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Habibi

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Published by Simon & Schuster, 1997
259 pages
ISBN: 0-689-80149-1

Ages 11 - 14

Like many 14-year-old girls growing up in St Louis, Liyana Abboud's life revolves around her immediate family, her school, her neighborhood, and her small circle of friends. She has already experienced her first kiss and she enjoys writing poetry, which she occasionally shares with her old fourth grade teacher who first encouraged her in creative writing. (She specializes in writing first lines, which we see here at the beginning of each chapter.) When her father announces that he wants to return with his family to his hometown, Jerusalem, Liyana is initially stunned, even as her family packs a few belongings and sells most of their worldly goods. Life changes dramatically for Liyana and her good-natured younger brother, Rafik, when they move halfway across the world to a place Liyana has only known through headlines and nightly news reports. Her Arabic-speaking relatives are all strangers to her and even her father seems to have changed a bit in the context of his native culture. Liyana soon develops a close relationship, however, with Sitti, her grandmother; although they don't speak the same language, they recognize one another as kindred spirits. Free to explore Jerusalem ("a cake made of layers of time"), Liyana takes everything in, lyrically screened through the heart and soul of the poet she's becoming. Her passion for life and language, for justice and humanity, leads her down some unfamiliar streets, looking for "...a door in the heart that had no lock on it." She finds it in a most surprising place: in the heart of a Jewish boy named Omer. Liyana is an extremely likable, well-rounded character, and readers will enjoy accompanying her on her journeys to and through Jerusalem, as well as on her journey of self-discovery. Like Liyana's first lines, Naomi Shihab Nye's crackling prose is filled with humor, imagery, compassion and insight which all work together to create one of the strongest senses of place ever seen in a work of fiction for children, a place where "...water came from the earth and stories sprang from the stones." Honor Book, CCBC Newbery Award Discussion CCBC categories: Fiction for Children; Fiction for Teenagers; Issues in Today's World; Contemporary People, Places and Events. 1997, Simon & Schuster, 259 pages, $16.00. Ages 11-14.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center


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