Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye – a book review

On Mondays, I will begin each week by posting a children’s poem, either a classic poem or a contemporary poem, exploring a wide range of topics, including those that deal with TCK issues.

The following poem paints a simple picture of longing to be near those we love, separated from us by vast oceans.

 Torn Map


by mistake

she tore a map

in half.

She taped it back,

but crookedly.

Now all the roads

ended in water.

There were mountains

right next to her hometown.

Wouldn’t that be nice

if it were true?

I’d tear a map

and be right next 

to you.

Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

(taken from Come with me – Poems From a Journey)

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet, essayist, anthologist, as well as novelist. Her father is Palestinian and her mother is American.  At the age of fourteen, her family moved from the U.S. to live in Palestine.  While living there, she visited her grandmother in the village of Sinjil. Her life in Palestine, her visits to her grandmother, her straddling of different cultures, has had a huge impact on her as a writer. I think her writing is infused with themes that are close to the heart of third culture kids.

Her young adult novel, Habibi, is the story of a fourteen year old girl named Liyana who moves with her family from the US to settle in Palestine. This novel is semi-autobiographical. There are very few children’s or young adult novels that focuses on the transition from the United States to another country, so this novel is unique and one that many third culture kids can identify with. Habibi explores a variety of issues including cultural identity, belonging, violence, prejudice and intolerance, religious belief and well as family life, school, friendships and teen romance. A great book for middle schoolers or high schoolers. As a read-aloud, it could lead to many interesting discussions with your teenage third-culture daughter.

Favorite quote from Habibi:

Maybe the hardest thing about moving overseas was being in a place where no one but your own family has any memory of you. It was like putting yourself back together with little pieces.”

I highly recommend this book, however there are a few issues that bothered me in the novel. First of all, I felt that the author did not fully explore the issues of loss and grief that is characteristic of someone leaving behind her home, the country she grew up in, her friends, even her relatives, especially during the middle school years. Secondly, Liyana, the main character, is introduced to many different religions throughout the book. However, I felt that Christianity and the Christians she encounters takes the most criticism, mostly for being hypocritical and superficial. So again, lots of issues are raised in this book that could lead to some good discussions. (For ages 10 and up)

Habibi won many awards including:

ALA Notable Books for Children

Jane Addams Children’s Book Award

Judy Lopez Memorial Award (Women’s National Book Association, L.A. Chapter)

New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

Texas Institute of Letters Best Book for Young Readers


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