Recommended Books for Children about Palestine and Israel

People sometimes ask me what it is like to live in Israel.  My short answer?  Living here is living under siege. Sometimes it is quiet and sometimes, too often, life becomes a war zone, or worse, an actual war.  Very few works of children's fiction have been published about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps we all like to read about pleasant subjects with happy endings. 

There are no happy endings in these books, but they will give you some idea of what it feels like to live both in Israel and in Palestine. It is my fervent wish that someday we may read them as mere historical documents and that we will succeed in creating peace and tolerance in the Middle East.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Fiction

Almagor, Gila.  Trans. Hillel Schenker.  Under the Domin Tree. Simon and Schuster. 1995.
Based on the author's childhood, the story follows a group of teenage Holocaust survivors living in a youth village in Israel in 1953. The book provides a glimpse into the central role the Holocaust plays in Israeli consciousness.

Banks, Lynne Reid.  One More River. (1973) Avon Books, 1996.
Banks lived many years on a kibbutz.  The story describes the difficulties a Canadian girl faces in adjusting to life on a kibbutz in the 1960s and the almost-friendship that develops between her and an Arab boy living across the river in Jordan. The Six Day War changes their lives forever.

Banks, Lynne Reid.  Broken Bridge. (1994)  Avon Books, 1996.
A sequel set twenty years later on the same kibbutz with many of the same characters, but focusing on the daughter of the protagonist of One More River.  The story opens with the murder of the protagonist's cousin and the effect of his death on the family and the terrorists who carried out the killing. Banks' two books provide an inside view of life on an Israeli kibbutz and the changes that have occurred over the past twenty years  -  I can vouch for their accuracy.

Carmi, Daniella. Trans.Yael Lotan. Samir and Yonatan. (1994) New York: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. 2000. 
Samir, a Palestinian boy, spends time with three Israeli children in a hospital room while awaiting an operation.  Friendships develop among the children who would not have met under other circumstances.

Carter, Anne Laurel. The Shepherd's Granddaughter. Toronto: Groundwood, 2008.
Told through the perspective of a Palestinian girl from a traditional family who oppose her wish to become a shepherd like her beloved grandfather. Amani and her extended family watch with anguish as Israeli settlers take over their ancestral lands to build a new settlement.

Clinton, Cathryn. A Stone in My Hand. Candlewick Press, 2002.
A Palestinian girl living in Gaza is torn between worry for her father who has disappeared and her brother who is drawn to a terrorist gang. This is a sensitive portrayal of a girl traumatized by the first Intifada and life under Israeli occupation.

Kass, Pnina Moed.  Real Time.  New York: Clarion Books, 2004.
The tense story of a suicide bus bombing provides insight into life and death in Israel today.  The novel is beautifully written with interesting characters and multiple points of view, including that of the suicide bomber, a German boy, and a Holocaust survivor.

Laird, Elizabeth, with Sonia Nimr.  A Little Piece of Ground. (2003) London: Macmillan Children's Books, 2004.
Twelve-year-old Karim struggles to live a normal life in Israeli-occupied Ramallah and fulfill his dream of playing football. Life with curfews and Israeli tanks occupying his city is difficult, but Karim also faces problems anyone his age will find familiar: an insufferable older brother, a pesky younger sister, over-protective parents, boring teachers, and conflicts among friends.

Levine, Anna. Freefall. New York: Greenwillow, 2008.
Call me biased, but I think my good friend Anna has written a book that crosses the boundaries between "Middle East" and "universal." Freefall is the story of Aggie who has just graduated from high school and is in that limbo period before being drafted into the Israeli army. Aggie wants many things: to join a combat unit, achieve independence from her parents, tell her best friend's brother how she really feels about him (and vice versa) and ultimately, to help others during war time. Aggie's concern with boy friends, girl friends, parents, and her confrontation of her own fears will be easily recognizable to any reader. The vivid descriptions of life in Israel and Aggie's inner drive to join a combat unit provide unique insight into life in Israel today.

Levine, Anna. Running on Eggs. Chicago: Front Street/Cricket, 1999
Karen, whose father was killed in the First Lebanon War, and Yasmine, from a neighboring Arab village, become friends on the school track team, but their families and communities threaten their friendship.

Levintin, Sonia. The Singing Mountain. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
An American family travels to Israel to convince a cousin to return home with them.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. Habibi. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
The lyrical story of an Arab American family that leaves a comfortable life in the U.S. to live in Palestine. Liyana learns to appreciate the culture of her village grandmother and makes friends with an Israeli boy. A moving story of family ties, adjusting to new surroundings, and the budding of first love.

Zennatti, Valerie. Trans. Adriana Hunter. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008.
An Israeli teenager is distraught after a terrorist bombing in her neighborhood. She writes a letter which her brother tosses into the sea near Gaza. Found by a young Palestinian, the short novel is told through emails the two send back and forth as they argue, explain, and learn to understand one another better.

Other Recommended Books

Ellis, Deborah. Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. Toronto: Groundwood/Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.
A collection of interviews with Palestinian and Israeli teenagers. They talk about their lives, their dreams, and their feelings of fear, anger and hatred. I found this book chilling to read.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. Nineteen Varieties of Gazelle. [1994] New York: Harper Tempest, 2005.
A rich, thought-provoking collection of poems of the Middle East.  I return to it frequently, cooling myself in the clarity of Nye's vision and empathy.