Monday, March 10, 2008

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat

Nonfiction Monday!

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 20, 2007)
Language: English
Source of Book: Review copy from publisher

Winner of the 2007 Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction book, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood is Ibtisam Barakat's memoir of her childhood growing up on the war-torn West Bank.

The story begins in 1981. 17-year-old Ibtisam is on a bus heading home to Ramallah when Israeli soldiers board the bus and order the driver to take the passengers to a nearby detention center. It is here when we first get a glimpse into the fear that has consumed Ibtisam's life for nearly 15 years since the 6-day war of 1967.

As Ibtisam is released unharmed and safely returns home, she takes us back to that day in 1967 when the war was declared. What was a normal day soon turns to terror as three-and-a-half year old Ibtisam, her family, and neighbors are forced to flee their homes. In the rush to get away, Ibtisam doesn't have time to put on both shoes and somehow loses her family and her other shoe. She miraculously finds her family after walking quite a distance barefoot. Her feet are injured, but they must continue onto Jordan where they've been granted refuge.

We see the next four years of Ibtisam's life through her eyes--the eyes of a child dealing with the realities of war. We see her parents struggle to protect their children, to keep their family together, and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. They do have happy moments but are often reminded that the life they once led is gone, that Ramallah is occupied by Israeli soldiers, and that they must always be on guard.

A gripping and emotional story, I was drawn in from the beginning and had a difficult time putting the book down. As I was initially reading, I felt I wanted to know a bit more about the history of the war and what was going on politically, but then I realized that Ibtisam Barakat was intentionally leaving this information out because she was telling us the story from a child's point of view. It simply wouldn't have worked if she would have added more historical information aside from the brief note in the beginning. All we see is how a child tries to grip with what's going on around her, and she sticks to this point of view throughout the entire story.

It also helped me put a face to war and to the innocent people and children who live in war-torn countries. It also made me realize that regardless of where you're from or what happens in your life, we all have the same emotions. Kids will be able to relate to this book even though they may not have had the same experiences.

I recommend this book to everyone, not just children, and I hope it's not the last we hear from Ibtisam Barakat.

Check out more nonfiction books at Picture Book of the Day.


  1. Thanks for the great review. I've got this book on hold at the library right now and am looking forward to when I am finally able to read it.

  2. Maw Books,
    I hope you won't have to wait too much longer for the book, but it's well worth the wait.

  3. I just finished reading this book this morning. Our library system had just one on order, it finally came in and I was the very first reader. Why our system only has one, I have no idea. More people should read this book. I found it insightful and moving. Have you read Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis? Our system doesn't have the book, I've just read The Breadwinner series and now this one sounds like a good follow up to Tasting the Sky.

  4. Natasha,
    I'm glad your library finally got the book in and that you enjoyed it. I totally agree that more people should read it.

    I haven't read Three Wishes, but from what I've read about it, it's a pretty moving book.

  5. I read the book and loved it and would like to use it for my class of 7/8th graders - but it has caused some controversy - any thoughts on this?

  6. Anonymous--good question. I think that there are some emotional scenes, but none that I think a 7th or 8th grader couldn't handle. However, I think it would depend on the maturity level of the kids in the class.

  7. This book was really good I couldn't put it down it always keeps you up to beat

  8. Oooh i liked this book so much my tescher in the university adviced me to read it
    it is significant and it moves the reader from the current time to the past in one hour
    Thanks barakat for this kind of book it is full of truth that any soul in this world loves