Unlike the alphabet books which currently saturate the children’s book market in the UK, where A is for apple and B is for ball, “P is for Palestine” offers young readers something new – a window onto the culture and heritage of Palestine. In Dr. Golbarg Bashi’s book, A is for Arabic and B is for Bethlehem.
Not only is Bashi’s publication an alphabetical journey through which the reader discovers dabkeh (dance), falafel, labneh (yogurt), thobes (traditional dress) and waraqa dawali (stuffed vine leaves), the beautiful illustrations by the Iranian artist and illustrator Golrokh Nafisi bring Palestine alive.
One of the refreshing aspects of “P is for Palestine” is that the young girl featured throughout the story does not represent the Eurocentric image of a lead character – for example she has curly, not straight hair – and also, she is not predominantly defined by her struggle. She celebrates the best baklawas, Eid and Christmas, where she looks forward to the crunchiest candy.
This break from traditional UK books means that many of the words featured will be new and “P is for Palestine” would benefit from being more interactive, for example flaps which young children can lift up to reveal what’s underneath and encourage them to engage with the unfamiliar material.
Dr. Bashi, who was born in Iran before her family emigrated to Sweden, told Haartetz: “Having grown up in Sweden as a refugee child, I remember vividly how upsetting it was not to find educational materials, toys or books about my part of the world.”
Whilst the books C is for Canada and B is for Brazil exist, Dr. Bashi found that the only other children’s book, in English, about Palestine was published in 1936. With the launch of “P is for Palestine” Bashi changed this and was recognised as a diverse children’s book publisher who believed in social justice.
Though emphasis in the reviews printed on the cover is that this book offers Palestinians living in the diaspora a bridge connecting them to their homeland, it is vital that books like “P is for Palestine” are absorbed into the mainstream children’s market for everyone to read. There are currently pitiful levels of ethnic representation within children’s books and nursery rhymes.
This is an issue that was brought to the fore recently with the release of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” on Netflix, one of the first films to feature an Asian American female lead character in 25 years. “Black Panther”, which featured a predominantly black cast, became the highest-grossing superhero film ever, putting a lie to claims that diversity doesn’t sell.
According to a report released in August last year, in the UK only four per cent of children’s books published in 2017 featured a black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) character at all, whereas 32 per cent of British schoolchildren are actually from a minority background. Only one per cent featured a main character from an ethnic minority at all.
This ultimately leaves BAME children with no one to identify with and the feeling that there is no place for them on the world stage. Bashi’s book is the beginning of redressing this imbalance.