palestine, it mentions that she speaks Arabic and a few words are sprinkled in. And the Grandma does wear a scarf.  Other than that the book is by and large not political.  If you know that Nye has a Palestinian father and American mother and often writes semi auto biographical pieces, the book can take a bit of a different role to the reader.  Many reviews criticize the activism upon her return (the letter to the President), and found it disjointed to the rest of the story.  But in today’s climate I found it empowering and hopeful.  The world will only find peace when we put a face to those that are different to us, and even children can change our stereotypes.  I love that my children are seeing that they can make a change in the world today, and to see it reinforced in literature was gratifying.

The book is 32 pages and written on an AR 3.9 level.  The illustrations are beautiful.  They bring the words to life in a tender and heartfelt way.  The detail is subtle but deep and i have found myself thumbing back through the pages to get lost in the illustrations multiple times.  I think the book works on different levels for different age groups.  If you have a family that has to overcome great distances to be together, even younger readers will be able to identify with the story’s tenderness.  If you are in 3rd-6th grade and are aware of what is happening in the world you will be inspired.  If you just are looking for a sweet book, subhanAllah it manages to fulfill that category too.

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi illustrated by Ned Gannon


the white nights of ramadan

I love learning about people’s Ramadan traditions, and am slightly embarrassed to admit that I never knew about this Gulf tradition of Girgian.  My kids and I enjoyed reading this book during the middle of Ramadan, when the moon is full and bright, and thus known as the white nights of Ramadan.  Written on an AR 3.6 level the story does a good job of blending the concepts of Ramadan, Girgian, Islam in a 32 page fiction story format for Muslim and non-Muslim children alike.  There is an Author’s note and Glossary in the back as well.

A young girl, Noor, excitedly waits and prepares for Girgian.  She explains the activites to her two younger brothers, Sam and Dan, how they will walk the streets with lanterns (fanouses) and get treats from neighbors for three nights.  But before night falls, they first have a lot to do to prepare, and with the help of their parents and grandparents, the children make and wrap the candy, decorate bags to keep the candy in, and get dressed in fancy traditional clothes.  In the process the book also explains Ramadan, and shows Noor praying and reading Quran.  Arabic and islamic words are tossed in and well explained: iftar, fanous, suhoor, dishdashas, musaher, etc.. Noor in all the excitement shares a tender moment with her grandma where they discuss how fun Ramadan is, but that the “true meaning of Ramadan is spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate.” A religious scholar may add more to what Ramadan is, but for a children’s book, the message is beautiful and perfect.  The story concludes with Noor and her grandfather taking a basket of food to the mosque to give to the poor.

The book has a slow melancholy type feel to it and the pictures definitely help set that tone.  They are detailed and well done, but maybe not overly inviting to younger readers.


white nights of ramadan

The book made me want to learn more about the tradition, and talk to people that may have celebrated it to see how it has evolved over time.  My kids liked the idea of having a musaher, a drummer walking the streets waking people up for suhoor.  As a mom of four, I can see why something fun in the middle of the month, especially when the days are so long, is a great way to re-energize the children about the fun and blessings of Ramadan.