Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World by Elsa Marston
Eight stories feature eight teens from eight different countries coming of age during a time of uncertainty and tumult in their native Middle East countries. In the title story, young Amal of Baghdad, Iraq, must find the very best gift for her departing literature teacher even while watching as her family’s already depleted resources continue to dwindle. In “Faces,” Suhayl of Syria comes to terms with his parents’ divorce, desperately hoping to make his mother happy once again.
Aneesi watches in horror when her beloved father is accused of theft in the wealthy Lebanese home in which they both work in “The Hand of Fatima.” When Mujahhid is sent away from Bethlehem and the constant shootings that already claimed his older brother’s life to stay with relatives in a remote village in “The Olive Grove,” he learns new ways of struggling for his people’s rights against the controlling Israelis without having to become yet another martyr.
An Egyptian city girl learns first hand about village life in “In Line,” a young Tunisian boy who sells his mother’s hats befriends a famous artist in “Scenes in a Roman Theater,” two brave girls in Jordan help save another from an honor killing in “Honor,” and a young Palestinian boy living in a refugee camp in Lebanon helps his isolated older brother possibly find real love.
While the circumstances of these young lives might first seem unfamiliar to a western audience, universal truths about what every child needs and wants soon emerge. Differences that too often get magnified by the media fall away as the children in these pages come of age, sharing their lives with friends, dealing with the occasional conflict with parents, and trying to fit into their communities – all the while surviving war, deprivation, political uncertainty, and imminent dangers.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult