The Arab World and Arab Americans

Book Links: November 1999 (v.9 no.2)

by Kristin Lems

Until recently, Arab culture has been underrepresented in American children’s books. Some of the reasons for this are regional instability, the legacy of colonialism and the cold war, and the struggles over oil politics and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Arab and Persian cultures gave the world perhaps the most enduring collection of stories ever assembled, the vast number of Arabian Nights tales, which have been well represented in library collections for years; so, too, have a number of folktales from the Ottoman Empire, and new retellings continue to be published in the late nineties. Egypt is well represented in nonfiction about the pharaohs, pyramids, and mummies. There are even Egyptian myths available in English, taken from hieroglyphics written on scrolls. What has been missing, however, is books showing children’s everyday lives in the Arab world, both in the past and today.

Judging by a modest upsurge in titles in the past four years, however, it appears this may be changing. Some excellent new children’s and young adult books, set in the Arab world, are beginning to come upon the landscape, created by such notable authors and illustrators as Naomi Shihab Nye, Ted Lewin, Florence Parry Heide, Judith Heide Gilliland, Mary Matthews, and Eric Kimmel. Ted Lewin’s watercolor spreads of North Africa and the Sahara, which grace four picture books published in the past five years, are characterized by the play of sun and shadow in this strikingly beautiful region.

The following bibliography includes picture books, folktales, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in trade books for younger and older readers. Since the Arab world spans 21 countries and many ethnic groups, the titles are arranged by the country or ethnic region in which the book takes place (if known).

Books about the Arab World


Bel-Halfaoui, Mohammed.
“A Man with No Brain” in Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk About. Edited by Margaret Read MacDonald. 1992. 116p. Linnet, $25 (0-208-02328-3); paper, $17.50 (0-208-02329-1).

Gr. 2–up. Along with a rich selection of other tales, there is a two-page Jha tale revolving around the “smart stupidity” of the main character, based on a semantic twist.

The Sabbath Lion: A Jewish Folktale from Algeria. Retold by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush. Illus. by Stephen Fieser. 1992. 44p. HarperCollins/ Trophy, paper, $4.95 (0-06-443382-X).

Gr. 2–6. Extensive folkloric citations in the back of the book explain that this tale was one of a collection gathered by Avner Azolai in Jerusalem in 1975. Its exact Algerian source is not known. This Jewish tale is of a widow whose 10-year-old son, Yosef, undertakes a trip over the desert to Egypt, to bring back an inheritance left by his father’s brother, who had no other descendants. Yosef’s mother gives all her savings so that Yosef can travel with the caravan, and sells her wedding ring to insure that the caravan will rest on the Sabbath. Midway across the desert, however, the caravan leader scoffs at the plan, and Yosef is forced to choose between violating the Sabbath and being left behind in the desert. He chooses his faith. The paintings are dramatic, highlighting the human drama through expressive facial portraits.


Hogrogian, Nonny.
The Contest. 1976. 32p. Greenwillow, $15.93 (0-688-84042-6).

Gr. 1–5. Wonderful colored pencil drawings of the attractive, eccentric protagonists support a story of a woman with two suiters, both thieves, working their “trade” on different shifts and never meeting up. Finally, they do meet up to “thieve” together, trying to outdo each other to win her hand. Both then decide to leave her, since she has double-crossed them. On the last page, she’s shown with her new romantic interest in a kind of “she who laughs last” finish.

Kherdian, David.
The Golden Bracelet. Illus. by Nonny Hogrogian. 1998. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-316- 49152-7).

K–Gr. 4. This tale and A Weave of Words, listed below, spring from the same Armenian folktale. In this version, the prince is named Haig and the monster is a sorcerer named Zilnago. The prince reveres his wife, a commoner, who insists he learn a trade, which later saves both his life and that of his faithful servant, Vartan. The two books could be used together to study storytelling styles and compare artistic renderings. The illustrations here are flat, bright, and colorful, a bit like Persian miniatures.

San Souci, Robert D.
A Weave of Words. Illus. by Raúl Colón. 1998. 32p. Orchard, $16.95 (0-531-30053-6).

K–Gr. 4. This feminist folktale from Armenia contains a compelling story line, lots of cultural and historical information, and a cliffhanger ending in which Prince Vashagan is saved by Anait, a weaver’s daughter, who comes on horseback, wielding a sword and chopping off the three heads of a monster! Best of all, the prince, who formerly merely hunted, learns to read, write, and weave to gain Anait’s consent to marry her. Because of these skills, he saves his own life by cleverly weaving a warning into the border of a carpet, alerting Anait that he has been captured. Rich, copper-tinted paintings enhance the text, and the author’s note traces the origins of the story.


Clements, Andrew.
Temple Cat. Illus. by Kate Kiesler. 1996. 32p. Clarion, $14.95 (0-395-69842-1).

Gr. 1–3. Oil paintings on the left pages and a few lines of poetic text in a crosshatched typeface on the right tell the tale of a tawny cat who is considered to be a god at the temple in which he lives in pharaonic Egypt. Bored with being pampered, the cat yearns for an authentic life and leaves his life of luxury. After three days of real hunger and thirst, he meets a farmer and decides to stay with his family and forego the royal life. The parablelike quality of the story would be meaningful to older readers. The use of tawny gold shades in all of the paintings is highly effective.

Climo, Shirley.
The Egyptian Cinderella. Illus. by Ruth Heller. 1989. 32p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-690-04822-X); paper, $5.95 (0-06-443279-3).

K–Gr. 4. Rhodopis, a slave brought to Egypt from northern Greece, was a contemporary of Aesop, and her tale, one of the earliest Cinderella tales, was first recorded by the Roman historian Stabo in 100 B.C., according to an author’s note in this book. Pharaoh Amasis did marry a slave girl named Rhodopis between 570 and 526 B.C., so the tale is based on fact. The double-spread, full-bleed watercolors contrast Cleopatra-like Egyptian maidens with the blond Rhodopis, who is not only beautiful and kind, but talented and resourceful. Dramatic details in this version of a familiar story will fascinate young readers.

Heide, Florence Parry, and Judith Heide Gilliland.
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret. Illus. by Ted Lewin. 1990. 32p. Lothrop, $16 (0-688-08894-5); paper, $5.95 (0-688-14023-8).

K–Gr. 4. As stunning watercolors capture the dappled look of bright sunlight on the streets of Cairo, we follow eight-year-old Ahmed through a day of work as he delivers canisters of cooking gas. The street scene, with its smells and sounds, is described and painted in lush detail. Just as vivid are Ahmed’s feelings, told in his voice, about the enjoyment of his daily routine, his pride in being useful to his family, and his secret—revealed on the last page—that he has learned to write his name.

Lattimore, Deborah Nourse.
The Winged Cat: A Tale of Ancient Egypt. 1992. 32p. HarperCollins, $11.95 (0-06-023635-3); paper, $5.95 (0-06-443424-9).

Gr. 1–5. Waha, the high priest, drowns a cat while trying to catch a jewel, then denies that he did it. Merit, an appropriately named serving girl in the temple of the cat goddess Bastet, loved the cat and protects it by preserving it and complaining to pharaoh about Waha’s killing the cat. When the priest and the girl are sent on a journey to the underworld to prove who is honest, Merit gets through all barriers by repeating the necessary verses from the Books of the Dead and by being able to read! “Spells are words,” says the cat, “If you can read, we will find our way.” The wonderful scroll-like illustrations follow the story line. The author’s appreciation of Egypt is confirmed in a friendly, informative afterword.

Matthews, Mary.
Magid Fasts for Ramadan. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. 1996. 48p. Clarion, $15.95 (0-395-66589-2).

Gr. 1–5. Containing a glossary and brief overview of Islam in the back, this easy reader tells the story of Magid, an Egyptian boy of 8, who, sincerely wishing to be a good Muslim, secretly tries to fast during the holy days of Ramadan, although he is under the recommended age. At age 12, his sister, Aisha, is fasting for the first time, and wishes she weren’t. Giddu, the wise grandfather who lives in their home, finds a happy compromise for both Magid and Aisha. Colorful watercolors show the interior of a modest Egyptian home, with many details of dress and decoration, and depict the family at prayer, breaking fast, and lighting Ramadan lanterns.

McDermott, Gerald.
The Voyage of Osiris: A Myth of Ancient Egypt. 1995. 32p. Harcourt, o.p.

K–Gr. 4. Retelling a 5,000-year-old myth with a brief text and his characteristic bright mosaic paintings, the author recounts the death and resurrection of Osiris, god of the underworld. This book offers young children a good introduction to the ancient Egyptian belief system through that culture’s elaborate and meaningful preparations for death.

McNeill, Sarah, and Sarah Howarth.
Ancient Egyptian People. 1997. 48p. Millbrook, $21.90 (0-7613-0056-2).

Gr. 3–6. This appealing book is organized by the occupations of ancient Egypt, each of which is described in a brief, illustrated chapter, beginning with the pharaoh and working down to the servant. Detailing the cast of characters of Egyptian pharaonic society brings that society into sharp focus. For example, chapters on “The Mummy Maker” and “The Tomb Builder” describe the rituals of death and interment, and “The Robber” describes the justice system. There is a chapter entitled “The Woman,” which spans several social classes. Though the book browses through different dynasties in its examples, these snapshots do not convey the dynamic changes in a civilization that continued for 3,000 years.

Mike, Jan M.
Gift of the Nile: An Ancient Egyptian Legend. Illus. by Charles Reasoner. 1996. 32p. Troll, $13.95 (0-8167-2813-5); paper, $4.95 (0-8167-2814-3).

Gr. 2–6. Taken from a 3,500-year-old papyrus, this heartwarming story of friendship and women’s equality tells of Mutemwia, a palace musician under Pharaoh Senefru, whose candor pleased the pharaoh beyond all else. When she tells him she misses her freedom, he delays giving it to her, not wanting to lose her. Finally, he realizes that life without freedom is useless, and grants her freedom and land of her own. Stylized, two-dimensional faceless figures in the paintings create the impression of a fresco.

Millard, Anne.
Pyramids. 1995. 64p. Kingfisher, $15.95 (0-85697-675-2).

Gr. 3–7. Millard’s large, attractive book is devoted to the Egyptian pyramids and the civilization that created them. Richly painted illustrations that seem three-dimensional show many people at work in and around the pyramids.

Murdoch, David.
Tutankhamun: The Life and Death of a Pharaoh. Illus. by Chris Forsey. 1998. 48p. DK, $14.95 (0-7894-3420-2).

Gr. 2–up. This handsome book from the DK Discovery Guides series has many short chapters telling of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922, and the life and times of the young king. The splashy, modern, sometimes crowded layout and design contain cutaway photos, colored-pencil cross sections of the tomb, maps, and dioramas, all interspersed with lively text boxes.

Sabuda, Robert.
Tutankhamen’s Gift. 1994. 32p. Atheneum, $17 (0-689-31818-9); paper, $6.99 (0-689-81730-4).

K–Gr. 4. Black-lined paper-cut illustrations overlaid on paper that looks like Egyptian-style papyrus accompany a story about a shy, weak boy, an outsider, who becomes pharaoh. His “gift” is not the treasure found in King Tut’s tomb in the 1920s by archaeologists, but, rather, that he restores the gods and temples that his elder brother, Amenhotep IV, had destroyed earlier.

Stolz, Mary.
Zekmet the Stone Carver. Illus. by Deborah Nourse Lattimore. 1988. 32p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-299961-2).

Gr. 3–7. Khafre, a bored, egocentric pharaoh, wants something more impressive than a pyramid to insure his immortality. His desperate vizier finds Zekmet, a skilled carver, and demands he create a fitting tribute. The sarcasm and necessary wiliness of Zekmet, who represents the working class, is underscored in this tale. Although the carver did not live to see its completion, Khafre is commemorated by the Sphinx, the colossal statue that was completed by Senmut, Zekmet’s son. Rich lexical choices, irony, and layered meanings make the story suitable for older children.


Heide, Florence Parry, and Judith Heide Gilliland.
The House of Wisdom. Illus. by Mary GrandPré. 1999. 32p. DK Ink, $16.95 (0-7894-2562-9).

Gr. 3–8. The famous library of Baghdad at the pinnacle of Islam’s golden age of learning is the setting for this poetic tribute to knowledge and scholarship. Ishaq, the son of Baghdad’s greatest translator, journeys to other lands to bring books back to the House of Wisdom, and in so doing, discovers and appreciates the works of Aristotle, which he translates into Arabic, preserving these writings for the world during the Dark Ages in Europe. The authors’ discovery of and fascination with this story are recounted in Judith Heide Gilliland’s Points of View article, “Windows in the Walls of The House of Wisdom,” on p. 40.

Hickox, Rebecca.
The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story. Illus. by Will Hillenbrand. 1998. 32p. Holiday, $15.95 (0-8234-1331-4).

K–Gr. 4. Maha, an Iraqi girl, is mistreated by her stepmother, but instead of a fairy godmother, it’s a magic red fish that befriends and protects her. In this tale, her “Prince Charming” is not royalty, but the brother-in-law of a merchant, who falls in love with her after finding her fallen slipper in a stream. An author’s note at the end cites Iraqi, Chinese, and Afghan versions of the Cinderella story.


Laird, Elizabeth.
Kiss the Dust. 1994. 288p. Puffin, paper, $4.99 (0-14-036855-8).

Gr. 6–up. Tara, a Kurdish girl, has to flee with her family, first from a northern Iraqi city to the mountains, then to an internment camp, then on to Iran, and finally to England, where Tara, now grown, faces new challenges. This young adult novel, based on events in modern times, touches many important themes for preadolescent girls while educating readers about the Kurdish quest for nationhood and the geopolitics that leave Kurds in a vise grip between three nations.


Heide, Florence Parry, and Judith Heide Gilliland.
Sami and the Time of the Troubles. Illus. by Ted Lewin. 1992. 32p. Houghton, $15.95 (0-395-55964-2).

Gr. 3–7. Set in the 1980s, this picture book offers an intimate view of the life of a child, Sami, during the war in Beirut, Lebanon. Sami’s situation poignantly addresses the plight of children in war-torn areas around the world, showing the grief and resilience of everyday life during wartime strife. The evocative watercolor illustrations effectively highlight the tension and abnormality of such conditions. This is pretty heavy subject matter for very young readers, and needs to be presented with care. It could be a good choice for upper-elementary or middle-school social studies units on war or area studies. Strong affirmation of the universal needs and rights of children makes the book a great discussion starter.

Lovelace, Maud Hart.
The Trees Kneel at Christmas. Illus. by Marie-Claire Monchaux. 1994. 110p. Abdo, $16.98 (1-56239-999-3).

Gr. 1–6. Immigrant Lebanese children in Brooklyn hear from their grandmother the story of how the trees in her homeland kneel on Christmas Eve. Written in 1950, but not released by Lovelace’s daughter until 1994, the book reflects the author’s familiarity with the Lebanese community of Brooklyn. Though the story seems quaint now, it contains good information about the various Lebanese Christian denominations (Syriac, Maronite, Melchite, Latin, and Orthodox) and shows early multicultural awareness.


Czernecki, Stefan.
Zorah’s Magic Carpet. 1996. 32p. Hyperion, $14.45 (0-7868-0081-X).

Gr. 2–8. Akhmed and Zorah are middle-aged country people living near Fez, Morocco. When Zorah saves a magic goat that Akhmed brings home, she spins its wool into a magic carpet and is able to travel to places around the world, including Kiev, Bombay, and Beijing, each time bringing back an exotic souvenir. Zorah trades the souvenirs for gold coins, with which she increases her flock, and becomes a famed carpet maker. But, she never sells the magic one, which she keeps under her bed. An author’s note explains that the couple in the story is Berber, and that women “long enjoyed freedom and independence” within Berber culture. The illustrations by the author are colorfully edged tilelike squares, with a flat, two-dimensional look.

Lewin, Ted.
The Storytellers. 1998. 40p. Lothrop, $16 (0-688-15178-7).

K–Gr. 6. In this story set in Fez in modern times, Abdul and his grandfather walk through the many sections of the souk, greeting the falconer, leather workers standing hip deep in vats of dye, Ghanawi women rug weavers, and others practicing their traditional crafts in the market. They take their seats at the gate of the city, where Abdul’s grandmother assembles a crowd and his grandfather tells stories all afternoon. The brilliant, light-struck watercolor paintings are almost tactile in their effect. This works as a tale about elders, the oral tradition, and the legacy of family tradition. The grandson carries the white pigeon that “brings stories from the sky,” just as his grandfather once did.

London, Jonathan.
Ali, Child of the Desert. Illus. by Ted Lewin. 1997. 32p. Lothrop, $16 (0-688-12560-3).

Gr. 1–6. Ali is going across the desert for the first time to the camel market in Rissani, Morocco, but he loses his father and the camel train in a terrible sandstorm. Lost, he encounters an old Berber shepherd who befriends him, and he spends the night in the shepherd’s tent, but must stay behind when the shepherd leaves in the morning. Ali spends the whole day alone in the desert with his camel, a dwindling food supply, and a musket lent by the Berber, which he fires at regular intervals. Finally, at sundown, his father finds him by following the gun’s noise. The impressive double-page watercolors create an almost visceral experience of the sandstorm’s fury, the shepherd’s illuminated face at the campfire, and the dazzling starry sky. A brief glossary of Arabic terms completes this spellbinding and culturally authentic book.


Holliday, Laurel.
Children of Israel, Children of Palestine: Our Own True Stories. 1998. 384p. Pocket, $23 (0-671-00802-1); paper, $14 (0-671-00804-8).

Gr. 7–up. Thirty-five Israelis and Palestinians of all ages speak frankly about the intertwined but separate lives of the two peoples. This brave book, a title in the Children of Conflict series, spares no grim detail, but the personal testimonials of fear, courage, and hope, and splashes of humor, work to bring the reader to a higher level of understanding and, ultimately, sound a clarion call for peaceful coexistence. Photos make the interviewees seem real and near.

Nye, Naomi Shihab.
Habibi. 1997. 272p. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-689-80149-1); paper, $4.99 (0-689-82523-4).

Gr. 6–up. This young adult novel broaches the issue of Palestinian-Israeli interpersonal relations from a Palestinian American girl’s perspective. In a series of riveting short chapters, the reader shares a tumultuous year in the life of Liyana Aboud, 14, who moves with her Palestinian father and American mother to the West Bank to live. Liyana’s many quirky observations of neighbors, food, animals, and the difficulties of moving to an unfamiliar culture are bound to captivate young readers. The vivid descriptions of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank are not sugar-coated, but never descend into polemic. This book marks a watershed in writing about the contemporary Middle East.

Nye, Naomi Shihab.
Sitti’s Secrets. Illus. by Nancy Carpenter. 1994. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $16 (0-02-768460-1); paper, $5.99 (0-689-81706-1).

Gr. 1–6. In poetic prose with many sensory details, this picture book tells of a visit by a girl of Palestinian heritage to her sitti (Arabic for grandmother) on the West Bank, and what Mona remembers of the visit when she returns to America. Back in the U.S., Mona writes a letter to the president calling for peace. The letter’s inclusion in the book informs readers who are not familiar with the painful feeling of alienation Palestinians suffer in America, and will be meaningful to those who are aware. Evocative paintings underscore the warm intergenerational relationship.


Kessler, Cristina.
One Night: A Story from the Desert. Illus. by Ian Schoenherr. 1995. 28p. Putnam/Paperstar, paper, $5.95 (0-698-11667-4).

Gr. 2–6. A Tuareg boy from the Niger portion of the Sahara where the author lived for 30 months, takes the family’s flock of goats to graze and must stay in the desert overnight when a goat gives birth. When he arrives back at the tents, newborn kid in arms, his father says he will be given a fine blue turban as a mark of his manhood. The sensory details about the desert, along with lush desert colors in the watercolor illustrations, give the book an immediacy that is almost palpable. Muhamed’s musings and gratitude to Allah are as important as the events of the plot to the effect of this story.


Walker, Barbara K.
A Treasury of Turkish Folktales for Children. 1988. 155p. Shoe String, $25 (0-208-02206-6).

K–Gr. 8. The author, a librarian and archivist, and her husband collected 3,000 Turkish folktales on tape and chose from among them for this charming anthology of stories, short and long. She has faithfully retained the “spicy proverbs, the excitement of suspense or joy the teller expresses, and the rich variety of endings.”

Pan-Arab or Nonspecific Location

Al-Saleh, Khairat.
Fabled Cities, Princes and Jinn from Arab Myths and Legends. Illus. by Rashad Salim. 1985. 132p. Schocken, $14.95 (0-805-23926-X), o.p.

Gr. 2–up. This one-of-a-kind resource includes a table of contents, an index, a listing of illustrations, a pronunciation guide, and a bibliography, in addition to beautifully illustrated and told stories, each supplemented with background information. The author starts with the assumption that the reader has no familiarity with the Mideast, and recounts geography, documents ancient civilizations that have passed through the area, and sorts through the braided strands of Arab folklore, which come from pre-Islamic oral myths, the Koran itself, and regional Islamic folklore.

Ben-Ezer, Ehud.
Hosni the Dreamer: An Arabian Tale. Illus. by Uri Shulevitz. 1997. 32p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-33340-8).

K–Gr. 4. Hosni lives in the desert as a shepherd and works for a sheikh who wants to bring his camels to market. Hosni has always dreamed of the big city, and this is his chance to go. When there, he spends all his money on “a verse,” which warns him, “Don’t cross the water until you know its depth.” The verse saves his life soon after, when all others in the caravan are swept away in a sudden flood in the wadi. Hosni visits many cities and eventually falls in love with a maiden, Zobeide, whose servant was also swept away. Comic illustrations by prizewinning Israeli artist Uri Shulevitz show Arabs with lopsided turbans, scabbards in belts, and huge noses.

Child, John.
The Rise of Islam. 1995. 64p. NTC/Contemporary, $17.95 (0-87226-116-6).

Gr. 3–8. This lively, thorough, chatty book covers Islamic history in four major sections, with introduction and conclusion. The frank assessments of weaknesses in certain Muslim leaders and epochs may offend the faithful, but credit and praise are given to the many great accomplishments achieved within the Muslim empires. Each page is scattered with many bright Islamic art objects, maps and time lines, photographs, and biographical sidebars featuring notable figures (including Moammer Gaddafi, on the last page).

George, Linda S.
The Golden Age of Islam. 1998. 80p. Benchmark, $28.50 (0-7614-0273-X).

Gr. 3–8. This informative, balanced book answers “frequently asked questions” about Islam, including history, religious tenets, and daily life during the “golden age.” It also includes topics that are overlooked in other books, such as the role of women (with sidebars featuring notable women in Islamic history), the origin of the Shiite-Sunni split, and the genesis of the Arabian Nights tales. Photos on glossy paper stock, as well as a chronology, a glossary, a list of English words taken from Arabic, and a bibliography, complete the package.

Ghazi, Suhaib Hamid.
Ramadan. Illus. by Omar Rayyan. 1996. 32p. Holiday, $15.95 (0-8234-1254-7); paper, $6.95 (0-8234-1275-X).

Gr. 1–6. Watercolor paintings depict Hakeem, a young Muslim boy, working his way through the month of Ramadan. The focus is on the tenets of Islam more than on the boy, but his presence in the paintings, and at points in the explanation of this sacred time, keeps young readers involved. The conversational tone and the focus on the feelings of young Muslims who fast at school in a non-Muslim country help to build awareness for young American readers. With a glossary of terms included, this book evokes the sense of both solidarity and joy Muslims feel in the fasting and feasting.

Husain, Shahrukh.
What Do We Know about Islam? 1996. 40p. NTC/Contemporary, $18.95 (0-87226-388-6).

Gr. 2–8. In this accessible introductory text, each two-page spread begins with a question that is answered by the text and graphics. Some of the questions—such as “Why is calligraphy important?”—help to highlight interesting but less commonly explained features of Islam.

Johnson-Davies, Denys.
Goha. Illus. by Nessim Girgis. 1993. 48p. Hoopoe, paper, $6.95 (977-5325-13-7).

Gr. 2–7. A familiar character in the Arab oral tradition, the Egyptian Goha resembles Mullah Nasr-ed-din from Iran, who is called Nasr-ed-din Hodja in Turkey, and Joha or Jha in other parts of the Arab world. He is a “wise fool,” a prankster who gets in lots of trouble, but manages to have the last word, a trait shared by tricksters in folktales from many cultures. This collection of 27 stories, gathered by Johnson-Davies, a noted translator, represents some of the best Goha stories, kept alive by oral tradition.

Kimmel, Eric.
Rimonah of the Flashing Sword: A North African Tale. Illus. by Omar Rayyan. 1995. 32p. Holiday, $15.95 (0-8234-1093-5).

K–Gr. 4. In this Arabian variant of the Snow White story, Rimonah (named for a pomegranate) is a dark-eyed beauty, who is harbored by Bedouins while growing up. She is skilled as a horsewoman and swordswoman. A ring casts her into a sleeping spell, and 40 thieves, not seven dwarves, put her in a glass coffin. Rimonah and her father, the king, are both saved from the spell, and return to their kingdom, driving out the wicked witch, who falls to her death off a rather Disney-esque exploding magic carpet. A little farfetched and without a clear folkloric “pedigree,” this story is more an imaginative rendering of the classic story than it is an adapted folktale, but it is swashbuckling and enjoyable, with dramatic paintings.

Lewin, Betsy.
What’s the Matter, Habibi? 1997. 32p. Clarion, $15 (0-395-85816-X).

Preschool–Gr. 3. Ahmed’s camel, Habibi (an endearment meaning beloved), gives children camel rides every day. One day he won’t cooperate, and Ahmed gives Habibi his own slippers. Habibi runs off in them, then trades them for a fez, which makes him vain. Finally, he returns to carry the children and all is forgiven. The witty cartoon drawings will make children laugh aloud.

MacDonald, Fiona.
A 16th Century Mosque. Illus. by Mark Bergin. 1994. 48p. NTC/Contemporary, $18.95 (0-87226-310-X); Kazi, paper, $14.95 (0-614-20979-X).

Gr. 2–up. This entry in the Inside Story series of books describing the architecture, history, and cultural life of historic buildings depicts Muslim mosques in various periods and places. Colored-pencil drawings show several famed—and typical—mosques from different vantage points. This book could serve as a great point of departure for comparing different historical structures, and there is enough information about the floor plan that a model could be built from the book’s drawings.

The Space between Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East. Edited by Naomi Shihab Nye. 1998. 144p. Simon & Schuster, $19.95 (0-689-81233-7).

Gr. 1–8. This elegant, handsome anthology consists of poems in translation and accompanying paintings by living Middle Eastern poets and artists. Although a dozen nationalities, including Israelis, Turks, and Persians, are represented in the writings, the largest number of contributors are Palestinians, both within Palestine and in the diaspora. Poems by well-known writers, such as Nazim Hikmat and Mahmoud Darwish, are included, along with work by lesser-known and younger poets. The poems touch upon universal themes and are generally simple, accessible, and fresh. An introduction provides excellent background information on the contributors and establishes the context, and the layout, design, and thick, glossy paper stock all make this a distinguished volume that will bring the voices of many artists to a whole new readership.

The Three Princes: A Middle Eastern Tale. Retold by Eric A. Kimmel. Illus. by Leonard Everett Fisher. 1994. 32p. Holiday, $15.95 (0-8234-1115-X).

K–Gr. 4. Kimmel learned this story from Saudi students taking his storytelling classes at Portland State University, and has since heard Egyptian, Moroccan, and Persian versions of it. Three princes vie for the hand of a princess, and she sends them out into the world to find the best treasure. She chooses her favored suitor because only his gift was used up in the process. The strange, haunting acrylic paintings create a subtext that is rather different from the text; all three pretenders look downright ominous, and the way the preferred one glances up when the princess finally chooses him sends a chill of foreboding, not pleasure, down one’s spine.

Yolen, Jane.
O Jerusalem. Illus. by John Thompson. 1996. 32p. Scholastic, $15.95 (0-590-48426-5).

Gr. 3–up. The startling watercolor illustrations pan from scenes at the Western Wall to a close-up of a man’s gnarled hand fingering Jerusalem’s dirt in this book that is a series of free verse poems. The poems are arranged in roughly chronological order, one per page. Under each poem factual and historical background about Jerusalem at that time is provided.

Kristin Lems is a doctoral student in reading at National-Louis University. She taught English in Iran, had a two-year Fulbright in Algeria, and has a master’s degree in West Asian (Middle Eastern) studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A folksinger, she has sung in Persian rock bands and folkloric ensembles.