April is not only National Poetry Month but also Arab American Heritage Month, celebrating the Arab American Heritage and culture and paying tribute to the continuous contributions of Arab Americans and Arabic-speaking Americans. One of the many contributions that Arab Americans have made is in the literary world. Many wonderfully written books by Arab American authors, but I managed to whittle them down to the following fifteen titles. So if you are looking to immerse yourself in great storytelling combined with rich Arabic culture, you can’t go wrong with these:
People Like Them by Samira Sedira and translated by Lara Vergnaud
Anna and Constant Guillot live with their two daughters in the peaceful, remote mountain village of Carmac, largely deaf to the upheavals of the outside world. Everyone in Carmac knows each other, and most of its residents look alike–until Bakary and Sylvia Langlois arrive with their three children.
Wealthy and flashy, the family of five are outsiders in the small town, their impressive chalet and three expensive cars a stark contrast to the modesty of those of their neighbors. Despite their differences, the Langlois and the Guillots form an uneasy, ambiguous friendship. But when both families begin experiencing financial troubles, the underlying class and racial tensions of their relationship come to a breaking point, and the unthinkable happens. (Credit: Penguin Books)
I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib
I Was Their American Dream is at once a coming-of-age story and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.
Malaka Gharib’s triumphant graphic memoir brings to life her teenage antics and illuminates earnest questions about identity and culture, while providing thoughtful insight into the lives of modern immigrants and the generation of millennial children they raised. Malaka’s story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream. (Credit: Clarkson Potter Publishers)
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S. K. Ali and illustrated by Hatem Aly
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong. (Credit: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
Once Upon an Eid is a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid! Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy. (Credit: Amulet Books)
Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy
Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.
Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is. (Credit: Dial Books)
Anything by Huda Fahmy is a good choice! Check out more of her books here.
Queen of The Tiles by Hanna Alkaf
noun: a substance that speeds up a reaction without itself changing
When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.
As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts–not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself. (Credit: Salaam Reads)
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized. (Credit: Salaam Reads)
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth…Sixteen-year-old Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else.Can she handle the taunts of towel head, the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school? Brilliantly funny and poignant, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s debut novel will strike a chord in all teenage readers, no matter what their beliefs. (Credit: Scholastic)
The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East selected by Naomi Shihab Nye
This beautiful collection of eloquent poems from Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere open windows into the hearts and souls of people we usually meet only on the nightly news. What we see when we look through these windows is the love of family, friends, and for the Earth, the daily occurrences of life that touch us forever, the longing for a sense of place. What we learn is that beneath the veil of stereotypes, our human connections are stronger than our cultural differences. (Credit: Aladdin Paperbacks)
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Palace Walk is the first novel in Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz’s magnificent Cairo Trilogy, an epic family saga of colonial Egypt that is considered his masterwork.The novels of the Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons–the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. The family’s trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two world wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries.(Credit: Anchor Books)
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best? (Credit: Sjp for Hogarth)
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate. (Credit: Grove Press)
G. Willow Wilson is another author that has many books in their arsenal and is perfect for this month!
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah
A uniquely American story told in powerful, evocative prose, The Beauty of Your Face navigates a country growing ever more divided. Afaf Rahman, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, is the principal of Nurrideen School for Girls, a Muslim school in the Chicago suburbs. One morning, a shooter–radicalized by the online alt-right–attacks the school.
As Afaf listens to his terrifying progress, we are swept back through her memories: the bigotry she faced as a child, her mother’s dreams of returning to Palestine, and the devastating disappearance of her older sister that tore her family apart. Still, there is the sweetness of the music from her father’s oud, and the hope and community Afaf finally finds in Islam. (Credit: W. W. Norton & Company)
Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai
Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have been harassing his business. Nadia frowns.
It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety. (Credit: Simon & Schuster)
Arab Boy Delivered by Paul Aziz Zarou
Michael Haddad, the teenage son of Palestinian immigrants, comes of age during the tumultuous sixties in his family’s neighborhood grocery store in New York City.In 1967 Michael maneuvers through the working-class neighborhood delivering groceries and enters the homes and lives of his customers. He’s confronted by the violence of racist bullies and falls for the radical college coed who teaches him about sex, love, and protest. Michael grieves with the mother whose only son died in the Vietnam War and is embraced by the first black couple who move into the neighborhood. They all shape him, and through the conflict of hate, acts of kindness, and his sexual awakening, Michael struggles to figure out who this dutiful son of an immigrant family is.
Michael’s life is buffeted by the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the death, two months later, of Bobby Kennedy. His girlfriend opens his eyes to the ongoing struggle to test national ideals against the growing diversity of America. But when Michael experiences a sudden personal tragedy, he must learn to get past his fears, come to terms with his heritage, and set himself free.(Credit: Cune Press)
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