Palestinian Stories in Literature for Young People

By Administrator RSS Mon, June 21, 2021

by Erin H. and Kayla H.

What does it feel like to be a child living through war and displacement? How can young people in the United States learn to develop empathy for young people around the world? How do we explain to our children what they see or hear on the news?

Reading literature is a powerful way for parents and other caring adults to help children make sense of a world that sometimes feels scary and dangerous. We have compiled a list of resources for young people and their caregivers who want to learn more about what it means and feels like to be Palestinian today.

When seeking Palestinian voices in children’s literature, it’s impossible to not be drawn to poet Naomi Shihab Nye. Poetry is an essential educational tool in the development of children and teens’ social-emotional learning and understanding of our world, and Nye’s writing meets this need beautifully. As the Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2019-2022, Nye’s task is to "raise awareness that young people have a natural receptivity to poetry and are its most appreciative audience, especially when poems are written specifically for them." In Everything Comes Next (2020), childhood is fully centered in over 100 of her most beloved poems, old and new. 

Nye’s work reflects how observant and curious children are about the world. She recognizes their ability to understand not only adversity, racism, and violence, but also kindness, justice, and what is right. This shines in the childlike questioning found in the following excerpt:

"Everything in our world did not seem to fit: Why was someone else’s need for a home greater than our own need for our own homes we were already living in?"

With roots in both Palestine and Ferguson, Missouri, her writing is also shaped by the connected struggles for racial equity in the US and Palestinian liberation from occupation (see Nye’s note on "Yellow Glove" about Ferguson, racial violence, and segregation: "lines made by adults."). Everything Comes Next offers children and their caregivers a moving introduction, and a human connection, to Palestinians’ "longing for a lost homeland."

Making connections between the personal and the universal is a key aspect of memoir writing, and many teens and tweens are particularly drawn to memoirs. The adolescent years are a time in which young people are developing a sense of identity and learning how they fit into their families, their local community, and the larger global community. Reading memoirs is a powerful tool of empathy and a way to build understanding. Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine is Ibtisam Barakat's second memoir, which received multiple starred reviews and was published in 2016. It follows her first memoir, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, which was published in 2007 to critical acclaim.

In Balcony on the Moon, readers are immersed in Barakat's vibrant inner world as she recounts her teenage years in the 1970s. The author remembers her childhood, growing up feeling always fearful, and how reading helped her feel safe.

"As I sail into mysteries, monsters hide everywhere, but I battle them and triumph, and always return home, bringing back gifts for everyone who waits for me."

She experiences adolescence in a way that is both like and unlike American teenagers. She wrestles mightily with the complexities of her world: “I wonder whether it is possible to have freedom without death and fighting.” The beauty of her story is that it tells the truth of her experience as a Palestinian child, displaced by war, in the context of the universal experience of growing up, becoming a young person aware of both yourself and the world around you.

To explore these and more children’s and teen books about Palestine, check out our curated booklist in our catalog.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

Leave this field empty

Add a Comment to Palestinian Stories in Literature for Young People

Email is kept private and will not be displayed publicly
Comment must be less than 3000 characters
It is brave and commendable to feature these books by people who have been silenced, subsumed and worse for so many years. Young people are really getting it now- there is only so much more time before everyone sees the Emperor is naked. Thank you
Kate - Philadelphia
Thursday, September 16, 2021

For anyone, but especially for children, reading and listening to books by someone who "looks like me" is crucial for their sense of dignity, identity, and healthy development. Three cheers for "Palestinian Stories in Literature for Young People." Hip, hip, hooray!
Paul Parker - Florence
Friday, September 17, 2021

I applaud you for this important work, sharing award-winning titles and works by award-winning Palestinian authors that are often excluded, censored, or otherwise marginalized due to political bias. The ALA's Library Bill of Rights identifies libraries as forums for information and ideas and its Code of Ethics recognizes the importance of a free flow of information to a functioning democracy. I'm sorry to learn of a backlash by ideologues against programming clearly aligned with our professional values as librarians. I wish you well.
Beth - Durham, NC
Friday, September 17, 2021

I am so so so happy to see more libraries and librarians sharing these stories, which are so incredibly important to read and hear. Thank you for doing this work! I hope to see more of it.
Friday, September 17, 2021

These books are critical to to understanding the Palestinian narrative. The Palestinian culture is rich with it's history of folklore, poetry, art, it's symbolism, connection with the land, the embroidery and cuisine. Libraries should not censor literature in any way. It goes against everything libraries stand for. I applaud anyone who challenges a system that is silencing diverse voices, specifically Palestinian stories that aim to educate and document it's history.
Susannah Aziz - NYC
Saturday, September 18, 2021

Glad to see these stories still featured and extremely angry that public video of the Marrero Branch storytime on Rifk Ebeid's "Baba What Does My Name Mean" was taken down. it's especially galling that the FLP administration's rationale for that whitewashing made it plain that the mere existence of Palestinians amounts to "antisemitism." Abysmal performance by the administration.
David Staniunas - Philadelphia
Monday, September 20, 2021

As a public library worker, I'm grateful to see this curated book list written by and about Palestinian communities, experiences, and history -- these are important and often-silenced narratives. My hope is that change from within FLP will one day correct the egregious act of censorship that shut down storytime with Rifk Ebeid's book, BABA, WHAT DOES MY NAME MEAN? Appalled that FLP is taking sides with Israeli apartheid, and repeating the racist trope that Palestinian self-determination amounts to antisemitism.
Bean - Duwamish territory
Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Thank you so much for featuring these books - so many people need to hear these stories and need recommendations from trusted community members like librarians! Naomi Shihab Nye is an American treasure and a truth teller. I've heard her speak many times and always walk away feeling like the world is a little better each time. Please keep the suggestions coming!
Raida Gatten
Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Thank you for calling attention to these important works. Our children will only learn to be critical thinkers and have compassion when they are presented with more than one narrative. It is vital for all of us "to learn more about what it means and feels like to be Palestinian today." Thank you for your courage.
Leslie Pardo - SCOTTSDALE
Wednesday, September 22, 2021