It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
I read these two novels in less than a week’s time. There is something about Ibtisam Barakat that simply enchants, despite the heaviness of the story that she is sharing. For some reason, I never felt burdened by her narrative. If anything, I felt enriched by it, I bathed myself with her and her mother’s strength of character, will to learn, and such enormous capacity to overcome.
Tasting The Sky: A Palestinian Childhood
Written by: Ibtisam Barakat
Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007 ISBN: 1250097185 (ISBN13: 9781250097187). Literary Awards: Arab American Book Award for Children (2008), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2009), IRA Children’s and Young Adult’s Book Award for Young Adult–Nonfiction (2008). Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
It took awhile for me to get into this book, but when I did I was hooked and could not stop turning the pages. This middle grade novel, as the title indicates, is based on the author’s young life as her family was forced to relocate because of the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What struck me the most was the undercurrent of transience, the feeling that anything could change rapidly at any moment, the sense of upheaval so stark and so real. Yet despite this, they still managed to find kind souls who helped them, friends who made life slightly bearable amidst the ravages of war – I took a photo of a page from the book that showed just that – and edited it using an iPhone app.
When Ibtisam’s family learned from a radio announcement that they could return to their home, I shared their sense of anticipation and dread – had their home survived the attack of Israeli soldiers?
Despite the intensity of the narrative, there is a quiet understated-ness in how everything is conveyed that made the experience personal and intimate. It is like a story being told just for the reader, to make the reader understand what life had been like for this young girl. The feelings of uncertainty and perhaps blind panic of Ibtisam’s mother are keenly felt when she convinced her husband to pretend that their children were orphaned so that they could be safer in an orphanage after seeing just how near the Israeli soldiers’ military training was from their home. As Ibtisam noted (I used typorama for this one):
Eventually, the family realized that being together was safer than being apart. And so after moving back to their own home, they had to move yet again once the Israeli soldiers made their presence felt even more keenly in the Palestinian homes. The constant pinprick of uncertainty, the inability to feel safe even in one’s own home, the fear of displacement are so thick one can feel it ooze from the pages:
Yet despite all these, Ibtisam found comfort in words, in writing, in aleph, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet that allowed her to transcend her experiences into a narrative that she can shape and control. After reading about her childhood, I immediately picked up the next book, as I wanted to see what she was like as a teenager. For teachers who with to use this in the classroom, here is a free downloadable PDF link that contains a list of discussion questions that can be raised with students.
Balcony On The Moon: Coming Of Age In Palestine
Written by: Ibtisam Barakat
Published by: Margaret Ferguson Books: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016. ISBN: 0374302537 (ISBN13: 9780374302535). Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
I was immediately taken by this novel – perhaps it is because I have been longing to go back to Ibtisam’s reality, or I have simply gotten used to the quiet, rhythmic, almost hypnotic way through which she strings words together.
Despite the fact that she is older and their family has moved to what is ostensibly a safer area, the sense of trepidation never really goes away (I used typorama for the design of these quotes):
Perhaps I was also taken by how Ibtisam’s awareness was heightened as she grew increasingly alert to life around her, matched by her gently questioning tone and razor-sharp intelligence that seems to be constantly hungry for answers and meaning:
More than getting to know Ibtisam, I also felt privileged knowing her mother, whose strength of character, will power, and conviction to get an education no matter the cost was so refreshing and so bold and so true.
She also wrote about how displaced people like her manage to feel sane regardless of having most everything stripped away from you:
Reading her award-winning essay when she was sent by her school to a writing competition brought unbidden tears to my eyes. Her ruminations about God’s existence, her struggle to find meaning to a senseless war that has taken so much from everyone was also comforting:
These novels are a testament to how important these narratives are for some measure of illumination amongst people coming from very different realities. Too often, it is easy to pass judgments and to pretend to understand conflicts by simplifying things and essentializing individuals on the basis of their race, religion, or ethnicity. Novels like Barakat’s personalize history as it unfolds, they put a human face to a seemingly-interminable struggle, and make us wonder about our own humanity.