Here’s a common occurrence at our house: I can’t go to bed without a book, which usually means I’m a constant barrage of ‘Did you know that …? Were you aware that …?’ to the ever-patient hubby who’s trying to read something of his own. This is one of those titles, filled with surprising facts, little-known tidbits, and plenty of information all of us need to know.
In the opening “Note to Readers,” co-author Yvonne Wakim Dennis – who is hapa of Native American and Syrian descent – explains how she’s used her writing to “set the record straight about Native peoples”; her previous titles include A Kid’s Guide to Native American History and Children of Native America Today. Now the other half of her heritage beckons: ”Over the years, I had become more angry and dismayed at the untruths and stereotypes aimed at Arabs and Arab American people.” The pen, as they say, is mightier than the sword! Together with her co-author Maha Addasi (White Nights of Ramadan, Time to Pray), Dennis definitely has a more accurate story to tell: “My very Syrian grandparents would be proud that I wrote a book that tells a bit about their history in America, and my very Cherokee/Sand Hill grandparents would be proud that I walk in balance and honor all of my ancestors.”
“Pick up any newspaper from a newsstand on any given day, and you are guaranteed to see news about the Arab world, most of which is negative,” the introduction soberly reminds us. “In spite of what the media portrays, Arab Americans are patriotic and loyal to the United States.” Here’s an even more sobering thought: without Arab inventions and discoveries, the world wouldn’t have “trigonometry, parachutes, coffee, cameras, universities, cotton …” and so much more. Here on U.S. soil, without Arab Americans, you wouldn’t have iNuthin’ because Steve Jobs (as well as his sister, the mesmerizing writer Mona Simpson) was Syrian American. Looking for other influential Arab Americans? Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, actor Danny Thomas, designer Norma Kamali, activist Ralph Nadar, and animal-specialist Jack Hanna too, all have Arab roots.
Arab Americans hail from 22 countries, from Algeria to Yemen, with Egypt, Mauritania, Qatar, and Tunisia in between. Almost 4 million Arab Americans live in all 50 states, with the largest Arab American populations in Detroit, LA, NYC, Chicago, and right here in D.C. Through a combination of history, storytelling, and 50-plus activities for your hands, feet, and brains, co-authors Addasi and Dennis celebrate and illuminate America’s own centuries-old Arab heritage – a vast mosaic of diversity and distinction. From dancing the Dabkeh, making your own oil soap, sewing a kaftan, designing your own Girgian candy bag, adults and children will find plenty to do together, all while gaining a better understanding of our Arab American neighbors, colleagues, and friends.
The delightful and informative ‘aha’-moments throughout are many … but (oh, there’s always that ‘but’!) one small change I might suggest for future editions is a layout modification. Each chapter has a narrative overview that is embellished with various stand-alone sections and boxes that provide additional information, including historic moments, an ancient tale, biographies, etc. All that is definitely helpful and not to be overlooked, but also rather disruptive when trying to read through any given chapter. Such interruptions should be relatively easy to fix … a bit of page-reshuffling and graphic adjustments to restore the narrative flow. That said, the inaugural edition has more than enough to learn from, appreciate, and plain old enjoy.
Readers: Children, Middle Grade