WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

Middle Eastern and South Asian Regions in Children’s Literature

The Middle East and South Asia are inclusive of countries within the global community that have been in the forefront of current events, media, and literature in recent years. While the focus is often that of politics, conflict and natural disasters, the literature holds potential for greater insight into the people, culture, and events of this area. While conflict is one theme in this issue of WOW Review, it is contextualized to nurture greater understanding of the lives that are disrupted by war and the relationships that develop despite the conflicts. The Boy and the Wall (Youth at Lagee Center, 2005) and Good Night Commander (Akbarpour, 2010) offer a child’s perspective on war through personal experiences. In A Little Piece of Ground (Laird, 2006), Samir and Yonaton (Carmi, 2000), and Camel Rider (Mason, 2007), unlikely relationships develop across cultures. Other themes are evident, however, in the books reviewed, such as the value of education in Nasreen’s Secret School (Winter, 2009) and Yasmin’s Hammer (Malaspina, 2010), the significance of storytelling in Tiger Moon (Michaelis, 2006) and hopeful new beginnings in One Green Apple (Bunting, 2006) and Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes (Halls, 2010). Broken Moon (Anteau, 2007) interweaves themes of empowered young women and exploitation. Several reviews indicate problems of authenticity and accuracy, reflecting the difficulties of authentically portraying the heart of a culture as an outsider.

Geographically, many readers are unaware of exactly what countries lie within the shifting boundaries of the Middle East and South Asia. World geography is constantly shifting and reforming. The map of the world has altered many times due to conquest and the break-up of larger regions that formerly belonged under one cohesive unit or country, for example Russia/USSR and India. The map of the Middle East has also been altered and rewritten due mostly to the global politics that lump together cultures and geographical areas that are found to be threatening through war, terrorism, and the Taliban.

Islamophobia seems to be one of the vital factors that have altered how the world views this region, including many previously unrelated countries. Pakistan and Bangladesh are examples of regions that in the past belonged to South Asia rather than the Middle East, but have recently been integrated into some maps as belonging to the Middle Eastern regions due to Islamic religious beliefs. The Islamic world becomes geographically fragmented after the region of Pakistan and countries such as Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Bangladesh are part of that fragmentation. That is not to say that this geographic demarcation reflects and accounts for all countries with Muslim population and stories written about them within those regions.

Another concern is that the Middle East and the Islamic world are often represented as having a culture. Culture is constantly evolving and is dependent on the various customs of regions and so there is variation in the manner in which people practice their belief systems. Keeping these concerns within religious beliefs and geopolitical regions in view, we decided to focus this issue to the regions of the Middle East and South Asia, including India.

Seemi Aziz, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK
Janelle B. Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

9 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

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