Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat. Grades 4 and up.
I read Ms. Barakat's gorgeous memoir as part of the Expanding Horizons Challenge. The bulk of this poetic book details her childhood in Israel, starting with the Six-Day War in 1967 when she was three and a half and ending in 1971. As a young girl, the author endured some horrifying events, such as being forced to flee her home and being separated from her family. I would venture to say that the majority of American children have not had to endure such things.
However, one of the things that really struck me about this book is that not all the memories are horrifying or even sad. Certainly life was not easy for the Barakats, living as refugees with soldiers marching by their house. But throughout it all, the family stuck together. There is a strong sense of family, even when they are forced from the place that they call home. Although Ibtisam endured hardships, she also was delighted to go to school and loved learning and writing. She played with her brothers and sister. There is a lot here that kids can relate to.
I think that's what makes this book such a strong starting-off point for discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Ibtisam grew up in a world much different from one that many American children know, yet in many ways she was just the same as any other child.
In the historical note (I love authors' notes... and there is also a map... I love maps), Ms. Barakat says:
To learn more about the Middle East, and to deepen our understanding of both Palestinians and Israelis, it helps to share stories. Mine is one of many. Together, these stories can show us how all people are interdependent and have the same basic needs. Together, these stories may inspire us to join hearts and minds so that, with our collective wisdom, a solution for this conflict - and any other - is possible. (pg. x)
I cannot agree with these words more and I think Ms. Barakat has done an excellent job of sharing her story in an accessible way. (On a personal note, I identified with her from the beginning because she had pen pals... I had a great number of pen pals when I was a teenager, although I did not get detained by soldiers coming home from the mailbox...)
Tons of other bloggers have reviewed this title and rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm going to point you to the Fuse #8 review (part 1, part 2), which collects many of the reviews as well as information about the author, etc.