Archive for the ‘Cross Cultural’ Category

Review of Watch Out for Flying Kids! by Cynthia Levinson

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

watch_out_for_flying_kids_largeWatch Out for Flying Kids!

How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community

by Cynthia Levinson

Peachtree, Atlanta, 2015. 216 pages.
Starred Review

I booktalked this book in local elementary schools this year. It’s a story about real kids, with a large format and lots of pictures — and everything in it is true.

A section of the Prologue neatly explains why this is an important book:

Watch Out for Flying Kids spotlights a little-known corner of this universe: youth social circus.

As the first word of the name suggests, “youth circus” refers to programs in which the performers are children. The nine performers featured in this book are teenagers.

The word “social” refers to the mission of bringing together young people who would not ordinarily meet — or, if they did, might fear or oppose each other. The two organizations portrayed in this book — the St. Louis Arches and the Galilee Circus — bring together young people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures through training in circus arts. The goal of both groups is to replace fear with respect and opposition with trust, changing the world one acrobat, contortionist, and flyer at a time.

Why wouldn’t these kids meet if it weren’t for circus? Why might they even fear or mistrust one another? The three white and two black troupers who are Arches live in different neighborhoods and go to different schools in St. Louis, Missouri, a city that is segregated by race and income level. The two Arabs and two Jews who perform with the Galilee Circus in northern Israel live in towns segregated by religion, ethnicity, language, and history. They represent groups that have been violently at odds with each other for hundreds of years.

Watch Out for Flying Kids shows what happens when all of them get together. That is, it demonstrates how they learn to juggle their responsibilities, fly above the fray, balance schoolwork and circus work, unicycle circles around people who doubt them, tumble gracefully through life — even when injured — and walk the tightrope of politics and friendship.

This book looks at the two circuses, the St. Louis Arches and the Galilee Circus, over the years 2005 to 2014. Nine kids in particular are highlighted and their journey described.

Performing in a circus is tremendously difficult, and the hard work and dedication required is conveyed well. The two circuses got to visit each other’s countries and perform together, and the book also shows us the challenges of working together across cultures.

This is a wonderful, inspiring and informative book about a group of kids working hard, forming a community, and putting on a great show.

cynthialevinson.com
peachtree-online.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ada’s Violin, by Susan Hood and Sally Wern Comport

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

adas_violin_largeAda’s Violin

The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

by Susan Hood
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book tells the story of Ada Rios, who grew up living in the main garbage dump of Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. Her family worked in the landfill as a recycler, finding trash they could sell.

One day Favio Chavez came to town, offering music lessons for the children of the town, Cateura. There weren’t enough musical instruments to go around — so they made instruments out of recycled materials they found in the landfill.

They formed an orchestra, and Ada practiced hard. They performed concerts and ended up being able to travel around the world, even performing at a Metallica concert.

The picture book tells the story simply enough for children. Material at the back fills in the details for adults, complete with YouTube links.

Music and creativity combined with time and dedication brought music and new life to the children of Cateura.

The last paragraphs of the Author’s Note at the back is filled with hope:

Money from the orchestra’s concerts goes back to Cateura to help families rebuild their homes, their music school, and their lives. “Not too long ago we purchased a piece of land where we will build houses for fifteen orchestra families,” said Chavez. “Ada has a new house there.” This land is out of the flood zone. These families will never again have to face the evacuations that displace Cateura villagers every year when the river rises.

What started as a music class for ten kids has swelled to orchestral rehearsals for two hundred students, with more than twenty-five instructors. Chavez quit his ecology job to work with the orchestra full-time. Now plans are afoot to use the Recycled Orchestra’s experiences as a model to help other children living on landfills around the world.

recycledorchestracateura.com
susanhoodbooks.com
sallycomport.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I’m New Here, by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

im_new_here_largeI’m New Here

by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Charlesbridge, 2015. 32 pages.

I’m wary of books that try to approach a problem and show it solved in a simplistic way. But this book goes deeper than that.

It is a book designed to give us a window into what it feels like to be an immigrant. And yes, the stories are simplified somewhat for very young readers. But the artwork is lovely, and we’re shown how it feels to be in a new place, totally different from where you came from.

We meet three children, as they stand alone, to be introduced to their new class.

Maria is from Guatemala. “Back home I knew the language.” Pictures show Maria playing soccer happily with her friends.

Here there are new words.
I can’t understand them.
The sounds are strange to my ears.

The pictures show a cacophony of sounds on a playground.

Jin is from Korea. “Back home I could read and write.”

Here there are new letters.
They lie on the page like scribbles and scratches.
All the windows and doors are shut tight.

The picture shows Jin looking at letters and seeing them in a nonsensical pile jumbled together.

Fatimah is from Somalia. She wears a flowered headscarf. “Back home I was part of the class.”

Here there are new ways.
I cannot see the patterns.
I cannot find my place.

One by one, each finds a way to begin fitting in.

My favorite is Maria, who practices saying the words and finally manages to ask if she can play soccer. The part I like is where right away one of the other kids says, “She’s on our team!”

Jin gets help spelling cloud from a friend, and then shows that friend how to write cloud in Korean.

And it turns out that Fatimah is a very good artist and finds she can express herself by drawing and painting.

Here there are new beginnings.

Here there is a place for me.

Here is a new home.

I’m afraid that explaining this book won’t communicate how well the pictures tell the story along with the words. And the children portrayed are lovely children, not seen as other. Anne Sibley O’Brien manages to make their eyes look wistful at the beginning, but in a way that makes us want to embrace and comfort them.

And we’re all happy about their change of expression and demeanor by the end.

I suspect this book would be good for immigrant children to read as well as for children who will have new immigrants as classmates. But it’s also a good story, a story that helps the reader imagine what it would be like to stand in someone else’s shoes.

annesibleyobrien.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of With a Friend by Your Side, by Barbara Kerley

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

with_a_friend_by_your_side_largeWith a Friend by Your Side

by Barbara Kerley

National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2015.

Barbara Kerley takes amazing photographs. (And what else do we expect from National Geographic.)

The text of this book talks about all friends can do and be. The photographs make it shine. Barbara Kerley catches the sparkle in the eyes of friends having fun together.

Looking at the pictures, you’ll notice she’s got all skin colors represented, and friendships between people of all different shapes and sizes and ages. But the pages at the back really bring it home. She’s got a world map and tells where every photo originated. They are truly from all over the world.

Some of my favorite photos are Clowning around in Bamako, Mali, Slip sliding down a muddy hill near Jakarta, Indonesia, Getting ready to fly in Pacific Palisades, California, U.S.A., About to get wet in Lake Cerknica, Slovenia, and Cozying up to a good book in Sarsy, Russia.

This book is a work of art celebrating people – celebrating Friends.

nationalgeographic.com/books

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent to me by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Anna Carries Water, by Olive Senior and Laura James

Friday, August 15th, 2014

anna_carries_water_largeAnna Carries Water

by Olive Senior
illustrations by Laura James

Tradewind Books, 2014. First published in Canada in 2013. 42 pages.
Starred Review

This is a lovely book that takes a situation that would be unfamiliar to most American children and deals with the universal emotions involved in that situation.

Anna’s family lives way out in the countryside, and they don’t get their water from a tap. Every evening after school, the children go to the spring for water. All her bigger siblings carry the water back to the house on their heads. More than anything, Anna wants to carry the water on her head, like they do.

They tell her not to try – she’ll get her clothes wet. She cries when they are right.

But her siblings aren’t mean about it. They tell her not to worry about it, one day it will just happen. And the rest of the book tells about the day when it does. This also has some humor and a relatable situation.

The lovely bright paintings on large pages make the book beautiful.

This book will make a wonderful choice for preschool storytime, but also for any child who wants to do things the bigger kids can do.

tradewindbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of King for a Day, by Rukhsana Khan and Christiane Krömer

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

king_for_a_day_largeKing for a Day

by Rukhsana Khan
illustrations by Christiane Krömer

Lee & Low Books, New York, 2013. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Recently, Betsy Bird of School Library Journal’s Fuse 8 blog did a post about “casual diversity” – books that include characters from diverse backgrounds, but where that isn’t the point of the story. Race or disability isn’t seen as a problem, it’s just the way the world is.

Shortly after reading that post, I read King for a Day and was delighted to find such a wonderful example.

The story is about Basant, a kite festival that happens every year in Lahore, Pakistan, to celebrate the arrival of Spring. We focus on a boy, Malik, who has been planning for a long time to win the kite battles, to be king of Basant. He has one kite which he has crafted himself.

He flies his kite from the roof of his building. Right away, he comes up against a bully who lives nearby, who has a big, expensive kite. But Malik is triumphant. And the day continues, battling all kinds of colorful kites. The illustrator has beautifully created many different cloth kites for these pages.

Big kites, little kites, fancy and plain. Even kites made of old newspapers. Sometimes I catch them in groups. Making wide circles around clusters of kites, Falcon slashes through their strings.

For a while the kites fly where the wind carries them. When they land, they’ll belong to whoever finds them. But at least they will have tasted freedom.

Insha Allah, I really am king of Basant today!

So we have a wonderful story about a kid living in another culture tasting victory. But what takes this a step further is that Malik is in a wheelchair.

It’s never mentioned in the text, that is just the way Malik is. His sister helps him with the kite’s taking off and helps him gather the kites that come to their rooftop. His brother, down below, gathers kites that drift downward. They help Malik with things that need feet, but he is the mastermind and the chief kite battler.

The illustrations are beautifully done in collage, with a wonderful variety of kites, in particular. Simply a marvelous book.

rukhsanakhan.com
christianekromer.com
leeandlow.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Paris, My Sweet, by Amy Thomas

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Paris, My Sweet

A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate)

by Amy Thomas

Sourcebooks, 2012. 280 pages.
Starred Review

In 2008, Amy Thomas had a wonderful week’s vacation in Paris. Little did she know that would lead to bigger things.

That trip was the first time I was in Paris during the summer, and it was absolutely amazing. I loved that it was light out until after 10:00 p.m., giving me several extra hours to roam back-alley streets and sit by the Seine. I was excited to discover new neighborhoods like Bercy and Canal Saint-Martin and new “bistronomy” restaurants like Le Verre Volé and Le Comptoir du Relais. I got sucked into the semi-annual sales, les soldes, and hooked on Vélib’s, the public bike-sharing system.

And then there were all the chocolatiers.

By that time, I was just as obsessed with sweets as I was Paris. I had a column in Metro newspaper called “Sweet Freak” and a blog by the same name. I knew every bakery, dessert bar, gelateria, tea salon, and chocolatier in New York City. When I traveled, I built my itinerary around a town’s must-visit sweet spots.

So naturally during that week in Paris, I researched the city’s best chocolatiers, mapped out a circuit, and then Vélib’ed between eight of them. It was exhilarating and exhausting, not to mention decadent. It was a chocoholic’s dream ride. I wrote about my Tour du Chocolat for the New York Times, and it went on to become a top-ten travel story for the year. As I was secretly plotting a way to spend more time eating chocolate in Paris, the in-house recruiter of the ad agency where I worked casually walked into my office one day and asked if I wanted to move to Paris. I was getting transferred to write copy for the iconic fashion label Louis Vuitton. It all happened so suddenly, and seemed so magical, that I had to ask: was Paris my destiny or sheer force of will?

I guess it goes to show that you just never know where life will take you. You search for answers. You wonder what it all means. You stumble, and you soar. And, if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while. Here’s what happened when I did.

Now, I love Paris. And I still remember exactly the taste of the caramels we bought at a chocolate shop there. So I was predisposed to love this book, and I did.

Amy Thomas took a sweet-lovers approach to Paris and to writing this book. Each chapter focuses on a different delicious concoction that can be found in Paris. She ends up each chapter telling where you can get them in Paris, but also where you can get something similar in New York City. She uses her knowledge of sweets in New York City to good effect, and then discovers the places in Paris.

Readers of this book now have a fabulous excuse to go back to Paris. I’ve got to try some of these! One thing’s for sure. The next time I go to Paris or New York City, I’m going to bring this book — or at least the addresses from it.

godiloveparis.blogspot.com
sourcebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of A People Tall and Smooth, by Judith Galblum Pex

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

A People Tall and Smooth

Stories of Escape from Sudan to Israel

by Judith Galblum Pex

Cladach Publishing, 2011. 219 pages.

A People Tall and Smooth tells the stories of many Sudanese refugees who have ended up in Israel.

Judith Galblum Pex and her husband John run a hostel in Eilat, Israel. She introduces the situation that developed in 2007 with these words:

“People from over one hundred nations intermingle in Israel. Besides Jews from Kazakhstan and Kansas, Burma and Belgrade, Calcutta, Congo and places in between, over a million tourists every year add to the mosaic. Include in the mixture two hundred thousand legal and illegal workers from countries such as China, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal and Ghana, and it’s clear that the average Israeli is used to seeing faces of all colors and shapes.

“In 2007, however, a new group appeared on the scene whose appearance and status was unlike any other till this time. We began to notice men, women, children and babies on the streets in our town of Eilat who were exceptionally black and strikingly tall.

“‘Where do they come from and who are they?’ My husband John and I asked ourselves. ‘What language do they speak?’ Having managed The Shelter Hostel in Eilat on the Red Sea since 1984, we are used to interacting with diverse people groups and were eager to meet these new arrivals.

“Our questions were answered when a tall, dark man walked through our front gate one morning. ‘I’m Gabriel, a refugee from Sudan,’ he introduced himself in perfect English. We then had even more questions. How did these Sudanese get to our city of Eilat in the south of Israel? What made them want to come to Israel of all places? Were they refugees from the genocide in Darfur that we’d been reading about lately?”

Their questions were answered by the refugees that came streaming to them. I was fascinated by how many Sudanese believed this passage from Isaiah 18 applied to them:

“Woe to the land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush, which sends envoys by sea in papyrus boats over the water. Go swift messengers to a people tall and smooth-skinned, to a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech whose land is divided by rivers … At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty … to Mount Zion.”

Judith Galblum Pex writes:

“Whatever the original meaning, many Sudanese took this passage as a personal encouragement in their complicated struggle as refugees in Israel. Still, life with uncertainties in Israel was better for them than what they had endured in Africa.”

This book tells the stories of several Sudanese refugees, of different backgrounds, who wound up on their doorstep and became their friends. The writing is a little uneven. I would have preferred less about how they got the stories and the author’s reaction to the stories, and a focus on just the stories themselves. However, the stories are so compelling, you can get past that distraction.

This book contains amazing true stories of powerfully resilient people with a strong faith in God who have come through incredibly difficult events. The stories are both eye-opening and inspiring.

cladach.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent to me by the publisher.

Review of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Harper, 2011. 256 pages.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the story Kamila Sidiqi and how she kept her family of sisters — and many of their neighbors — going when the Taliban came.

Kamila got her teaching certificate in 1996, just before the Taliban came. She’d gone to classes despite the war. But with the Taliban in charge, she couldn’t teach. Her father and oldest brother had to leave Kabul, for fear of getting targeted by the Taliban. She and her sisters had to stay inside, and could only leave the house in full chadri with a male relative escort. The situation in Kabul got worse and worse.

“This is what I have to figure out, Kamila thought to herself. I need to find something I can do at home, behind closed doors. I need to find something that people need, something useful that they’ll want to buy. She knew she had very few options. Only basic necessities mattered now; no one had money for anything else. Teaching school might be an option, but it was unlikely to earn her enough money, since most families still kept their girls at home out of fear for their safety. And she certainly didn’t want her income to depend on an improvement in the security situation.

“Kamila spent long days thinking about her options, considering which skills she could learn quickly that would also bring in enough afghani to make a difference for her family. And then it came to her, inspired by her older sister Malika, who, along with being a great teacher, had over many years developed into a talented — and sought-after — seamstress. Women from her neighborhood in Karteh Parwan loved her work so much that Malika’s tailoring income now earned her almost as much as her teacher’s salary. That’s it, Kamila thought. I’ll become a seamstress.

“There were many positives: she could do the work in her living room, her sisters could help, and, most important of all, she had seen for herself at Lycee Myriam that the market for clothing remained strong. Even with the Taliban in power and the economy collapsing, women would still need simple dresses. As long as she kept quiet and didn’t attract unnecessary attention, the risks should be manageable.

“Kamila faced just one major obstacle: she had no idea how to sew.”

This book tells the compelling story of how Kamila faced that, and many other obstacles that were by no means minor, and built a thriving business that even helped other neighboring families without men in charge.

I like the author’s summary at the end of why Kamila’s story is so important:

“Brave young women commit heroic acts every day, with no one bearing witness. This was a chance to even the ledger, to share one small story that made the difference between starvation and survival for the families whose lives it changed. I wanted to pull the curtain back for readers on a place foreigners know more for its rocket attacks and roadside bombs than its countless quiet feats of courage. And to introduce them to the young women like Kamila Sidiqi who will go on. No matter what.”

www.gaylelemmon.com
www.harpercollins.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Barefoot in Baghdad, by Manal M. Omar

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Barefoot in Baghdad

A Story of Identity – My Own and What It Means to Be a Woman in Chaos

by Manal M. Omar

Sourcebooks, 2010. 244 pages.

Manal Omar knows how to work cross-culturally. She begins her book like this:

“Throughout my childhood I struggled to answer the simplest of questions: where are you from? I was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents who moved to Lubbock, Texas, when I was six months old. During my childhood, my parents would uproot me every few years, from Texas to South Carolina to Virginia. Living in the American South, I was far from the image of a Southern belle, and yet the summers I spent in the Middle East only emphasized my American identity and made it clear to me that I would also never exactly be an Arab poster child.

“By the time I was in high school, I had learned to embrace and love all parts of my joint identity with the fervor only a teenager could feel. I was an Arab and an American. I was a Palestinian and a Southerner. I was a Muslim and a woman. As I grew, I accepted that the emphasis on each facet of my identity would shift with the phases of the moon. Growing up in a world struggling to understand multiculturalism, I saw this ability to move among my many identities as my own secret superpower. . . .

“In Iraq, I was finally able to put my superpower to full use. A wave of my American passport at the checkpoint of the fortified Green Zone allowed me access to the representatives of the U.S.-led coalition. My adherence to Muslim dress and my fluent Arabic made it possible for me to live in an Iraqi neighborhood with no armed security. This unique access allowed me to see an Iraq that was accessible to few others. With each passing season, the country would shed its skin from the past and emerge as a completely new place. Who was better positioned to adapt within a country experiencing a period of tumultuous change than someone who had been raised with an ever-shifting identity? In Iraq, I found a place with as many complicated contradictions as I had in myself. Here, though, my internal complexity was manifested in an entire society. My international colleagues were struggling to force Iraqi culture into convenient boxes, but I simply accepted its unique, fluctuating shape. International journalists marveled over the fact that women who were covered head to toe walked side by side with women with orange-colored hair and wearing tight jeans, but I simply shrugged. It was natural to me. The mosaic of identities inside Iraq was not hypocritical or schizophrenic; it was what made the country powerful.”

Manal went to Iraq to work for Women for Women International.

“Women for Women International focused on the most vulnerable women. This usually meant those who were the primary breadwinners in their house: widows, divorcees, or unmarried women living with elderly parents. In addition to the economic challenges, there was a social stigma attached to these women. This meant that their finding work was even more difficult.”

This book tells about her experiences there, and tells stories of some of the women she met and was able to help or wasn’t able to help. However, over the years she was there, the situation in Iraq deteriorated, and eventually she had to leave and base her actions from Jordan. So in that way, this book tells a sad story. Manal herself describes it this way:

Barefoot in Baghdad is not a story of the war in Iraq. It is the story of the women in Iraq who are standing at the crossroads every dawn. It is the story of my time working with Iraqis as they struggled to create a new nation and a new identity. It is informed by my years of living and working within communities throughout the country. It recounts my own experiences and the stories of the men and women I encountered, each of them players in one of the most complicated political struggles in our era. It is also a memoir of the discovery of my many identities and the strengths and weaknesses inherent within them. Finally, it is a story of finding love in the most unlikely place. As my life became intertwined with the lives of the Iraqis around me, I lost sight of where my horizons ended and theirs began. Their expectations became my expectations; their disappointments, dreams, pains, and losses became my own.”

This book tells a fascinating story, and will give you insight into the lives of women in Iraq today.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/barefoot_in_baghdad.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.