Children benefit from two types of stories in their lives. They need “mirror” stories that reflect their own experiences, which lead to a sense of belonging in their classroom and communities. They also need “window” stories that let them peek into lives and experiences that may be different from their own, which help students develop empathy and broaden their perspectives. This approach is the Windows and Mirrors framework, used by Waterford in all of its early learning lessons and activities.
Teaching about Arab American people and history in your classroom can both help Arab American students feel seen and also help build community for Arab American families in your classroom.
This article will provide a list of children’s books—both picture books and chapter books—written by Arab American authors, that are excellent for highlighting the voices, history, and contributions of Arab American people. Plus, read on to the end for more classroom resources.
April is National Arab American Heritage Month
National Arab American Heritage Month recognizes the lives and heritage of Arab American people. In 2019, U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell issued a congressional resolution for this awareness month to be nationally recognized. Although this has not yet been passed, the resolution brought even more attention to the month, which continues to be observed across the country.
While this month can be a good opportunity to celebrate Arab American heritage, it is important to highlight the cultures and contributions of Arab American people in your curriculum throughout the year—not just in April. National Arab American Heritage Month activities work best as additions to a year-round inclusive curriculum.
Additionally, remember that Arab American identity is much more than a single country or culture. It brings together people of many different vibrant cultures through Arabic, the common language they speak. As you celebrate, you can honor this diversity in traditions, religions, and cultures rather than reduce the complexity of Arab Americans.
15 Children’s Books by Arab American Authors
1. The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
When Aref and his family decide to move to Michigan, he is afraid to leave his home in Oman. But when his grandpa shares a special day with him, Aref learns that he can never be separated from his loved ones in his heart.
2. The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil
After starting at a new school in the United States, Kanzi wants nothing more than to fit in, but she is teased by other students for being different, causing her to feel embarrassed of her Egyptian heritage. Still, when she wraps herself up in her grandmother’s quilt, she feels a sense of belonging and connection to both her old home in Cairo and her new life.
3. I’ve Loved You Since Forever by Hoda Kotb
This Arab American Book Award winner celebrates the loving bonds families share. It’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for a picture book to recommend to families in your classroom as a home read-aloud.
4. A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi
This children’s book includes over 50 activities designed to teach children about Arab American heritage. Every chapter focuses on a different Arab American culture with history, biographies, and more to learn about Arab American traditions.
5. Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz
When it is Musa’s turn to choose a family treat, he picks his favorite food—halal hotdogs. With unexpected obstacles in the way, will Musa be able to bring the hotdogs home and share the treat with his family? Find out in this fun and vibrantly illustrated story.
6. The Three Lucys By Hayan Charara
Luli loves his three cats, all of whom are named Lucy. Unfortunately, when Luli’s hometown in Lebanon is attacked, his family must leave to find refuge before he can find the cats. Inspired by true events, this picture book sensitively discusses the devastation of war and being forced to flee your home from a child’s perspective.
7. Farah Rocks Fifth Grade by Susan Muaddi Darraj
Fifth-grader Farah and her best friend Allie are inseparable. The two even plan to apply to a cool STEM school called Magnet Academy and attend sixth grade together there. But when a school bully starts to pick on her little brother, Farah feels pressured to choose between protecting her family and pursuing her goals.
8. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
When Syrian girl Jude and her mother are sent to live with relatives in Cincinnati, she misses her father and brother deeply. However, in her new city she discovers that anywhere can be home if you’re surrounded by people who love you.
9. Hidden Girl by Shyima Hall and Lisa Wysocky
Sold into slavery as a child, Shyima is smuggled into the United States with the wealthy family who kidnapped her. This memoir follows Shyima’s journey as she is rescued from abuse and grows up to become an advocate for rescuing others from human trafficking.
10. Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper
Lina’s family takes a trip to her grandma’s house to enjoy a snow day together. This book is also available in Spanish under the title Diez maneras de escuchar la nieve.
11. Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi
When her school’s Picture Day falls on the same day as Eid, Amira doesn’t know which to choose. However, with the help of her family, she comes up with a solution.
12. The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Faizah can’t wait for her first day of school. When other students bully her older sister Asiya for wearing a hijab, Faizah must stand up for her family even though being brave can be difficult.
13. Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria by George Jreije
When twelve-year-old Shad Hadid is invited to attend a magical boarding school, he can’t wait to learn all he can about the art of alchemy. Yet someone wants to destroy Alexandria Academy, and Shad may be the only one who can save it.
14. Sadiq and the Desert Star by Siman Nuurali
Aspiring astronomer and third-grader Sadiq doesn’t want his father to leave on a business trip. Can his Baba tell him a story using Sadiq’s love of science to keep his mind occupied until the business trip is over?
15. The Treasure of Maria Mamoun by Michelle Chalfoun
Another Arab American Book Award winner, this realistic fiction book follows Maria, a Lebanese American girl who investigates a local mystery after her mom’s job requires them to move from the Bronx to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Classroom Resources for Arab American Heritage and Cultures
Listen to the Experiences of Arab American People
Arab American Stories offers an educator’s section featuring interviews of Arab American people with accompanying curriculum guides.
For example, this interview with Aliya Suayah and her parents Ismail Suayah and Krista Bremer focuses on how their family celebrates their Libyan-American culture.
Alongside books and interviews, songs can introduce students to Arab American cultures and languages. This video, part of Waterford’s Sing Around the World series, shares the Lebanese traditional song “Little Chicks” with English and Lebanese lyrics.
Visit the Arab American Museum Website
The Arab American Museum maintains an educator’s section with engaging activities to share with your class. From visiting virtual galleries to creating digital scrapbooks, you’re sure to find helpful resources for learning about Arab American heritage.
Attend Online Arab America Events
The nonprofit Arab America offers a free curriculum kit for educators to help teachers plan lessons centering National Arab American Heritage Month.
They also hold online events—some free and some paid—that can be great educational experiences. Visit their Events page for information about upcoming opportunities.
Insight Into Diversity. National Arab American Heritage Month. March 2021. https://www.insightintodiversity.com/national-arab-american-heritage-month/.