The Blog

Childrens Books on Middle Eastern Culture

The Middle East is a large and diverse region nestled at the intersection of three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Home to countless ethnic and religious groups, there is no one Middle Eastern culture–which makes exploring stories from the region all the more fun! And while we may not have enough room to include books from every Middle Eastern country in one post, check out these dazzling picture books we couldn’t help but fall in love with! 

Syria

SALMA THE SYRIAN CHEF BY DANNY RAMADAN (AUTHOR), ANNA BRON (ILLUSTRATOR)

Newcomer Salma and friends cook up a heartwarming dish to cheer up Mama.

All Salma wants is to make her mama smile again. Between English classes, job interviews, and missing Papa back in Syria, Mama always seems busy or sad. A homemade Syrian meal might cheer her up, but Salma doesn’t know the recipe, or what to call the vegetables in English, or where to find the right spices! Luckily, the staff and other newcomers in her Welcome Home are happy to lend a hand—and a sprinkle of sumac.

With creativity, determination, and charm, Salma brings her new friends together to show Mama that even though things aren’t perfect, there is cause for hope and celebration. Syrian culture is beautifully represented through the meal Salma prepares and Anna Bron’s vibrant illustrations, while the diverse cast of characters speaks to the power of cultivating community in challenging circumstances.  

Turkey

WHO WILL HELP ME MAKE IFTAR? BY ASMAA HUSSEIN (AUTHOR), SALIHA ÇALIŞKAN (ILLUSTRATOR)

Mustafa Amca and his wife have a yearly tradition – they cook iftar for their friends and neighbours on the first day of Ramadan. This year, Mustafa Amca’s wife is sick and can’t help him cook! Will he be able to find others to pitch in and create a meal for everyone to enjoy? A wonderful, rich story about selflessness and generosity!

Iran

MY GRANDMA AND ME BY MINA JAVAHERBIN (AUTHOR), LINDSEY YANKEY (ILLUSTRATOR)

In a true tale of a young girl in Iran and her grandmother, this beautiful ode to family celebrates small moments of love that become lifelong memories.

In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I have never loved anything or anyone the way I love my grandma.

While Mina is growing up in Iran, the center of her world is her grandmother. Whether visiting friends next door, going to the mosque for midnight prayers during Ramadan, or taking an imaginary trip around the planets, Mina and her grandma are never far apart. At once deeply personal and utterly universal, Mina Javaherbin’s words make up a love letter of the rarest sort: the kind that shares a bit of its warmth with every reader. Soft, colorful, and full of intricate patterns, Lindsey Yankey’s illustrations feel like a personal invitation into the coziest home, and the adoration between Mina and her grandma is evident on every page.

Egypt

SNATCHED BY ASMAA HUSSEIN (AUTHOR), SVIATOSLAV DIACHYK (ILLUSTRATOR)

Omar has taken something that doesn’t belong to him! His mistake is following him, even into his dreams! How will he make amends?

Palestine/Israel

SNOW IN JERUSALEM BY DEBORAH DA COSTA (AUTHOR), YING-HWA HU  (ILLUSTRATOR), CORNELIUS VAN WRIGHT (ILLUSTRATOR)

Living in different neighborhoods of Jerusalem’s Old City, Avi and Hamudi have no idea that they are both caring for the same stray cat, until one day, the beautiful cat leads them both on a journey that defies boundaries and ends with an unexpected snowfall in Jerusalem, in an enchanting story of peace, hope, and friendship. 

Looking for more resources to learn about the Middle East? Explore the different countries and areas of the region with the CIA World Factbook!

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Martina Rethman is an editorial intern with Cardinal Rule Press. She is currently a senior at Carnegie Mellon University.

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