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Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood

Barakat, Ibtisam (Author)
Macmillan 2016. 184 pages
First published: 2007
ISBN: 9781250097187 (paperback)
9780374357337 (hardcover)
9781429998475 (e-book)
Original language: English
Dewey: 956
Book type: Novel
Book genre: Memoir

Text Elements:

conflict, point of view, setting, stance

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

“The hours stretch like rubber bands that break and snap against our skins, measured by the ticking of boots, going and coming across the yard.” Lyric language delivers this memoir of a Palestinian girlhood from age three—and the outbreak of the Six Day War—to age seven, when the Barakat family leaves their Israeli-occupied home village for less threatening environs. Conveying the culture and traditions of a Palestinian home and family against an occupied backdrop, this story is told with pathos and wit from the perspective of a very young child.

During their own brief refugee stay, Ibitisam recalls of herself and her siblings, “We ached with longing for the only joys we’d had—running freely, being outside and getting lost in games that made us briefly forget war, fear, and even lentils.” Or in response to a sudden burst of military activity: “Had the fighting started again? I put on my shoes and laced them tightly. I had just turned four, and I needed no one to tell me what to do when I heard the sounds of war.”

While written as a single memoir, the anecdotal structure of the story allows for the reading of individual chapters as well. Ibitisam’s rich stories include an imaginative relationship with early reading, her brothers’ circumcision ceremony, a beloved pet goat and much more.

Up front, a map and historical note provide context while back material includes an annotated list of further reading, a recipe for a homemade treat and some basic Arabic phrases.

  •  

    The memoir plays with structure and presents one girl’s memories of her experiences during the Six Day War in 1967. Readers may notice the way the pivotal era is bookmarked by time, both before and after. Discuss reasons why the author might have structured the memoir this way.

  •  

    Ibtisam’s mother loves the word “imagine.” With a partner, discuss the possible significance of this word. Consider what Ibtisam’s favourite word might be.

  •  

    The text can be used to introduce memoir as a genre. Include this text in a set that chronicles times of civil and political unrest as experienced by youth in order to gain a better understanding of the impact of these events and to understand the conventions used to render them into literary works.

  •  

    Read up on the Six Day War, then in small groups, discuss why it happened. How do you believe the displaced residents felt and coped?

  •  As you read, keep Barakat’s age in mind as she relates her experiences in Palestine from two different time frames. Would you have made the same decisions as Barakat?
  •  

    What do you believe is the greatest lesson Barakat learned from her time in Ramallah? Answer the question by adding to her memoir, using her voice in the first person. Be sure to refer to the novel for support.

  • To construct his/her identity
  • To cooperate with others
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Social Sciences