Reviews /

We Are Palestinian: A Celebration of Culture and Tradition

Authored by Reem Kassis
Illustrated by Noha Eilouti
Published by Bonnier Books Ltd

We Are Palestinian is a colourful and illuminating information book which introduces young readers to many different aspects of Palestinian culture and history, from agriculture and cuisine to famous Palestinian artists and thinkers.

Reem Kassis’s explanations should be clear and accessible to most readers in upper KS2 and above, including those with little or no prior knowledge of Palestine, and Noha Eilouti’s vibrant illustrations showcase a wide variety of aspects of Palestinian life, from the thobe dress to dabke dancers. I particularly enjoyed learning about the range of famous Palestinians included in this book, from established figures like the poet Mamhoud Darwish and the academic Edward Said to inspiring younger Palestinians such as the painter Malak Mattar and the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. My only criticism would be that a map or two showing the location of different cities and regions might have clarified a few references (the only map included is of ancient Palestine, towards the end of the book).

This book was published in March 2023, well before the horrifying events of recent weeks, as a result of which many children will have a greater curiosity about Palestine and Israel. Some teachers may also understandably feel apprehensive about sharing books such as this in the classroom because of the requirement for schools to avoid promoting partisan political views. However, I feel that Kassis has been careful to write about the conflict with Israel in factual terms rather than expressing a political agenda: for instance, when discussing the 1948 war, she writes:

‘Between 1947 and 1949 there was a war going on in the land of Palestine. An international body called the United Nations wanted to divide the land between the Jews and Palestinians, but the Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries did not consider the division of their land to be fair. Following the war, the state of Israel was established. In the process, almost 750,000 Palestinians, or half of our population, lost their homes, were displaced, became refugees and had to leave Palestine.’

If anything, I think that the Kassis’s references to ‘we’ and ‘our’ add to the honesty of her writing as readers can tell that she is writing from her own Palestinian perspective. Thus, in my view, this would be a suitable and valuable book for the classroom.

Moreover, it is worth reiterating that conflict is not the main focus of this book and is only mentioned a handful of times. This arguably makes it all the more important to share this book with children: at a time when the word Palestine risks becoming synonymous with war in many children’s minds, this book reminds us that there is so much more to Palestinian culture. As Kassis movingly reflects: ‘One of the ways we work for this better future is by preserving Palestinian culture for future generations and sharing it with others so that they may learn about our story, our beautiful and incredibly rich traditions and our history.’ All children will benefit from learning about these. The book reminds us that most people in the world have the same aim, to live in peace with our families, to enjoy music, art, literature, food and nature. War deprives us of that rich cultural life, whatever side of the divide we find ourselves on.