Rummanah Aasi
  When I joined the Middle Eastern Challenge hosted by Helen over at Helen's Book Blog, I was curious to read books that were written for children and young adults. I was under the impression that there are not that many children books written about this region, but as I started to look more closely, I was so wrong. I found some great titles from a list of the Middle Eastern Book Award. The Middle Eastern Book Award was established by the Middle East Outreach Council (MEOC) in 1999 to “recognize books for children and young adults that contribute meaning-fully to an understanding of the Middle East. Books are judged on the authenticity of their portrayal of a Middle Eastern subject, as well as on their characterization, plot, and appeal for the intended audience“.The first title that I read from this long list of books is The House of Wisdom by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliad and illustrated by Mary Grandpre, which won the Middle Eastern Book Award in 2000.

Description: A young boy in 9th century Baghdad, inspired by his scholar father, goes on a search for knowledge and wisdom. The book sheds a bright light on the great work of scholars during this golden period of Islamic civilization.

Review: Many of our history classes and their textbooks don't really pay much attention to the educational achievements of the Islamic Empire in the 9th century. From Morocco to Iraq, many universities, hospitals, bookstores, roads, highways, etc. were created. It was the Arab-speaking world that rediscovered and translated many of the Ancient Greek woks. I'm not sure how many people know that Baghdad was a cultural and educational mecca of the golden period of the Islamic civilization.
  In 830 AD, the Caliph (Muslim ruler of Baghdad) al-Mamun (pronounced al ma MOON) created a great institution called bayt al hikmah, The House of Wisdom, where scholars lived, studied, and translated many works from the Ancient World into Arabic. Ishaq (pronounced ISS hak), our protagonist, is the son of a translator who lives in The House of Wisdom. From a very age, Ishaq has seen his father be immersed into his work. Puzzled by his father's passion for learning, Ishaq also yearns to experience the same passion that his father has, but he also longs for adventure and exploring the world too. Luckily, all of his desires are met when he begins traveling the world to buy books for the Caliph, even locating an unknown book by Aristotle. Ishaq later discovers the magic of learning and devotes his life to the philosopher's works, becoming their greatest translator.  
  Even though the protagonist of this story is a youth, this picture book for older readers is a different story to tell mainly because there are so many elements that children may be unfamiliar with, however, it will serve as a great initiation into learning about the great achievements of Islamic civilization. Despite the book's difficulty, the vibrant, detailed, sensual art that mirrors the characteristics of Islamic art and the lyrical text brings this book to life and layered with complexity that it can be read on several levels. Even if children aren't captivated with the story, there are most likely to connect to the themes of being passionate about reading and learning as well as be entranced by the beautiful illustrations by Mary Grandpre, who has also worked on the Harry Potter books.
   It is clear from a thorough note at the back of the book as well as a bibliography that the authors and illustrator have done a significant amount of research. I just wished that they also included a brief section introducing the Islamic civilization, in particular, Baghdad to set the setting a bit more. Although the bibliography is extensive, it mainly consists of books that are written for adults at a college reading level and not a level that elementary schools can use with their students nevertheless, it provides a starting point. 

Curriculum Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book, try: Day of Ahmed's Secret
5 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    This is outside my normal genre but I've always been a bit of a history buff so that element of this story is really intriguing. Add to that gorgeous illustrations by the the woman who did the Harry Potter Books and this seems like a winner:) Thanks for sharing this one Rummanah!

  2. Oh your welcome, Jenny. :) This is outside my normal reading genre too, which is why I joined the challenge. I love learning about different cultures.

  3. Melissa Says:

    Sounds fascinating. I wonder if I can get my hands on a copy...

  4. Thank you for posting this review; the book sounds so good (and important)! It's a great addition to the Middle East Challenge list

  5. I never heard of this book before nor about an award for books about the Middle East. I was very happy that I found some great titles and that my library had them!

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