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Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine by Hannah Moushabeck

Updated: Feb 2

Hanna Mousabeck shares Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine (Chronicle Books), a story of a father and his daughters, who may not be able to return home . . . but they can celebrate stories of their homeland!


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About the book: Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine by Hannah Moushabeck; illustrated by Reem Madooh.



A father and his daughters may not be able to return home . . . but they can celebrate stories of their homeland!


As bedtime approaches, three young girls eagerly await the return of their father who tells them stories of a faraway homeland--Palestine. Through their father's memories, the Old City of Jerusalem comes to life: the sounds of juice vendors beating rhythms with brass cups, the smell of argileh drifting through windows, and the sight of doves flapping their wings toward home. These daughters of the diaspora feel love for a place they have never been, a home they cannot visit. But, as their father's story comes to an end, they know that through his memories, they will always return.


A Palestinian family celebrates the stories of their homeland in this moving autobiographical picture book debut by Hannah Moushabeck. With heartfelt illustrations by Reem Madooh, this story is a love letter to home, to family, and to the persisting hope of people that transcends borders.


Episode Transcript:


INTRO


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and a fan of kids. 


Some books feel like they capture a moment. Some books feel like they have a specific audience in mind. Some books are enjoyed, but forgotten not so long after their cover is closed. And some books feel like their importance may never fade, like they are a story for now, for tomorrow, and for a forever of days to come.


Today I’m excited to bring to you an interview with Hannah Moushabeck, author of Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine; illustrated by Reem Madooh and published by Chronicle Books.


Before I do that. Please let me briefly share with you about The 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge! 


Everyone has a story to tell, but finding the voice for that story takes a storyteller. What better way to explore your voice and strengthen your writing skills than in community. And the 12 x 12 community, I think, is one of the best around.


Picture book authors need to be prolific to get published. That's why members of 12 x 12 aim to write one picture book draft a month. With a private Forum, monthly webinars, a thriving Facebook group and more, members enjoy the support of a welcoming community of authors and illustrators while working toward their publishing goals. Registration is only open in January and February. 


I cannot wait to read your stories. I cannot wait to welcome them into our library and our storytimes.


Visit 12x12challenge.com/winner for more information.



Today’s book, Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine, is a story of a father and his daughters, who may not be able to return home . . . but they can celebrate stories of their homeland!


Let’s step into my conversation with Hannah Moushabeck. Ready? Here we go.


Hannah: Hi, my name is Hannah Moushabeck. I am an author, a marketer, an editor, and I love all things children's literature. And I'm the author of Homeland, My Father Dreams of Palestine.


Matthew: All right, let's go. Hannah, what is a homeland? And then, what is your homeland? 


Hannah: A homeland is a place where you or your ancestors originate from. So, my homeland is Palestine, all the way across the world. But, I currently live in Amherst, Massachusetts, on the ancestral homelands of the Pekumtuk and Nipmuc nations.


Matthew: And a homeland, this is not a written down question, but can a homeland be, can we have multiple homelands? Can we consider different places our homeland? Like if I, if a lot of my family is rooted in Pennsylvania, that might not be where they originally are from, but I associate that as being like where my family starts.

Would that be considered a homeland?


Hannah:  Absolutely. And I think that that's what's beautiful about the world is that it's incredibly flexible. And, um, you know, like myself and like a lot of people, usually our parents don't come from the same exact place. So we usually have a lot of different homelands and a lot of different ancestral stories.


And I think that that's beautiful and something to be celebrated. 


Matthew: Thanks for letting me throw that in there. I would love. Oh, I would love for you to share with us the experience of hearing stories from your father at night as you prepared for bed. Um, did it happen all the time? What was it like? Who else was there?

I know you have siblings. Who else was there? What were the stories? Anything you want to share with us to bring us into that space? 


Hannah: Uh, so for a long time, um, my father worked a lot. Both my parents worked a lot. Everyone in my family worked a lot. They were new immigrants. Um, and so the time that we got with them, especially one on one, you know, if you are from a big family, you know, like one on one time with any single parent is, is an incredibly special.

So, you know, my dad would often only get home right before we got to bed. And I know that it was incredibly important for him to make it home before we fell asleep. Um, because he was often, um, working late hours, you know, making sure that he was providing for us, but not just for us, but many of his family members.


Um, so my mom was home with us all day, you know, doing the real work of primary parenting. And then my dad would come home and he would have maybe an hour with us before bedtime. And so it was a really special time for me and my sisters. And we all, you know, we're together in one room and we would hear him coming up the stairs.

You know how, you know, a person's walk by like the cadence of it. We would know his walk when he was coming. And, you know, my mom was a singer. She would sing us to sleep and my dad would tell us stories. And, you know, sometimes there would be stories that were just completely fantastical, dragons, princesses, you name it.


Um, and then sometimes there were stories about his childhood and about our homeland in Palestine. Um, you know, he would tell stories about how he would play tricks on his elderly neighbors, or how he would steal candies from his Tato's kitchen. And he somehow always managed to work like a fart joke into the story because he's a 90s dad.


So that was always part of it. Um, and, you know, looking back now as an adult, it's almost hard to remember Which of the stories were about my homeland, about Palestine, and which of them were the sort of magical fantasy lands. And they all kind of blend together, making my homeland feel really like a magical place.


And it wasn't just my father who told us stories. My aunts and uncles all shared with us. um, the stories of our homeland, what they missed about it, um, you know, sometimes when they cooked the food that we would eat, they would share, you know, where these recipes came from. My mother, um, when she met my father, she says she fell in love with his mother first and then him next because they had such a close relationship.


And in fact, after my parents were dating for quite some time, it was my grandmother who proposed to my mother because she was like, it's time. So my mother and my tata had a really close relationship and she would often tell her these incredible stories that. were meant to be passed down to her daughters, you know, stories between women that even to this day, I don't even think that my dad knows that, you know, I hope to also pass down one day, you know, storytelling has a vast history in Palestinian culture and like in many immigrant cultures.


Um, and it was certainly something that was embraced, um, by many of my family members. 


Matthew: Thank you for sharing that with us. That was so beautiful and intimate and I feel like I'm going to remember that detail about your grandmother for such a long time. It's such a sweet thing. Oh, um, so in the back of your book, in the author's note, you describe an event that I'd love for us to bring into this conversation.


I'd love to ask you what was al Nakba. And why do so many, especially pertaining to this story, why does so many Palestinian families like your own hold onto keys? 


Hannah: Yeah, so the Nakba means the catastrophe in Arabic, and it usually refers to May 15th, 1948, which was actually 75 years ago this month, when over 750, 000 indigenous Palestinians were forced from their homeland and made refugees.


However, the Nakba continues today. With the continued illegal seizure of land and the forced exiles of Palestinians who live under brutal discrimination and ethnic cleansing by the Israeli government, of course, all using weaponry funded by American taxpayers. On this day in 1948, all my relatives, after being warned of danger, packed small bags, locked their doors, piled into my grandfather's car, and took sanctuary across the city in the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city of Jerusalem, which still stands today, you can visit.


Um, but they were never allowed to return to their homes and to this day carry with them the keys to their houses, which are now occupied by others. Palestinians living in exiles have used the key as a symbol for the right to return, which is a movement similar to Land Back that would allow Indigenous Palestinians the freedom to return to their homeland, many of whom, just like my family, still hold the keys to their houses.


Matthew: I, I, I hate knowing that this forced displacement, that this, um, just that this catastrophe, has persisted for 75 years, as you said. Um,

I think that maybe it's the same in other countries. I don't know, but I think that in America, we often have a hard time thinking about what stuff is going on in other countries. And the idea of losing your home, I think is almost unfathomable for us. for us Americans, not for, not for all Americans that live here who have homelands elsewhere.


The thought of could America cease to exist, I think is a, is a hard thing for people to wrap their brains around. Perhaps also like the refugee experience is both diverse and often very difficult to understand if you have not experienced something like that. And it just, it hurts my heart. And I am grateful to have you as a friend and also as a teacher to share your family, your identity, your homeland with me and others, um, and invite us to feel pride alongside you for your homeland.


I think that's the way I want to say that, Anna. I love that. Um, I would love to ask you, I'm sure there are many, but I'm always interested in this sort of inciting incident. to make writers go, I think I want to make a book about that. Not just tell the story of it. Um, cause I know how important stories are in your family, but I'd love to know what moment or idea or event inspired you to write this book.


And I also acknowledge that Homeland might not have always looked like it does right now. This book might not have, it may have changed, but you could tell us a little bit about where, where this book came from. I'd love to hear. 


Hannah: Oh, there were so many events that sort of led up to me writing this book. Um, but I've been working in publishing for 10 years and for 10 years before that I was a bookseller.


And in all of my time, I. have used any power that I held within the industry, within my community, to uplift and celebrate diverse books. Um, you know, I remember when We Need Diverse Books was a hashtag campaign that I was, I downloaded Twitter just to participate in. You know, I have worked with some of the greatest children's book creators today.


You know, I worked on Christian Robinson's first book. I worked on Raul, the Third's first book, you know, there's so many amazing creators that I was able to see fight their way into publishing for the representation that they deserved. And in all of my time in publishing, I waited and I waited for a Palestinian book to be acquired by someone I was working with so that I could be the marketer on it so that I could be the cheerleader and say, I'm the person who knows how to do this best.


Like, I know how to reach this community. And, you know, Matthew, after 10 years of waiting, I got fed up and, you know, I, this book started because I decided that I was going to force someone's hand to publish a book by a Palestinian. And so I wrote a proposal for a book that a real writer would write and then publish.


So I wrote, this is, these are the demographics of Palestinian American population. This is how many times it gets mentioned in the media every single day. Like the, this is the statistics of Arab Americans in the United States. And this is how many books are being published in the children's book industry.


Less than 1%, by the way. didn't even make the, the Lee and Lowe diversity study, uh, unfortunately. Um, and when I presented this to an editor friend of mine, I was like, here are the Palestinian American poets that I think could write a story like this. You know, these are the established writers that, who write predominantly adult, but I think they could be coached to write for kids.


And my friend who's an editor said, Hannah, what are you doing? You should write this book. You have done all of the work to write this book. And, and I, you know, of course took me many years to, to get to the point where I actually did. But I, I, I sat down and I wrote the book that I wanted to promote. And I wanted it to come out mostly because my sister started having babies and.


I had a very real need to have conversations with children about not just the tragic history of our past, but the beauty of our culture that is continually erased and continually rewritten. And for me, it was so important. It was too late for me as a child. You know, I already missed that opportunity to have the representation.


You know, growing up, I had one book. It was called City Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye, who is to this day, I think one of the greatest Palestinian American writers, but that was it. And. You know, I did some digging and I found out that in traditional publishing there has not been a picture book about Palestine by a Palestinian American since 1994, which is almost 30 years.


And so because of all of this happening, I decided to write this book. And decided to send it to my editor friend at Chronicle, and to my absolute surprise, she said, I want it. This book needs to exist in the world. Um, and that, and that's how it came to be, you know, it, it was really, uh, you know, it's never an easy publishing story, um, to get published, but, um.


You know, I think that the, the urgency around what was happening politically in the last few years really caught the attention of people, particularly people who were fighting for social justice and bringing those themes into children's books. When publishing professionals were being educated about anti racism and then turned to look at what was happening in Palestine, they could not unsee the injustice that was happening.

And I think that that really helped to open a lot of doors. 


Matthew: I think also, I think also you having a book about Palestine, like any book about any place, teaches a word that then becomes part of that child's schema of the world. Palestine is a place that I now know, can name, am at least vaguely aware of where in the world it would be in relation to myself, right?


We do that in children's books. We teach a word or a concept or a connection, or a, we show a glimpse of a visibility that may be you or may not be you. And then it allows us to look for and listen for proof of that word out in the world. And I think that in doing this. You're helping in that, in that very subtle, but powerful way, just to plant the seed of awareness, which is what we need.


We can't help. We can't have empathy without first being aware. So I think that's wonderful. And I would also love for you to name, I was looking in your book, I didn't see it, for you to name who, even first name only, because we're kids. Who is this editor? 


Hannah: Um, her name is Arielle and she is. Very special person.

Who is Ariel? Do you know her? I know that one. I know that name. Amazing. She's incredible and has, um, been such a champion, um, not just for my book, but for so many, many others. 


Matthew: It's lovely. Hannah, I would love, before we start wrapping up, for you to read an excerpt of Homeland to Us. Uh, please also feel welcome to talk about or gush about Reem's art as much as you want!

I will be doing it on my narration, don't worry! 


Hannah: I could gush all day about Reem's art. Um, you know, at risk of spoiling the ending, I feel like maybe I want to read the last two pages.



Our eyes are heavy with sleep, but we want to hear more. Show us the key, we cry. My father produces the large, rusted old key to our family's home in Jerusalem. We know the ending of this story is not a happy one. We know that we may never sit and watch the Juiceman by Jaffa Gate, but we whisper the hope of return as we turn out the light.



At night, we dream of our homeland. And this page, I get teary every time I look at it because not only did Reem bring, uh, the metaphor of birds, the homecoming pigeons into this story, but she used real life photographs of my family and then illustrated them to put in the photo album, which You and I know that, like, true representation is always in the details, and she did such a wonderful job.


But if you look on the right hand side, side of the page, you'll see the little girls from present day interacting with the characters from my father's story. And this was completely unprompted. I, you know, this was something she did on her own. And when I look at this page, I see an alternate reality where the occupation never happened.


Where my family was never exiled and I see a free Palestine. And that is a gift that I hope to give not just to my family members, not just to Palestinians, but to all people who have experienced displacement. This reality that. we can be free and we can return to our homelands through our stories and through celebrating storytelling.

And that's why this page is my favorite. 


Matthew: It so beautifully talks to you. I love, I love symmetry in a picture book. It's what I love most about the art. And when people know to write that way or naturally write that way, which is what good storytellers do, um, I think it's beautiful. And I I was waiting, I was anticipating for you to read the beginning of the book, which is the echo of the end, which is so beautiful.


I just wanted to compliment you that your line, there are, and there are stories about our homeland, a place we've never been, to have that be paid off with the part that you read, and to show the place we've never been and there we are. is, is, is exceptional. It's beautiful. It's exquisite. Hannah, if you think about it after we're off the call, if you have, I don't know, as a, you're not, you're not the publicist for this book, but you might have access to it.


If you have, if you have, if you have that spread and I can include it in the show notes, that that'd be lovely. Absolutely. That'd be lovely. Cause I can then just put it right in the show notes with in the transcript when you're talking about this, it's, it'd be lovely. Um, Hannah. I, is there anything else you wanted to talk about that we, that I didn't bring up?


Hannah: Yeah, well, I wanted to say two, two things. So firstly, these endpapers. Oh my gosh. I, first of all, I love a good endpapers. Like, uh, you know, I think us book nerds who like pay attention to these details, like really relish, uh, in a good endpaper. And, It really, they came about because I sent hundreds and hundreds of photos of my family throughout time to Reem, and she really wanted to use them in some way or another.

So she decided to bring them into the end pages. So if you look at the beginning of the book, the end pages are in black and white, and these are my family in Palestine. So these are all the photos that were, you know, stashed. in bags, in pockets, and smuggled out of the country. These are the only ones that we have.


These are photos that I've stared at for years and years that have been passed down through generations. And if you flip to the back of the book, you'll see, and this is what I, I say to kids, like, what do you notice about these photos? And these are in color. And this is my family living in the diaspora, living in the United States.


And you see christenings and you see weddings and you see, um, the birth of, you know, my sister's baby. And that to me tells a story in of itself, even if you didn't read the book and you just saw the end pages. And that was something that was completely, um, you know, invented and, and came up with, with Reem and the art director, which I was so grateful for.


And it's something that of course, Chronicle is very much known for the like beautiful design. So that's the first thing that I wanted to say. Um, and the other thing that I wanted to say, which was, which is. One of the major reasons I wrote my debut picture book was because I only had this one picture book growing up, um, called City Secrets About Palestine.


However, I really believe that the discourse about Palestine and about, you know, Indigenous people has been changing. And last year, in an effort to offer You know, my 10 years of knowledge and support to Palestinian writers. I started Palestinians in Kidlit, which is a group of Palestinian Americans and Canadians who write for children.

And there's about 24 members. We've been, we meet every month. And I'm so excited to share that five members of the group now have book deals at big five publishers coming out in the next few years. So while there was a 30 year gap, you know, between now the last picture book, you know, coming out about Palestine written by a Palestinian American.


There's now going to be so many more, and I'm going to send you the full list with, you know, ISBNs and all the good details, but I am so, so grateful that I am not the only one, that there is a building momentum, that more Palestinian stories are being told, because, you know, my little slice of history.


There's only one very small piece of the pie. You know, for example, I'm not Muslim and, and, and Palestinians have such a vivid, like, wide Muslim population. So I feel like that needs to be told. And I'm really excited for all of these authors books to come out. So that was the last thing I wanted to add.


Matthew: Hannah, I will see a library full of children tomorrow morning. Is there a message I can bring to them from you?

Yes. 


Hannah: 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, many years to discover. It took years of pestering my family members for stories, for recipes, for photos.


In fact, I'm still unlocking new and wonderful parts of my culture, even now as an adult.

So, I would encourage your kiddos. to talk to their families and learn about their cultures, you know, whether that's queer culture or where their families come from and, and ask them, where is your homeland? And also consider whose homeland do we live on now?


Matthew: Hannah, where can people find you online? 


Hannah: I am on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, just downloaded TikTok, all the places. All the places. 


OUTRO


Matthew: Thank you to Hannah for joining me on The Children’s Book Podcast. 


You can pick up your own copy of Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through Bookshop.org. You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/). 


Our music is by Podington Bear. 


Podcast hosting by Libsyn. 


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


Don’t forget to check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack, if you are a fellow teacher or librarian. It’s the perfect podcast to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities. It’s available wherever podcasts are found.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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