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Friday, February 29, 2008

"Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood" Wins Cybil Award

There’s a New Award in Town

The Cybils bloggers’ literary award unveils 2007 winners

By Staff -- School Library Journal, 3/1/2008

re you one of those people who find the Newbery Awards a tad too elitist? That’s what two women who blog about children’s literature thought when they launched the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (Cybils) in 2006. And since then, they’ve amassed quite a loyal following.

Anne Boles Levy (below), a freelance writer from Chicago, unveiled her blog in 2004, and Kelly Herold, an associate professor of Russian literature at Grinnell College in Iowa, started her book review blog, Big A little a (, almost two years ago.

Although the two had never met in person, Boles Levy emailed Herold with the idea of starting a more “middle ground” children’s lit award with a different twist: all the judges had to blog about children’s and YA literature.

Now in its second year, the Cybils on February 14 unveiled its awards for 2007. Surprisingly, the prize for the young adult category went to Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy (Houghton), a wrenching story about a 12-year-old boy who was seduced by his history teacher. The book beat Sherman Alexie’s heavily favored The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, 2007), a National Book Award winner.

Cybils judges—who include the authors Sarah Miller and Mitali Perkins—said Lyga’s prose is “unflinching, and the result is heartbreaking and unforgettable.”

The Cybils team hands out 10 awards in different genres of children’s literature split by age group. Ibtisam Barakat’s Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood(Farrar), a haunting account of the Six Day War, won for middle grade/YA nonfiction; Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday (Hyperion), a spoof of science-fiction novels, won the sci-fi category in the younger age group; and Janice N. Harrington’s The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County (Farrar), took top honors in fiction picture books.


Here is more on the book and CONGRATULATIONS Ibtisam!

Memoir powerfully recalls Palestinian childhood

Ibtisam, 3, races through the night at the beginning of Ibtisam Barakat's book, "Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood” (Melanie Kroupa, $16).

The sounds of bullets and bombs pepper the sky. Minutes before, she has been home with her parents and brothers, about to sit down for dinner. Then her father bursts in and speaks the words she would never forget, "The war has started.”

The family packs quickly and runs for shelter, but Ibtisam has forgotten her shoes. She hurries back, but she can find only one shoe. And when she returns to look for her family, they have gone.

The day is June 5, 1967, the beginning of the Six-Day War, in which Israel occupies the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. Through gripping, poetic prose, Barakat recounts growing up in war-torn Palestine.

After a fearful search, Ibtisam reunites with her parents. To gain safe passage out of their hometown, Ramallah, into Jordan, the family forces its way onto a water tanker.

After months of exile, the family finally returns to Ramallah, only to find their home surrounded by Israeli soldiers. Unable to stand living in constant fear, Ibtisam's mother takes her four children to live at Dar El-Tifl orphanage. Life at Dar El-Tifl brings hunger, cold and fear.

Eventually, young Ibtisam and her family return to Ramallah, but even years later, the sting of war never truly leaves her. She survives with the help of a friend her mother had introduced her to as a young child, Alef, or the letter A.

With the help of Alef, Ibtisam rises to first in her class at school. As an adult, she writes, "Alef knows / That a thread / Of a story / Stitches together / A wound.”

This powerful memoir reaches deep into the gut and doesn't let go. Barakat gives readers a rare look into the life of a Palestinian refugee, and, despite the oppressive threat of violence that tinges each page, suffuses her story with hope.

Kim Ventrella


Read an interview with the author, Ibtisam Barakat HERE

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