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Arab Culture & Civilization

Explore this exemplary library of articles and resources on Arab societies and culture. This site was originally created by the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE).


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Reading Suggestions for Early Elementary Students

This list was compiled from a multitude of sources including outreach programs at the University of Arizona and the University of Portland, as well as the Middle East Outreach Council and independent research. MEOC book award recipients are noted with an *. Intermediate elementary, middle school, high school, and general book lists are forthcoming. The suggested grade or age range will not apply to all situations so use your best judgment when considering your children or students. Some of the texts may be dated and hard to access but have been included for their underlying value and contribution to the children’s literary canon on the Middle East and Islam. We remain available to assist you in your search if there is a subject or country area not addressed within these lists. Please contact mgeissler@mepc.org if you have any comments or recommendations!

Pre-K through Grade 2


Organized by Category & Country





General/Multiple Countries

Country Lists


This list was compiled from a multitude of sources including outreach programs at the University of Arizona and the University of Portland, as well as the Middle East Outreach Council and independent research. The suggested grade or age range will not apply to all situations so use your best judgment when considering your children or students. Some of the texts may be dated and hard to access but have been included for their overall value added to children’s literary material on the Middle East and Islam. 




*The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arabia by Mary Beardwood, 2008. This detailed encyclopedia entry focuses on the geography, cultures, and, especially, the flora and fauna of the Arabian Peninsula. With many photographs, charts, maps, figures, asides, this exhaustive and beautifully illustrated text will answer every question you never knew that you had about Arabia on subjects from pearling to fossils, migratory birds to the many uses of the date palm. The sheer breadth of information will eliminate the narrow geographic and social stereotypes so many students have about the Middle East.




Arab Science and Invention in the Golden Age by Anne Blanchard (author) and Emmanuel Cerisier (illustrator), 2008. The first third of this book, a quality overview of the building of the Muslim Empire, is the strength of the work. It is followed by chapters covering specific scientists and mathematicians from each century, which are not as strong, partly due to their organization. Each section describes the relevant location and time period in as many as three pages of text before introducing the subject. Overall, the book is a good introduction to the era, but it is less strong as a discussion of the science and invention of the title. - School Library Journal Review.

The Most Magnificent Mosque by Ann Jungman and Shelley Fowles, 2007. This is a beautifully illustrated book about medieval Spain and its Muslim heritage. Appropriate for grades 1 and above.

Mosque by David Macaulay, 2008. Macauley’s book provides step-by-step details and diagrams of the construction of a fictional sixteenth century Ottoman mosque. As the author walks the reader through the engineering and artistry of the structure, he reveals the mosque’s diverse functions in the community.




These books offer age appropriate stories about the religious experience in the Middle East as well as factual information about Islam and Judaism

*The Best Eid Ever by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Laura Jacobsen, 2007. The Eid al-Adha is the biggest holiday in the Islamic calendar, but this year Aneesa hardly feels like celebrating because her parents are in far away Saudi Arabia making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Then, Aneesa meets two young refugees who have just arrived in the U.S., and she decides to help the girls celebrate and make it the best Eid ever. Appropriate for Kindergarten through grade 4.

*The Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaatje, illustrated by Linda Wolfsgruber, 2013. Inspired by a retelling of a traditional Muslim hadith, or account of the words or actions of the Prophet, which the author first heard in Sri Lanka, this is the story of a camel whose cruel owner only realizes what suffering he has caused when the Prophet appears and shows love to the animal. Appropriate for Kindergarten and above.

Celebrate Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr with Praying, Fasting, and Charity (National Geographic, “Holidays Around the World” series) by Deborah Heiligman, 2006.  Although it is at a low reading level, this book vividly describes the customs and beliefs surrounding the Muslim month of fasting. Appropriate for grades 1-4.

*Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan (Author) and Mehrdokht Amini (illustrator), 2012. This is a book about Islam for early elementary students. The beautiful pictures and simple rhyming prose make it interesting to young children, while the glossary at the end assists teachers in introducing    Muslim culture and practices. Appropriate for preschool through 2nd grade.

*Muhammad written and illustrated by Demi, 2003. Demi portrays the Prophet Muhammad’s life in a richly colorful, two-dimensional Persian style, respecting Islamic tradition by omitting depictions of the Prophet and his family. Appropriate for grades 2-5.

Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan and Julie Paschkis, 2008. A seven-year-old Pakistani-American girl celebrates Ramadan. Appropriate for preschool to 3rd grade.

Passover by David F. Marx, 2001. This book gives religious and historical information about the Jewish Passover holiday. Appropriate for grade 1 and above.

Ramadan by Susan L. Douglass and Jeni Reeves, 2003. An introduction to Islamic observances during the month of Ramadan and the subsequent festival of Eid-al-Fitr. Appropriate for grade 2 and above.

Ramadan by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi and Omar Rayyan, 1996. The book describes the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Sound the Shofar!: A Story for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Leslie Himmelman and John Himmelman, 1998. This book focuses on the high holy days of Judaism and how one family celebrates those together and by helping out the less fortunate. Ages 3-6.

* Time to Pray by Maha Addasi, 2010. This story provides a clear explanation of Muslim prayers and aspects of Islamic practice in a story that revolves around a loving relationship between a girl and her grandmother. Appropriate for grades 1-4.

*What’s the Buzz? Honey for a Sweet New Year by Alison Ofanansky, photographs by Eliyahu Alpern, 2012. This book provides information on the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah traditions, the bee industry, and life in Israel. Written for young children, it fills a huge hole in non-fiction for early grade levels. Reviewers especially loved the photographs showing real Israeli children in everyday life.

The White Nights of Ramadan by Maha Addasi (Author), Ned Gannon (Illustrator), 2008.   Noor lives in a country near the Arabian (Persian) Gulf. She's looking forward to the festival known as Girgian that comes in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. These middle days are known as "the three whites," because they include the day of the full moon, the day before, and the day after. It's a time when children, dressed in traditional clothes, go from house to house collecting treats from their neighbors. When Noor sees the full moon rising, signaling the coming of Girgian, she and her brothers prepare for the fun. Together, they decorate the bags they'll carry to collect the candies. But along with the fun, Noor remembers the true meaning of Ramadan: spending time with family and sharing with those less fortunate. Appropriate for grades 1-4.



General/Multiple Countries


The books in this and in the following country sections contain fictional and non-fictional works. They range from true story accounts to basic informational texts.

Count Your Way through the Arab World by Kim Haskins and Dana Gustafson, 1987. The picture book gives an introduction to Arab life and beliefs through the
numeric system. This is an older work and may not accurately reflect contemporary life in the Arab world. Appropriate for grades 1-4.

Goha by Denys Johnson-Davies, 1993. This is a brief, illustrated book of Arab folk tales. (Note: Goha is called Nasreddin Hodja in the Turkish world. The stories are beloved classics in the entire region.)


Goha, the Wise Fool by Denys Johnson-Davies and Hag Hamdy Hany, 2005. This is a brief, illustrated book of Arab folk tales. (Note: Goha is called Nasreddin Hodja in the Turkish world. The stories are beloved classics in the entire region.)

How the Camel Got its Hump by Rudyard Kipling and Lisbeth Zwerger, 2001. This is one of a Little Golden Book’s “Tales from Around the World.” Appropriate for Pre-K through 2nd grade.


*How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale by Margaret Read McDonald, Nadia Jameel Taibah (authors) and Carol Liddiment (Illustrator), 2012. This humorous tale offers a great introduction to Arabic numbers for younger readers, as well as introducing the Joha/Goha/Hoca character known throughout the region. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

*Never Say a Mean World Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules and Durga Yael Bernhard, 2014. Inspired by a legend about a Jewish vizier who advised the Muslim ruler of medieval Spain, this story tells of a conundrum faced by a boy named Samuel and the counterintuitive wisdom of his father, the vizier. With illuminating details—such as the boys' headwear, backdrops of thick stone walls or heavy wooden doors, geometric patterns in mauves and browns, and a vine and flower motif—Bernhard’s (Around the World in One Shabbat) illustrations convey an elegant, multicultural castle environment. Appropriate for preschool through 3rd grade.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, 2006. It’s hard to be the new kid in school, especially when you look different and don’t speak English, but on a school field trip to pick apples and make cider, Farah begins to feel she can fit in. Appropriate for Pre-K through 3rd grade.

*The Rich Man and the Parrot by Suzan Nadimi and Ande Cook, 2007. Available as e-book. A folktale once told by the famous thirteenth-century poet Rumi is retold again in this attractive picture book. It is a story about a man and his parrot who longs to be free. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Tales Told in Tens by Sally Pomme Clayton and Sophie Herxheimer, 2005. This is a collection of short stories from Central Asia. Appropriate for grade 2 and above.

What’s the Matter, Habibi? by Betsy Lewin, 2004. This is a warm and funny story of a boy and his pet camel. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 2nd grade.


Caravan by Lawrence Mackay Jr. and Darryl Ligason, 2008. A 10-year-old Uzbek boy makes his first caravan trip through the mountains of Afghanistan. Appropriate for grade 1 and above.

 *Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka, 2007. This lovely story, set in a refugee camp, tells of two Afghani girls who share one pair of sandals. Appropriate for grade 1 and above.

*The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan by Ann Redisch Stampler, illustrated by Carol Liddiment, 2012. This is a charming story with “vibrant illustrations with rich, sensuous colors that epitomize the beauty of the Middle East.” Reviewers also loved the repetition of the phrase “I have faith that everything will turn out just as it should,” which is reassuring to children. It is well written, engaging, and colorful. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.



Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie De Paola, 1996. On a class field trip to Egypt, Bill and Pete not only learn a lot about ancient Egypt, but they also confront the Bad Guy. Appropriate for preschool to 3rd grade.

The Day of Ahmed's Secret by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, 1995. This nicely written story with vivid descriptions and illustrations is about a young Egyptian boy who is learning to read while working to help his family in lively Cairo. Appropriate for grades 1-4.

Folk Tales of Egypt  by Denys Johnson-Davies and Tarek Mossad, 1993.

*Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Karen Leggett Abouraya (author) and Susan L. Roth (illustrator), 2012. This children’s picture book tells the true story that took place during the Egyptian uprising (during the Arab Spring) when demonstrators joined together to protect the library of Alexandria. It’s a story that helps young children to think about current events – and the importance of books and libraries in society. Appropriate for preschool through 1st grade.

The Hundredth Name by Shulamith Oppenheim and Michael Hays, 1997. This nicely illustrated story tells of friendship and Muslim faith set in a village in Egypt. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

If I Were a Kid in Ancient Egypt by Cobblestone Publishing, 2007. If I Were a Kid in Ancient Egypt takes readers through daily life in a vibrant culture that pioneered paper, linen, irrigation, medicine, and much more, and shows how these inventions came about and how they affected the culture’s younger citizens. Appropriate for grades 1-5.

Nesma Buys the Beans by Chris Smith and Aurlia Fronty, 1995. A tale of two brothers whose secret sharing of grain with one another results in a mystery. This is a good story to
illustrate caring.



Celebrating Norouz (Persian New Year) by Yassaman Jalali, 2003. Description of the most popular Iranian holiday, Persian New Year, celebrated March 21st, the first day of spring.


*Count Your Way through Iran by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Farida Zaman, 2006. This is an excellent, apolitical introduction to Iran’s culture. Appropriate for grade 2 and above.

The Legend of the Persian Carpet by Tomie Da Paola and Claire Stewart, 1993. This is a Persian folktale retold by the uthor of Strega Nona. Appropriate for preschool through grade 3.The Little Black Fish by Samad Behrangi, multiple prints – 1971, 1997, 2008, 2015. This classic Iranian short story is made to be read aloud to older elementary school children through adults. It has many different levels of meaning - about breaking out of one’s narrow environment and learning about the wider world. This small book also is written half in Persian, so kids can see what the language looks like and how the cover of a Middle Eastern book is the back of an American one (since they write from right to left).

*Mystery Bottle by Kristen Balouch, 2006. Mystery Bottle is a tale of fantasy and imagination as a little boy in New York blows into a bottle and is carried to Iran where his father was born. Appropriate for preschool – 3rd grade.

*The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin, 2010. This book retells a story taken from an ancient Persian poem, “Parrot and the Merchant,” by Jalaledin Rumi. It is the tale of a wealthy merchant who keeps a parrot in his shop whose colorful feathers, singing, and talking attract many customers. When the merchant travels to India on a shopping trip, he promises to bring something home for each family member, including the parrot, whose unusual request leads to his own freedom. Appropriate for preschool – 2nd grade.

*Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty, 2010. A graphic novel telling the true story of a woman's struggle to save the books in the Basra library during the 2003 war in Iraq. It's a simple story, but the graphic novel style would appeal to some upper elementary and middle school readers. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade. 

A Fistful of Pearls and Other Tales from Iraq (Folktales from Around the World) by Elizabeth Laird, 2008. A Fistful of Pearls is enchanting. The bad guys are wolves and thieves; its stories are fabulous and are just the right length. Its tone is ideal for reading aloud, and perhaps this, more than the bad guys and fewer pictures, will encourage children to read for themselves. Bedtime stories from Iraq can remind us that innocence is worth preserving when real-life villains are plentiful enough. Appropriate for grades 1-7. 

*The House of Wisdom by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, 1999. A young boy in 9th century Baghdad (the golden age of Islamic civilization) is inspired by his scholar father to go on a search for knowledge and wisdom. Appropriate for ages 4-7.


*The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter, 2005. Another tale of Alia Mohammed Baker, this picture book tells the true story of a woman’s struggle to save the books in the Basra library during the 2003 war in Iraq. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

*Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad written and illustrated by James Rumford, 2008. This celebration of writing and art involves a young Iraqi boy in contemporary Baghdad and the story of a master calligrapher, who lived eight hundred years before, also during a time of war. Appropriate for preschool through grade 3.


The Girl Who Lost Her Smile by Karim Alrawi and Stefan Czernecki, 2000. This Arab tale tells about a girl who lost her smile and the people of Baghdad who help her find it. Appropriate for Kindergarten through grade 3.



The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio, 2010. Salma and Lily are best friends who like doing everything together. They also eat lunch together every day, but Salma always eats hummus and Lily eats peanut butter and jelly. One day, Lily tells Salma her sandwich looks yucky, and before they know it, the girls have started a school-wide food fight. Feeling ashamed, Salma and Lily try each other's sandwiches, and find them delicious! Then, they help organize a picnic so everyone at school can try each other's food and learn about each other's culture. Appropriate for preschool through grade 2.




 Kuwait: Picture Book by Planet Collection, 2012. This book discusses the land, natural world, government, industry, religion and culture of Kuwait.




Lebanon A-Z: A Middle Eastern Mosaic by Marijean Boueri, Jill Boutros, and Joanne Sayad, illustrated by Tatiana Sabbagh, 2006. Kareem, an eleven year-old Lebanese boy, and his friends of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, proudly introduce readers to the history, culture, and daily life of their country. Appropriate for preschool to grade 3.


The Olive Tree by Elsa Marston (Author), Claire Ewart (Illustrator), 2014. Using the backdrop of the Lebanese War, the Olive Tree follows two children as they learn to share and work together by looking past their differences. It shows young readers that compassion and understanding lie at the heart of all friendships. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.


Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, 1995. This haunting and beautifully illustrated story tells of a 10-year-old boy during the fighting in Beirut, Lebanon. Appropriate for preschool through 3rd grade. 



 *The Butter Man by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, 2008. This story provides an introduction to the culture of the Berbers of Morocco. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 4th grade.


*Mirror by Jeannie Baker, 2010. This quiet, inventive, mostly wordless picture book follows two boys on opposite sides of the world through a single day, highlighting the differences and universalities in their lives. Meant to be read simultaneously, the stories appear side by side as separate mini-books bound within the same covers, while brief, introductory lines of text in English and Arabic introduce the boys, one in urban Australia and one in rural Morocco. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 4th grade.


*The Storytellers by Ted Lewin, 1998.  This is a gentle story with beautiful illustrations, telling of a young boy and his grandfather who carry on the tradition of storytelling in the market place of Fez, Morocco. Appropriate for age 5 and up.






*One City, Two Brothers by Chris Smith, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty, 2007. Written by a former worker with UNICEF and Oxfam in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, this re-telling of a traditional story from the time of King Solomon serves as a metaphor for the “wish for the people of Israel and Palestine to find peace.” Appropriate for grade 1 and up.


 Sitti's Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye, 1997. A girl raised in the US goes to visit her grandmother in a Palestinian village. Appropriate for Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

 Snow in Jerusalem by Deborah Da Costa, 2008. An Israeli and a Palestinian boy must work together to save a stray cat that both have befriended. Appropriate for grades 1-5.


Saudi Arabia

Amina and Muhammad's Special Visitor by Diane Turnage Burgoyne and Penny Williams Yaqub, 1982.  This children's book describes family life in Saudi Arabia. It also includes background information for teachers.


*Folktales from Turkey: From Agri to Zelve by Serpil Ural, illustrated by Dilara Arin, 2012. This book is a wonderful combination of folktales and stories in combination with historic, geographic, and cultural content. Evaluators especially enjoyed the format: short stories with side panels that offer information on a wide variety of topics. The book is well-written, nicely illustrated, and offers teachers many opportunities for follow-up research or art projects.


The Hungry Coat: A tale From Turkey by Demi, 2004. A man is judged by his appearance. Appropriate for grades 1 – 5.

Nasreddin Hodja by Mehmet Ali Birant, 1988 – find a newer one. This is a collection of short (often humorous) anecdotes about an early 13th century Turkish figure. It’s as interesting for its beautiful Ottoman style illustrations as for the stories. (Note 2: Nasreddin Hodja is called Goha in the Arab world and Mullah Nasreddin in the Persian world. The stories are beloved classics in the entire region.)


Looking for more?

Besides the Joha character, there is also a Cinderella story collection:

Cinderella: An Islamic Tale by Fawzi Gilani, 2011 

The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo (author), Ruth Heller (illustrator), 1992

The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story by Rebecca Hickox (author), Will Hillenbrand (illustrator), 1999

The Persian Cinderella by Shirley Climo (author), Robert Florczack (illustrator), 2001

The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition by Nina Jaffe  (author), Louise August (illustrator), 1998


Here are a few publishers specializing in children’s global literature:


Annick Press

Annick Press is recognized as one of the most innovative and cutting-edge publishers of fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults. 


Charlesbridge Books

Charlesbridge publishes high-quality books for children, with a goal of creating lifelong readers and lifelong learners. Our books encourage reading and discovery in the classroom, library, and home. We believe that books for children should offer accurate information, promote a positive worldview, and embrace a child's innate sense of wonder and fun. To this end, we continually strive to seek new voices, new visions, and new directions in children's literature.


Groundwood Books

Groundwood Books is an independent children's publisher based in Toronto Our authors and illustrators are highly acclaimed both in Canada and internationally, and our books are loved by children around the world. We look for books that are unusual; we are not afraid of books that are difficult or potentially controversial; and we are particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.


Kids Can Press

At Kids Can Press, we take pride in producing innovative and eye-catching picture books, entertaining and thought-provoking fiction, and curriculum-based non-fiction that opens children’s eyes to the world around them. Every season, we publish a diverse range of titles for children from birth to age 16. To find out about the wide array of free materials available on-line related to their books, click here. Items are well-organized by reading level, genre, age and grade group, curriculum, and theme, and there are a number of series available.


Wisdom Tales

Wisdom Tales is the name of the children’s book imprint of the award-winning publishing house, World Wisdom, which was founded in 1980. Wisdom Tales publishes both children’s and teen titles and was created for the purpose of sharing the wisdom, beauty, and values of traditional cultures and peoples from around the world with young readers and their families. The content, illustrations, and production quality of these books is intended to assure them a lasting value for children, parents, teachers, and librarians.