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A Kid's Guide to Arab American History: More Than 50 Activities

A Kid's Guide to Arab American History: More Than 50 Activities

by Yvonne Wakim Dennis

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Many Americans, educators included, mistakenly believe all Arabs share the same culture, language, and religion, and have only recently begun immigrating to the United States. A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History dispels these and other stereotypes and provides a contemporary as well as historical look at the people and experiences that


Many Americans, educators included, mistakenly believe all Arabs share the same culture, language, and religion, and have only recently begun immigrating to the United States. A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History dispels these and other stereotypes and provides a contemporary as well as historical look at the people and experiences that have shaped Arab American culture. Each chapter focuses on a different group of Arab Americans including those of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Yemeni descent and features more than 50 fun activities that highlight their distinct arts, games, clothing, and food. Kids will love dancing the dabke, constructing a derbekke drum, playing a game of senet, making hummus, creating an arabesque design, and crafting an Egyptian-style cuff bracelet. Along the way they will learn to count in Kurdish, pick up a few Syrian words for family members, learn a Yemeni saying, and speak a little Iraqi. Short biographies of notable Arab Americans, including actor and philanthropist Danny Thomas, singer Paula Abdul, artist Helen Zughaib, and activist Ralph Nader, demonstrate a wide variety of careers and contributions.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Chock-full of fascinating insights into a vibrant, inspiring community, punctuated by fun (even delicious) activities, this book taught me so much! Every American kid should read it, and every American grown-up, too.”  —Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Jingle Dancer

“[The authors] have woven a rich tapestry of the Arab American experience for young readers. History, achievements, trails blazed, challenges faced, and material and social culture—all of it is rendered accessible through the stories of people and communities, some familiar and others much less well known. Numerous craft activities engage attention and imagination by tapping the senses.”  —Uma Krishnaswami, author of The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.

A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History is the ultimate eye-opening introduction to Arab Americans! The authors have skillfully combined informative, engagingly written text with an impressive variety of imaginative crafts and activities from each of the Arab countries, suitable for elementary-age children.  This book is just right for families, schools, and anyone who values the incredible richness of our immigrant American nation.”  —Elsa Marston, author of Figs and Fate: Stores About Growing Up in the Arab World Today

“With its focus on interesting hands-on activities and fascinating profiles of notable as well as ordinary Arab Americans, this book will definitely help dispel many negative stereotypes. It’s a much-needed resource that highlights the rich and diverse histories, traditions, cultures, and religions of the most dominant Arab American groups in the US. I highly recommend it.”  —Jama Rattigan, author of Dumpling Soup

“This book is a delight to read; offering much-needed insights about our neighbors, Americans with Arab roots who have contributed so very much to our society.”  —Dr. Jack G. Shaheen, author of Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11

"Filled with surprising facts, little-known tidbits, and plenty of information all of us need to know...the delightful and informative 'a-ha' moments throughout are many..."—BookDragon

"An excellent book for classroom use and parents who wish to give their children a sense of all the cultures that make up the USA."—Bookloons.com

Kirkus Reviews
Ralph Nader, Khalil Gibran and Danny Thomas: What do they have in common? They are Lebanese-Americans mentioned in this uneven compendium of facts and activities that explores the history of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. The title is misleading, as such groups as Chaldeans, Berbers and Sephardic Jews, among others, are included, even though they do not believe that they are Arab. Despite this, exposing American readers to the great religious and cultural diversity of these 16 countries and the Palestinian territories and their immigrants is a worthwhile endeavor. Unfortunately, the craft instructions, games, recipes, dance, language-learning and writing projects vary in the strength of their connection to "Arab" culture. For example, Palestinian-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye is featured, and the related activity focuses on her poem "Every Cat Has a Story," which is tied to her writing about "everyday events and ordinary events"--not to her writing about the Middle East. "Design a National Safety Month Poster," strangely, attempts to connect Ralph Nader to the legendary phoenix. The diagrams are useful, and some of the design elements are attractive, but the other illustrations are amateurish. Professionals and parents can probably pull a few interesting activities and anecdotes from this book, but the individual parts do not add up to a cohesive whole. (resources, bibliography, index [not seen]) (Nonfiction. 8-11)

Product Details

Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
A Kid's Guide Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
7 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt

A Kid's Guide to Arab American History

More Than 50 Activities

By Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Maha Addasi

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2013 Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-020-0


Who Are Arab Americans?

"We are proud to present this most talented troupe of elementary children from nearby Dearborn. Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, I give you the Maples School Arabic Ensemble!"

As the announcer was finishing, the huge curtain began to rise to the ceiling. Children dressed in traditional Arabic outfits stood on the stage, the bright stage lights glinting off their drums. Their teacher raised her hands, and the centuries-old drum rhythms filled the massive hall, transporting the audience of 2,000 to Sana'a, Baghdad, Cairo, Beirut, and other Arabic cities. The crowd went wild, clapping and moving to the colossal drum sounds created by little hands. The Orchestra Hall, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, often came alive with symphonic music, written by Europeans or Americans. Today's performance of "foreign" rhythm-driven tunes from faraway lands was an exotic treat. But these children were American, too, from a school just 20 minutes away. And the music was also American.

Mrs. Catherine Prowse, music teacher at the Dearborn, Michigan, elementary school, founded the group as a way to help kids feel more comfortable and come out of their shells. An Irish American, she learned Arabic music so she could teach her Arab American students to explore and preserve their heritages while studying the many different kinds of music from the Middle East. In her class, boys, girls, moms, and dads all lend a hand with making costumes, instruments, and helping with homework.

The Maples School Arabic Ensemble has members whose families originated in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. They have performed in many different places, in different states, and sometimes to raise money for charity. One of the best parts of being in the music group is that students get to write and perform their own drum patterns. The rich traditions brought to the United States from Arab countries will continue to grow and be a part of current music trends.

Did you know that Arab countries are located on two continents? Lebanon, Syria, Palestine (Gaza Strip and West Bank, plus Arab citizens of Israel), Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait are Arab countries located in the Middle East, or as some geographers call it, West Asia. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and North Sudan are Arab countries in the northern part of Africa. Most parts of Egypt are in Africa, but part of the Sinai Desert belonging to Egypt is in Asia. The African countries of Sudan, Somalia, Mauritania, and Djibouti are part of the Arab world, too. Some Arab Americans have ancestors who immigrated to the United States over a hundred years ago, while other Arab Americans were born in their home countries and became naturalized citizens of the United States.

More than 4 million Americans have ancestors from Arab countries. They belong to diverse religious traditions, including Catholic, Melkite, Orthodox, Islam, Druze, and Judaism as well as several different Protestant groups. The vast majority in the United States are Christians whose families came from Lebanon. Ethnic groups such as the Berbers, Kurds, and Chaldeans come from Arabian countries but are not considered Arabs. One can be an Iraqi American but not be an Arab American, as he or she may be a Chaldean or a Kurd.

What do Arab Americans look like? People from Arab countries can have black, brown, or blond hair. They can have brown, blue, or green eyes. Arab Americans are light skinned, dark skinned, and every color in between. Some have straight hair, while others have curly or wavy hair. There are no physical features that define Arab Americans.

Regardless of how they look, many Arabs share similar customs that are universal among Arab peoples as well as some traditions unique to their individual country, town, village, or family. Some Arab Americans speak several languages, including Arabic. This is particularly common among Muslim Arab Americans, who want to make sure their children learn to read the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, in Arabic. Others only speak English. Some Arab Americans wear the traditional outfits that are worn in their home countries, but most dress like other Americans. People in many Arab countries wear the same kind of clothing as Americans. Certain Arab American Muslims honor their faith by dressing in modest clothing. A number of Arab American Christian clergy marry and have families, as their faith allows, and many wear special clothing. Arab Americans live in all 50 states and work in all kinds of jobs. Many own their own businesses.

Christopher Columbus may have been a latecomer to the Americas! Although most Arab Americans are descended from families who first immigrated to the United States in the 1800s, some historians believe Arabs were visiting the indigenous peoples in the Americas long before there was a United States. They think that inscriptions in New Hampshire's Pattee's Caves, on carved stones in southern Pennsylvania, and in other places may be evidence that Arab adventurers sailed to North America centuries ago.

Guess which country first celebrated the United States winning its freedom from Great Britain? On December 20, 1777, the Kingdom of Morocco formally recognized the United States of America as a sovereign nation. Morocco remains one of America's oldest and closest allies. Yet, immigrants from Arab countries had a hard time becoming Americans. Some Americans believed that the United States should be a white, Christian country and were intolerant of people from places other than Northern and Western Europe. It took several court battles before Arabs could even become naturalized American citizens, as they were not considered members of the Caucasian race. They were denied citizenship until they pointed out that they were from the same lands where Jesus Christ was born. Arabs prided themselves on their rich language and customs, the very things that white European Americans did not like. Arab Christian rituals were very different from American Christian rites. Muslim and Druze immigrants had an even harder time. It is estimated that almost 20 percent of the first major group to emigrate from the Middle East were Muslim, but they often hid their religion to avoid prejudice.

Most Arab immigrants came between 1890 and 1920. This is known as the first wave of immigration, in which over 250,000 people came to America from Arab countries. They maintained their heritage through their organizations, through their churches, and by starting their own newspapers and publishing companies. They cooked traditional foods and observed their customs around events such as births, deaths, and weddings. Most chose to live close to relatives, as family was the main focus of the Arab American community, as it still is today. They were writers, painters, and musicians. They took jobs in factories and on farms. They traveled coast to coast selling goods to American farms, Indian reservations, small towns, and big cities. Often on foot, men and women carried huge packs of merchandise containing everything from vials of holy water, to socks, to nails. Arab Muslim immigrants found employment in lumber camps, factories, farms, and livery stables, while Arab Christian immigrants were more likely to become peddlers. This was probably because Christians could quote the New Testament, which appealed to American Christians.

Immigration almost came to a halt in 1924, when the United States passed the National Origins Act, which favored Christian immigrants from Northern and Western European countries, such as England and Switzerland. From 1924 to the late 1940s, few immigrants arrived from Arab countries. The second wave of Arab immigrants began after World War II and continued until the mid- 1960s. Most were Muslim; many came as refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Others came as college students and applied for citizenship after finishing school.

The third wave of emigration from Arab lands began in mid-1965 after the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed by Congress. The act was supposed to give anyone who wanted to become an American an equal chance. However, even the new act limited who could immigrate to America. Only people with a certain level of education could apply. This is in part why a large number of the newest immigrants are professionals who wanted to get away from the political unrest in their respective countries. Many more are war refugees from Iraq and other countries.

Arab Americans participate in all aspects of American society, from rap music, to fashion design, to religion, to government service. Across the country, they still celebrate Arabic culture at festivals, often called Mahrajan by Lebanese Americans. Every summer, thousands attend the Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan, the largest Arabic cultural gathering in the nation. Traditional foods, arts, games, and crafts are served up, with everyone joining in a fun-filled line dance called the dabkeh.

Everybody Dance the Dabkeh!

The dabkeh is probably the most famous Arabic dance. It comes from Lebanon, Syria, and other countries nearby. It's danced with the same enthusiasm as the bus stop, hora, or conga. Dabkeh means "stomping," so it's important to stomp your foot down really hard! The dabkeh is a lot of fun — look up a Mahrajan in the resources section so you can be part of the festivities.

What You Need

Dabkeh music, purchased over the Internet or listened to on YouTube.
2 or more friends
Open space

What You Do

1. Join hands with the other dancers in the line with your feet slightly apart.

2. Take two steps to your right, one step per beat of the music.

3. Slightly kick your left foot in the air on the third beat. Stomp your left foot on the ground really hard on the fourth beat — this stomping is the most important part of the dance.

4. Repeat the order of steps, moving to your right for a while. Then change direction and do the same thing to the left. If you're at an Arab event, just follow the leader.


Lebanese Americans

The White House is all decked out in purple diamonds, gold zigzags, aqua circles, and pink stripes! The door is open to show how welcoming America can be, and a jazzy eagle feathered up in pink, purple, maroon, gold, and black keeps watch over the president's house. The White House has been made into a grand work of art by artist Helen Zughaib, at least in her painting of the famous building! She has created several paintings of the capital's most recognizable landmarks, filling up their blank spaces with pattern and color. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have given her art pieces as gifts from the American people to visiting world leaders.

Helen Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1959. Her dad, a naturalized American citizen, was a diplomat for the United States, and the family was stationed all over the Middle East and Europe. She visited great museums and art galleries and learned to knit from her grandmother, who created the most amazing fashions in colorful designs. Helen appreciated how strong women were in Middle Eastern countries and how they healed suffering caused by wars. Helen saw patterns everywhere — in carpets, embroideries, tapestries, buildings, furniture, jewelry. Her unique style and themes come from all these experiences. Another artistic influence was the Arabic tradition of hakawati, a series of tales that teach children how to live the right way. Her father shared family stories that had been handed down for generations, and Helen brought them to life in her paintings, retelling the tales in colors and patterns. "The Compassionate Emir" is a story about a leader (emir), his beloved horse, and a wily thief.

Perform a Shadow Puppet Show

At one time, coffee houses in Lebanon would compete to see who could feature the best shadow puppet shows. Shadow puppetry is the oldest form of motion picture storytelling and probably originated in China. Lebanese American Julie Taymor is world famous for her remarkable puppets and designed all the characters for the Broadway production of The Lion King. Turn "The Compassionate Emir" into a shadow puppet show by writing your own script. You can add more characters if you like.

What You Need

Empty cereal box
Scotch tape
Wax paper
Colored tape
Markers, including black
Flashlight or table lamp

What You Do

1. Strengthen the box by covering each end of the box with several pieces of tape.

2. Lay the box on one of its large sides. With the ruler and pencil, measure a rectangle 1 ½ inches from the outside edge all the way around. Cut out the rectangle. Turn the box over and do the same thing on the other large side. Save the cutout rectangles for the puppets.

3. Cut a piece of wax paper the same size as the large side of the box. Tape it in place on the inside of the box. The audience will see the side of the box with wax paper.

4. Decorate the sides and front of the box with the colored tape and markers, but don't draw on the wax paper.

5. Write a script for your puppets, using the dialogue in the story. You can add characters and dialogue.

6. Use the cardboard from the box to make the puppets by cutting out the shapes of a horse, four emirs, and a thief. You can make trees or other characters, too. Make sure they will fit onto the "stage," which is behind the wax paper. Color your puppets with the black marker. The puppets will be silhouettes. Tape a straw to the back of each — this is what you will hold to move the puppets.

7. Shine the light onto the box from your side of the stage and create your shadow puppet show using the story of "The Compassionate Emir."

When civil war broke out in 1975, Helen Zughaib's family had to be evacuated from Beirut. She finished high school in Paris, France, and then moved to the United States, where she studied art at Syracuse University. Her parents had met at Syracuse as students. One of her first jobs was designing china, which helped her develop her particular painting technique. Today she lives in Washington, DC, where she paints daily; her works have been on display all over the country and are part of permanent art collections around the world. Helen believes that art can create understanding and friendship between Arab countries and the United States.

Jazz Up a Building in Helen Zughaib's Style

Helen Zughaib's works are flat in perspective, packed full of pattern and color, and very well planned. However, Helen is open to surprises. Sometimes after she sketches in the outline and selects her colors, a design she didn't even consider appears. Her motifs are often very American, but with a twist of Arabic that reminds her of their rich heritage. She has been influenced by the varied embroidery traditions of Palestinian women and the diverse designs of Native Americans. Helen uses ink and a type of paint called gouache, which dries very quickly and, once applied, is not as easy to change as oil-based paints are. Her series of famous Washington landmarks honor some of America's most symbolic buildings. Helen's masterpieces are on display at the White House, the World Bank, the Library of Congress, and the Arab American National Museum.

What You Need

An image of a building or buildings you would like to paint and ideas for
Scrap paper
Watercolor paper
Fine-line ink pen
Tempera paints in red, blue, yellow, black, and white
Containers to mix colors
Fine artist brushes
Container of water for cleaning brushes
Covered work space

What You Do

1. Select a building that is special to you and sketch it on scrap paper.

2. When you are satisfied with your drawing, redraw it on the watercolor paper with the pen and set it aside.

3. Close your eyes for a few minutes; relax and think about colors and patterns. Open your eyes and choose four colors, not including black and white. You can mix the primary colors to get purple, green, or orange and make them lighter or darker with the white and black.

4. Paint in your building with patterns, working as quickly as you can. Try not to think about it too much; just let the patterns and colors take shape. Now, see if other colors and patterns pop into your head. If they do, feel free to add them to your painting.


Excerpted from A Kid's Guide to Arab American History by Yvonne Wakim Dennis, Maha Addasi. Copyright © 2013 Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Yvonne Wakim Dennis is a Cherokee and Syrian author, curriculum developer, social worker, and multicultural consultant. She is the coauthor of the award-winning A Kid’s Guide to Native American History and Native Americans Today. Maha Addasi is the author of The White Nights of Ramadan and Time to Pray, both ALA recommended books. She has been a freelance writer, news correspondent, television anchor, and radio producer in Amman, Jordan. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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