Photo credit for head shot: Feda Eid
We are so excited to share this interview today with Hannah Moushabeck. Our member Aya Khalil interviews her about her newest book, Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine.
AK: Hi Hannah! I am so excited to be interviewing for Kidlit in Color's blog. Could you please briefly tell the readers about yourself?
HM: My name is Hannah Moushabeck. I am an author, editor, and book marketer. I was raised in a family of publishers and booksellers in Western Massachusetts and England. Born into Interlink Publishing, a family-run independent publishing house, I learned the power of literature at a young age. My first book Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine (Chronicle Books, March 2023) goes on sale on March 28th, 2023.
AK: Your debut picture book, Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine is an absolutely stunning picture book that is filled with so many layers like intergenerational relationships, family, delicious food, hope and freedom. Why did you write this picture book with these important topics?
HM: The displacement of families is tragically not an uncommon practice in our global history. People from around the world are being displaced from their homelands through war, climate disasters and unrest, unable to return, with devastating results. While this book is a love letter to my homeland, I hope it sparks curiosity and will inspire readers to learn more about displaced populations. I also hope that the book will give Palestinian readers a feeling of pride in their culture and homeland, as I do, offering them an alternative to the negative stereotypes portrayed in popular media.
AK: The author's note was very moving. You mentioned the 1948 Al-Nakba, or the catastrophe. Would you be willing to tell the readers what this is and why it is important to write about it in the author's note?
HM: For generations my family lived in the Katamon neighborhood in West Jerusalem, until May 15, 1948, the day Palestinians call Al-Nakba (the catastrophe).
Al-Nakba refers to the displacement and ethnic cleansing of Indigenous Palestinians from their ancestral homeland. May 15th, 1948 was the day the State of Israel came into being and began the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The Nakba, however, never ended, as Palestinians continue to be forced to leave as their homes are destroyed and their freedoms are limited.
On this day all my relatives, after being warned of danger, packed small bags, locked their doors, took sanctuary in the Old City of Jerusalem. They were never allowed to return to their homes and, to this day, carry with them the keys to their houses, now occupied by others.
There is so much misinformation about Palestine. I wanted to provide a first-person account of my family’s lived-experience as a testimony to our existence and the existence of all Palestinians living in the diaspora.
AK: Thank you for sharing your family's experiences. The illustrations are absolutely stunning. I especially loved the food and kitchen illustrations! What did you think of Reem's illustrations and what was your favorite spread and why?
HM: I am deeply in love with Reem’s illustrations! We worked so closely, and she was able to capture so many incredible things from the photos and stories that were shared with her. The muted tones and soft lines take the reader back in time whilst giving the story an ethereal, fairytale-like quality. My favorite spread has to be the illustration of the girls dreaming of their homeland. The artwork brings tears to my eyes, as we see the girls interacting with characters from their fathers’ stories. It offers the reader a glimpse of what life would be like, had my family never been displaced. It shows that even if you cannot return to somewhere in reality, it still lives on in stories and your imagination.
Photo credit: Shanaz Dean
AK: Tell us a little about your author journey. Something authors of color and I talk about, and especially my Arab author friends, are the challenges we face to get our work published. How was your journey like? How long did it take for you to find a home for your beautiful words?
HM: My author journey is not a typical one. Having worked in the publishing industry for many years, I have built close friendships with editors, agents, and other authors. When the manuscript of my book was finished, I sent it to my friend, Ariel Richardson (a talented editor at Chronicle Books) for advice. She called the next day and told me she wanted to acquire it. My picture book will one of only a handful of traditionally published picture books about Palestine (written by a Palestinian) since Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye was published in 1994.
There are many challenges for Arab authors. According to the Diversity Baseline Survey by Lee & Low, less than one percent of all books published in the US are by folks of Middle Eastern decent while the population of Middle Eastern immigrants living in the United States is four times that number! Like for many other marginalized populations that path to publishing is much steeper.
Nora Lester Murad, author of Ida in the Middle, noted in a recent article for School Library Journal that “What I’m finding in my research about censorship of Palestinians is concerning. Although advocates of intellectual freedom, freedom to teach and the right to learn stand up (appropriately so!) for books about Black, brown and queer communities, the intense, multilayered censorship of Palestinians goes virtually unchallenged – and, in fact, unnoticed. Simply put, Palestinians and their literature are invisible to organizations like the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and the National Council of Teachers of English, among others.”
Last year, in an effort to offer my publishing knowledge and support to Palestinian writers, I started Palestinians in Kidslit, a group of Palestinian Americans and Canadians who write for children. I am so excited to share that many members have book deals at major publishers coming out in the next few years.
AK: Wow, I love that the editor called you right away to acquire it! I absolutely love all the details and symbolism throughout, like the musical instruments, the the tarboosh, the keffiyah, Umm Koulthoum (I have her in my picture book too!), the key and the pigeons. Why as it important to have these throughout and what does it mean to you and Palestinian readers? Is there anything you would like to elaborate on more for readers who may not be familiar?
HM: When writing this book, I had two goals in mind. The first was for Palestinian readers to feel seen and proud. Proud of our history, our culture, and our art. Including details that Palestinians would recognize was an important part of this representation. The second goal was for this book to serve as a window into Palestinian culture for non-Arabs. True authentic representation is in the details!
One example of this is the symbol of the key. Palestinians living in exile have used the key as a symbol for the “right to return,” which is a movement that would allow Indigenous Palestinians the freedom to return to their homeland. Many Palestinians still have the keys to their houses, like my family. Keys also represent an opening or unlocking, which feels particularly relevant to my story. As a second-generation Palestinian, I find myself constantly seeking out and learning more and more about my culture and ancestry. One of the tragedies of displaced families is that so much of what makes up your culture and identity is lost through distance, time, and assimilation. This book unlocks truths about my culture that took me many years to discover. It took years of pestering my family members for stories, recipes, and photos. I am still unlocking new wonderful parts of my culture—even now as an adult.
AK: That's so beautiful. I know readers will love it and Palestinians will be so proud of their culture and history. Where can readers find you and purchase/pre-order your picture book?
At their local independent bookstore of course! If folks would like signed copies, they can order them at these bookstores.
Photo credit for photo below: Shanaz Dean