Libraries can help students understand Mideastern life PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

January 24, 1991|By Molly Dunham | Molly Dunham,Staff Writer

EVER WONDER what it would be like to live in tents in the desert of Saudi Arabia, like the Bedouins do? Or what it would be like to grab a bite to eat in Israel, where kids love a treat called falafel -- maybe the world's first fast food?

The people who live in Iraq, Kuwait and other Arab countries have traditions that are very different than what American kids are used to. Everyday life in Israel is also unlike our own, even though it includes familiar Jewish customs.

The culture of the countries in the Middle East may seem strange and confusing at first. But there are some good books that can help introduce readers to the people who live on the opposite side of the globe, where the Persian Gulf war is being fought.

Debbie Taylor, the coordinator of services for children and youth the Enoch Pratt library, recommends several books that are available through any public library in the state, including the Pratt branches in Baltimore City.

For second- and third-graders:

* ''Count Your Way through the Arab World,'' by Jim Haskins, illustrations by Dana Gustafson (Carolrhoda Books, price unavailable, 1987) provides snapshots of Arab culture in counting book form. For the number two, for example, it reads: ''Tents with two rooms separated by a curtain are home to most Bedouins, Arabs who travel and live in the desert areas of the Middle East. One of the rooms is used by the men and is also used for receiving guests. The other room is for the women and their possessions.'' For the number four, we learn that Islam permits a man to have as many as four wives, though most settle for just one these days.

* David Adler, an award-winning author, wrote ''A Picture Book of Israel'' (Holiday House, $10.95, 1984). He uses striking black-and-white photographs to take readers on a guided tour of the country. One favorite series of photos shows a main street in Tel Aviv as it looked in 1921 -- a photo from the Zionist Archives of tracks through a sand dune. The next picture, taken five years later, shows a paved street and buildings, and the final photo captures the sprawling, modern city we've seen so much on the news in the last week. A group of Jewish families bought the barren stretch of sand from the Arabs in 1909 and built Tel Aviv from scratch.

* ''Jerusalem, Shining Still,'' by Karla Kuskin, with vivid woodcuts by David Frampton, just came out in a new paperback edition (Harper Trophy, $5.50, 1987). It's a beautifully written history of Jerusalem that all ages can enjoy. ''. . . after the Babylonians came from Babylonia, the Greeks came and then the Romans, those worshipers of Gods and omens. Then the Persians came in troops, Moslems followed, groups and groups . . . all came to stay, for a while, and went away.''

For older elementary school and middle school students:

* ''Passport to Israel,'' by Clive Lawton (Franklin Watts, price unavailable, 1987) offers a thorough but not boring look at Israel and its people today. It combines magazine-style color photos with bold graphics that make USA Today look old-fashioned. You find out that falafel is made of little fried balls of ground chick peas, mixed with onions, garlic and spices.

* ''Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind,'' by Suzanne Fisher Staples (Knopf, $13.95, 1989) is a fiction book that portrays present-day Muslim culture. ''Very often fiction and picture books give kids a better feel for different parts of the world than non-fiction,'' said Debbie Taylor of the Pratt library. ''You can identify with people's lives, as opposed to population counts and other facts and figures.''

''Shabuna,'' a 1990 Newbery Honor Book for ages 10 and up, is narrated by an 11-year-old Muslim girl who lives in Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. She doesn't want to accept the restrictions of her life as a female, duty-bound to her father and expected to accept an arranged marriage to a husband who will ''own'' her the rest of her life.

For older middle school and high school students:

* ''Iran and Iraq: Nations at War,'' by Lisa Mannetti (Watts, $12.90, 1986) is one of the few books available with background information on Iraq's Saddam Hussein. It is recommended for grades 7-9 by Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association.

* ''The Middle East,'' by Charles Messenger (Watts, $12.90, 1988) focuses on politics in the region since World War II for grades 6-9. According to Booklist, it highlights the Arab-Israeli conflict, the role of the United States, the Soviet Union and Western Europe in the region, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

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