May is Jewish American Heritage and Asian American & Pacific Islander Month. Both these cultures contain vibrant histories. Unfortunately, something else they have in common lately is an increase in hate crimes against them. It’s more important than ever to read books that reveal truths about people and create empathy. Here are reviews of two nonfiction books I’ve read that highlight the complexities and beauty of these cultures. They have been valuable additions to my high school library collection.
Israel: A Simple Guide the the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth by Noa Tishby
There are so many things I want to say about this remarkable book but the one that’s most likely to get people to read it is: THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL BOOK!!! With recent events causing horrible divisions among many who support the same ideals (peace, human rights, and justice), it’s understandable that readers gravitate toward information that will back up their beliefs.
As a school librarian I teach students to read laterally when doing research, which means if you want to get to the truth faster, you need to read articles and books from every angle, perspective, and medium. Instead of scrolling vertically on the same website, they should have many different tabs open so that they get facts from various sources and can back up their claims with evidence. The same goes for reading nonfiction books.
Noa Tishby is a liberal woman who grew up in Israel and is not afraid to criticize their government. She is also a responsible researcher and goes to the primary sources when making claims about history or current political events. Her insights about Israel, the Middle East, and the world’s reactions to conflicts are intelligent, thought-provoking, and balanced.
Written in a conversational tone and sprinkled with humor, personal anecdotes, and fascinating facts, Tishby’s book is one of the only history books I’ve read that I can call a page-turner. Not only did I enjoy every page, but I look forward to rereading it to process even further the wealth of information here.
And if that’s not enough to convince you to read it, there are maps!!! And an appendix that sums everything up! And a glossary!
Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang
I finished this memoir months ago and have been thinking about it ever since. The author recounts her childhood growing up as an undocumented Chinese immigrant in America, detailing with precision each harrowing encounter she and her parents had to endure. Through the lens of a young girl–she was seven when her family came to the United States–she tells of working alongside her mother in a sweat shop, facing discrimination from students and teachers, and experiencing the constant fear that comes from not feeling safe in your supposed home. She writes with blunt honesty, revealing family conversations and intimate feelings, and her narrative is straightforward and concise.
I had the privilege of seeing the author at a book signing at You and Me Books in New York City. I had heard of the event the day after I finished her book and though it was on a Friday night after a long work week I pushed myself to go. I’m still flying from the experience. Not only was the bookstore one of the most warm and cozy places, but Qian’s reading and her gracious answers to our questions made her book come alive in a way that goes beyond words on a page. When she pointed toward the front windows and told us that the park across the street was where she played while at P.S. 124, it was a moment of connection like no other.
In her memoir Qian also writes about how books played a large role in her life. When I asked her about her experience with librarians (one once scolded her for pushing all the books back on the shelves, which made me laugh) she expressed her gratitude to me and all librarians for what we do to promote books and reading. I’m sure I speak for librarians and readers everywhere when I say that we are grateful for Qian for courageously telling her story and helping create empathy and understanding among people all over the world.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is a library media specialist at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal and Woodbury Magazine. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, the beach, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.