Children’s Books Celebrating Arab American Heritage

IraqiGirl

April is Arab American Heritage Month, a time to honor, uplift, and celebrate Arab American stories and communities. How might we celebrate with our kids?

Books are one way to connect with little ones, grade schoolers, and teens about celebrating different cultures and communities. Here are some books for kids of all ages that honor Arab American heritage.

Descriptions are courtesy of each book’s official synopsis.


Early Childhood

Baba, What Does My Name Mean?

Baba, What Does My Name Mean? A Journey to Palestine
Rifk Ebeid

“When Saamidah, a young Palestinian refugee, is asked by her friends what her name means, she isn’t quite sure what to say. She turns to her baba for some answers – but what she gets is an adventure beyond her wildest dreams. Join Saamidah on a lyrical journey, with dazzling illustrations, that brings to life her beloved homeland and celebrates the richness of her cultural heritage and the determination to return.”

 

P is for PalestineP is for Palestine
Golbarg Bashi

“The world’s first-ever English-language ABC story book about Palestine is told in simple rhythmic rhyme with stunning illustrations to act as an educational, colorful, empowering reference for children, showcasing the geography, the beauty and strength of Palestinian culture.”

 

Lailah's LunchboxLailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
Reem Faruqi

“Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom. Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs. “

 

My Grandfather's MasbahaMy Grandfather’s Masbaha
Susan Daniel Fayad

“In this story, Adam, a four year old boy, does not know how lucky he is until his grandfather, Jidoo Yousef, teaches him how to count his blessings. One summer day at his grandparents’ home in Lebanon, Adam gets upset when his friends leave after a play date. His grandfather helps him realize how much he has by using the masbaha, a string of beads, teaching him how to count his blessings.”

 

 

The Proudest Blue

The Proudest Blue
Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali

 
 

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets
Hena Khan

“From a crescent moon to a square garden to an octagonal fountain, this breathtaking picture book celebrates the shapes-and traditions—of the Muslim world. With stunning illustrations, a rhyming read-aloud text, and strong backmatter, Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets will inspire questions and observations about world religions and cultures, and is equally at home in a classroom reading circle as it is being read to a child on a parent’s lap.”

 

Grade School

The Cat Man of AleppoThe Cat Man of Aleppo
Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham

“The courageous and true story of Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, who in the midst of the Syrian Civil War, offered safe haven to Aleppo’s abandoned cats.”

 

 

 

Sitti's Secrets

Sitti’s Secrets
Naomi Shihab Nye

“Mona’s grandmother, her Sitti, lives in a small Palestinian village on the other side of the earth. Once, Mona went to visit her. They couldn’t speak each other’s language, so they made up their own. They learned about each other’s worlds, and they discovered each other’s secrets. Then it was time for Mona to go back home, back to the other side of the earth. But even though there were millions of miles and millions of people between them, they remained true neighbors forever.”

 

The Arabic Quilt

The Arabic Quilt
Aya Khalil

“Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and on her first day in a new school, what she wants more than anything is to fit in. Maybe that’s why she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.”

 

Farah Rocks Fifth Grade
Susan Muaddi Darraj

“Farah and her best friend, Allie Liu, are getting excited to turn in their applications to the Magnet Academy, where they both hope to attend sixth grade. But when new girl Dana Denver shows up, Farah’s world is turned upside down. As Dana starts bullying Farah’s little brother, Samir, Farah begins to second-guess her choice to leave him behind at Harbortown Elementary/Middle School. Determined to handle it on her own, Farah comes up with a plan–a plan that involves lying to those closest to her. Will her lies catch up with her, or can Farah find a way to defeat the bully and rock fifth grade?”

 

Other Words For Home

Other Words for Home
Jasmine Warga

“Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives. At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of ‘Middle Eastern,’ an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.”

 

Silverworld
Diana Abu-Jaber

“Sitti, Sami’s Lebanese grandmother, has been ill for a while, slipping from reality and speaking in a language only Sami can understand. Her family thinks Sitti belongs in a nursing home, but Sami doesn’t believe she’s sick at all. Desperate to help, Sami casts a spell from her grandmother’s mysterious charm book and falls through an ancient mirror into a world unlike any other. Welcome to Silverworld, an enchanted city where light and dark creatures called Flickers and Shadows strive to live in harmony. But lately Flickers have started going missing, and powerful Shadow soldiers are taking over the land. Everyone in Silverworld suspects that Shadow Queen Nixie is responsible for the chaos, which is bad enough. But could Nixie be holding Sami’s grandmother in her grasp too? To save Sitti and Silverworld, Sami must brave adventure, danger, and the toughest challenge of all: change.”

 

Older Kids and Teens

IraqiGirl: Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq
IraqiGirl

I feel that I have been sleeping all my life and I have woken up and opened my eyes to the world. A beautiful world! But impossible to live in. These are the words of fifteen-year-old Hadiya, blogging from the city of Mosul, Iraq, to let the world know what life is really like as the military occupation of her country unfolds. In many ways, her life is familiar. She worries about exams and enjoys watching Friends during the rare hours that the electricity in her neighborhood is running. But the horrors of war surround her everywhere—weeklong curfews, relatives killed, and  friends whose families are forced to flee their homes. With black humor and unflinching honesty, Hadiya shares the painful stories of lives changed forever. ‘Let’s go back,’ she writes, ‘to my un-normal life.'”

 

Habibi

Habibi
Naomi Shihab Nye

“The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. Though her father grew up there, Liyana knows very little about her family’s Arab heritage. Her grandmother and the rest of her relatives who live in the West Bank are strangers and speak a language she can’t understand. It isn’t until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is Jewish, and their friendship is silently forbidden in this land. How can they make their families understand? And how can Liyana ever learn to call this place home?”

 

 

Here to Stay

Here to Stay
Sara Farizan

“What happens when a kid who’s flown under the radar for most of high school gets pulled off the bench to make the winning basket in a varsity playoff game? If his name is Bijan Majidi, life is suddenly high fives in the hallways and invitations to exclusive parties—along with an anonymous photo sent by a school cyberbully that makes Bijan look like a terrorist. The administration says they’ll find and punish the culprit. Bijan wants to pretend it never happened. He’s not ashamed of his Middle Eastern heritage; he just doesn’t want to be a poster child for Islamophobia. Lots of classmates rally around Bijan. Others make it clear they don’t want him or anybody who looks like him at their school. But it’s not always easy to tell your enemies from your friends.”

 

Not the Girls You're Looking ForNot the Girls You’re Looking For
Aminah Mae Safi

“Lulu Saad doesn’t need your advice, thank you very much. She’s got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It’s all under control. Ish. Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can’t find her way out of this mess soon, she’ll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She’ll have to go looking for herself.”

 

 

A Very Large Expanse of SeaA Very Large Expanse of Sea
Tahereh Mafi

“It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother. But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.”

 

We Hunt the Flame
Hafsah Faizal

“Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya―but neither wants to be. War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds―and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.”

 

Know of a book you’d like to see added to this list? Let us know!