I first heard about this book maybe a year ago when it was making waves for including such passages as “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!” The book was in limited supply however and hard to find. Recently a 2nd edition came out and is widely available in major outlets.
The book follows the well established genre of giving each letter in the alphabet a page to depict in picture and words details about a given subject. The form usually rhymes and appeals to little kids learning about something specific, and adults, who enjoy the topic at hand.
While this book is fabulous because it exists, and praiseworthy because it celebrates Palestine, Christmas and Eid and the birthplace of Jesus and Lebneh and Quds and olives and grape leaves and everything else that makes Palestine so close to one’s heart, the stanzas themselves are really forced and inconsistent in rhyme and meter.
Granted, one doesn’t buy or even pick up a book like this for its literary merits, but the text is really a bit all over the place. “Can we sing the ABC anywhere? With a woolly bear or in thin air? L is for Labneh is like yogurt. I eat it for lunch, wearing my loafer! B is for Bethlehem, my birthplace with the best Baklawas, put it on a plate not in a vase! K is for Kuffiya, the best kind you can hang on a hook in Hebron souk! E is for Eid, it means Festival, like the Muslim Eid al-Fitr when we eat enticing eats, get excited over gifts, and enjoy seeing out extended families. J is for jesus, Jesus was born in my hometown (Bethlehem), not Jamestown!”
I of course overlooked some of the awkwardness because the illustrations are lively and beautiful and the parts I thought needed explaining, I chalked up to me not being Palestine, nor having visited there.
Many of the passages are touching and memorable and make the book so important. M is for Miftah, Key of Return…Mama’s Mama, and my Jiddah’s Mama’s, for which I yearn! T is for Thob, a traditional dress wtih tatreez (embroidered pieces). Takes time to make, with thousands of tiny threads, if you please!
There is an Appendix in the back, giving a tad more information on the main idea mentioned for each letter. There is also a Publisher’s note. While there was some controversy that the book is anti Semitic or spreading propaganda, I think the book comes from a place of love and culture. There is Christian and Muslim concepts and a character named David making grape leaves. It does not mention Israel or Zionism blatantly, which I think shows that Palestine has its own culture and isn’t solely defined by the crimes committed against them. Interestingly, the author is from Iran.