Eleven Words for Love: A Journey Through Arabic Expressions of Love

Candlewick. Nov. 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536230215.
PreS-Gr 2–This concept-driven picture book uses semantics as the basis for an immigration narrative, exploring 11 different types of love embodied in Arabic words while visually representing a Middle Eastern family’s journey across the globe. The text presents each of the words for love in Arabic script and as it would be written in English, giving the book a valuable bilingual element. As the elementary-age narrator (presented as female) poetically defines each type of love in English, the illustrations reveal the story of her family as they leave their homeland with just a single suitcase of mementos and begin a new life in a hospitable, joyfully multicultural country. As they settle into their home—welcoming a new baby, the narrator beginning school, making friends, getting a dog—memories of their homeland and cherished relatives remain, extending the notion of love across time and space. Younger children will need guidance to unlock the book’s narrative elements, but older ones will enjoy assembling the story from the visual cues. Clarke’s illustrations reinforce the child’s perspective: bright and deliberately simple, with hearts and rainbows serving as visual motifs of love and hope. The people are rendered with clear facial expressions and a one-dimensional quality reminiscent of naïve art. The primary medium appears to be pastels and acrylics, thickly applied so as to evoke a child’s drawings, with the texture of the canvas showing through and subtly reinforcing the notion of the past underpinning the present.
VERDICT An affirming picture book that will be particularly welcomed by libraries seeking stories about refugees and the migration experience.

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