Check out our weekly suggestions!
Are your students looking for book recommendations?
Send them to browse through the picks for this or past years.
For the picks from 2022 click here
For the picks from 2021 click here
For the picks from 2020 click here.
For older picks click from 2019 click here.
For the even older picks click here.
We continue our October suggestions. This week's contributor is Roy Edward Jackson. Roy Edward is an assistant professor of education at Goshen College in Indiana with a focus on literacy. His greatest joys are mentoring future teachers, creative writing, and spending time with his husband and menagerie of pets. Thank you for your weekend pick, Roy Edward!
I loved those teaching in the moment lessons and steering students to books. Novels like Michelle Barker’s The House of One Thousand Eyes, about life in East Germany. Carrie Arcos’ We Are All That’s Left centered around surviving the 1990s Yugoslav wars. I could speak with authority. These were places I’d been to and read a great deal about.
I’m speaking of Israel and Palestine. While I have my basic Wikipedia type facts on the region, I found I didn’t have a well-versed language to speak with confidence on this area, nor did I have any books about the Palestinian experience there.
Set during the West Bank conflict of 2004, Where the Streets Had a Name follows 13-year-old Hayaat and her family as they have been displaced from Jerusalem and the ownership of their olive grove was seized. Now living in a cramped apartment in Bethlehem where she and her siblings share a bed, and room with her grandmother, Hayaat sees the pain that the loss of their homes and grove have on all members of her family. Hayaat’s face is scarred from glass shards after an explosion when she was younger, an explosion that killed her best friend who was with her that day. Her wounds run deeper than her scars. Hayaat and her family endure curfews, checkpoints, and concrete walls that prevent visiting their former home. When her grandmother gets sick, Hayat and her best friend Sammy begin a six-mile journey into the forbidden area of Jerusalem for Palestinians. They are on a quest to collect some of the soil from their homeland with the hopes it will heal her grandmother. Along the way they encounter an array of characters including Palestinian travelers, a young refugee boy, and Israeli Peace activists.
Abdel-Fattah has crafted an excellent novel for young readers, particularly in America who may have misunderstandings of Palestinians and the conflict in that region of the Middle East. The novel is essentially a quest novel, and a good one at that to use as a modern example of what makes a great quest novel. With physical and emotional obstacles, a familiar and meaningful destination, and knowledge gained from the adventure, Where the Streets Had a Name checks all the boxes. But it is more than just a quest novel checking boxes. It has themes of living in occupation, losing homeland, and the changing family dynamics when displaced.
I am always on the lookout for a great historical fiction novel to make connections to time periods that are difficult to understand, with language and characters that students can manage and connect to. That is exactly what Where the Streets Had a Name is. Readers relate, and root for, Hayaat. We want her to get to her family’s homeland, collect the soil, and see a resolution. However, the power of this novel isn’t the quest. It is for students to gain an understanding of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and see past the good-side/bad-side binary thinking. Instead, we learn through the novel how conflict, occupation, and displacement impact at the individual level. Individuals we can empathize and understand because they are like us. They crave home, they like watching the X-Factor like Hayaat, and want their grandma to feel better.
Spend some time with Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Where the Streets Had a Name. I gained some understanding of the region and its history. I moved my knowledge beyond what the names on the map are, and once were. I gathered deeper understanding from a book about what it’s like in an area during conflict and geographical border and boundary changes. A lovely book about a young teen, who like me, is just trying to understand it better. It is a book well suited to discuss the quest novel. More importantly, it is a book to examine because it is a fair and nuanced portrait of a young teen living in complicated circumstances. It is a novel that drives to the heart in a number of classroom themed lessons that when coupled with books from other points of view give us a better situated understanding of the individuals living though conflict in a region.