The UA Poetry Center’s Brave Books program is a fun, thoughtful way to bring literature and culture to people of all ages. The theme for 2018-2019 is Bold Librarians, Readers, and Booksellers of the Arab World, a difficult topic to talk about due to US portrayals of Arab culture that are too often misleading and mean-spirited. However, the three books that follow manage to talk about the Arab world in an inspiring and respectful way. Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey and The Girl in Green both talk about war and the refugee crises in a way that is real and hopeful, whereas The Day of Ahmed’s Secret paints a portrait of Egyptian culture with vivid colors and quirky characters that will make both children and adults smile.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr
When war comes to Syria, Rama and her family are forced to flee their country for safety. While this may seem like a deeply sad story, the way it’s told puts the focus on family, loyalty and traveling to new places rather than on violence. Stepping Stones—which is told in both Arabic and English—is perfect for introducing children to topics of war and refugees, as it uses a cheerful, emotional, and distinctly human tone. At the end, the characters find a place that accepts them and they hope for a future free from war and violence, giving the book a heartwarming quality. The beautiful stone artwork was created by Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. This warm, comforting story is one I would definitely recommend for elementary school students and their families.
The Day of Ahmed's Secret by Florence Parry Heide, Judith Heide Gilliland and Ted Lewin
This is a cheerful, lighthearted story about a young boy’s daily life in Cairo. As Ahmed goes through his routine of delivering fuel to people in the city we meet quirky characters, such as the old man selling rosewater. Readers also learn about Egyptian culture, all while being artfully reminded of Ahmed's secret in lines such as: “He himself has never crossed the desert. But in the city are the caravans of camels and their riders who have crossed it many times the way the boats cross and re-cross the river. I lean against the wall and think of these things and of my secret.” The illustrations, as well as the writing in this book, are cheerful portraits of Egyptian culture, as well as the excitement of being a child. As I read, I related to Ahmed’s excitement about sharing a secret with his family. I was also reminded of the joy I felt when I was a child exploring the world around me.
The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller
Twenty-two years after witnessing the murder of a young girl in Iraq, Arwood Hobbes sees a girl on television that resembles the one who was murdered. Arwood thinks that it’s fate and invites the news reporter Thomas Benton to come back to Iraq and attempt to rescue the girl he saw on television. While reading this book, I found that Arwood’s sarcasm added a comedic tone to a deeply sad story, whereas Thomas’ realism kept things in perspective and helped build a contrast between two very different characters. At the same time, I was wrapped up in suspense when Arwood and Thomas were captured by ISIL. The Girl in Green is a story about the impact of violence and finding redemption. It doesn't shy away from the awful, violent reality of war, which is why it’s a book for high school and up, however it is just as much a story about humanity as it is about war. The Girl in Green is a beautifully, written complex book that made me cry as well as leaving me with hope.
Emily Krieger is the UA Poetry Center's high school intern.