Reviewed by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
By Reem Kassis, illustrated by Noha Eilouti
Published in the UK by Studio Press, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, and in the USA by Crocodile Books, an imprint of Interlink Publishing, 2023
Picture book for all ages
A colorful and joyful celebration of Palestinian people, places, food and culture, this is a must-have for any Palestinian family in the diaspora. For families in the rest of the world who are realizing now how little they know about Palestinians and their struggle, or know very little about Palestine beyond the news, this is an essential, illustrated encyclopedia shining a spotlight on Palestinians’ cultural heritage, culinary pride, and stories of the cities and landscape to which Palestinians have a connection.
At over a 100 pages of full-color double spreads, it explores historic and contemporary Palestinian themes in six chapters: Geography, Cultural Symbols, Creative Minds, Agriculture, Cuisine, Performing Arts, History and Religion.
We’re taken on a tour of the fascinating nooks and crannies (and churches and caves, bakeries and local crafts) of places within Israel now, as well as Gaza and West Bank cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah, giving just enough history for context and interest, and interspersed with fun facts and cultural detail. We find out more about Palestinian embroidery, traditional dress, the famous keffiya scarf, and the Handala cartoon meme. We’re treated to delicious nuggets of food from knafeh, to maqlubeh to za’atar, we hear of the many uses of olives, and meet iconic writers, artists and cultural figures from poet Mahmud Darwish, to feminist author Sahar Khalifeh, 23-year-old Gazan artist Malak Mattar, and journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was shot and killed last year by the Israeli military.
A beautiful addition to every library and school classroom, this is 100 pages of pride in a cultural heritage under threat, and a rich tour of a landscape that means so much to so many.