Sarah, 5, accompanies the other children in her class on a field trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, also known as Ariha and the City of Moon. The park they visit is lush and fragrant with orange blossoms, like paradise on Earth. But when Sarah strays from the group in order to feed a starving cat, she gets lost and afraid. Ultimately, she finds her way to a mosque near the park, where a friendly older man reassures her and introduces her to his granddaughter, Raya. Before too long, Sarah’s teacher comes to the mosque to get her. By now, Sarah and Raya have become fast friends, and as the book, the Qutobs’ first, winds down, readers come to understand that the pair’s friendship has endured for 30 years, with frequent adventures in the City of Moon. The message here isn’t difficult to understand: Raya is clearly Muslim, and by Sarah’s Hebraic name and the fact that she lives only a bus ride away from Jericho, we can assume that she is Jewish or perhaps one of the Christian minority in Israel. If these children can share kindness and friendship in this beautiful oasis, why can’t everyone else? Though some may take exception to such a simplistic moral, it’s difficult to argue with the observation that tensions and prejudices are usually taught, not innate. Retaining a sense of this troubled region’s loveliness and the potential for kindness among its varied people is, in the end, a purely positive message for the children for whom this book was written. (Some proceeds from the book will support orphans from areas of political strife.) One wishes, however, for more artful illustrations; the ones here are disappointingly of a generic, cartoony, computer-generated type that does little to illustrate the subtext of finding peace, in part, through an appreciation of beauty, both physical and spiritual. The printed edition includes a soundbox tool, a thoughtful addition for children who may not always have someone to read to them.
A timeless message for a good cause; a good choice for a multicultural, multiethnic audience.