Samir and Yonatan by Daniella Carmi

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Carmi, Daniella.  Translated by Yael Lotan.  1994.  SAMIR AND YONATAN.  New York:  Scholastic Signature.  ISBN: 0-439-13523-0.

Daniella Carmi's Samir and Yonatan is the story of a friendship between a Palestinian boy and Jewish boy living in Israel.  When Samir, a Palestinian boy who lives in the West Bank, smashes his knee during bike accident, his family is able to get him treatment at an Israeli hospital.  Samir's family is unable to visit him in the hospital due to the distance and travel restrictions on Palestinians.  During the separation from his family, Samir is able to come to terms with the death of his younger brother, Fadi, shot by Israeli soldiers, and examine its effect on his family:  his father does not speak to the children, his mother works two jobs, his older brother has gone to Kuwait to work, and his blind grandfather just sits and smokes and "shrivels up."  Samir shares a room with four Israeli children, the wild Tazi, Yonatan, who is a bookworm and knows all about the stars, Razia, whose father put her in the hospital following a drunken rage, and Ludmilla, who looks like a princess, but refuses to eat and stares into space patting a stuffed rabbit.  The children become a surrogate family during their expended stay at the hospital, but it is Yonatan and Samir who develop a special bond.  Because of his friendship with Yonatan, Samir begins to see Israelis as something other than killers. With Samir, Yonatan is able to share his dreams of the stars and space travel by sharing a computer game where everyone is the same and they are able to travel the solar system.

Israeli author Carmi has succeeded in crafting a story that is able to convey the situation in Israel's West Bank and the life of the Palestinians who live there in a way that even those who are unfamiliar with the history or politics of the region can understand.  Samir's grandfather is the son of a doctor and before Israel was settled after World War II, his family lived in a big beautiful house that overlooked the ocean.  There is now a café where that home stood.  Samir remembers the blackouts and curfews and restricted movement.  He remembers the constant fear of the Israeli soldiers attacking for no reason.  He remembers the economic problems due to isolation and fear and that his father is no longer able to support the family with his small barbershop because people are now cutting their own hair.  Samir enjoys the plentiful food available at the hospital and Yonatan, who is a vegetarian, gives his friend the meat from his meals.  Meat is too scarce and too expensive to be a staple in Samir's diet at home.  Samir also remembers that in his village they never knew what was going on and had to listen to the radio and television and rely on the neighbors for news.  An American doctor from Chicago performs Samir's knee surgery and reminds him of the doctors on the American TV show they watch every Monday night on Jordanian television.  During his hospitalization, Samir learns that not all Israelis are his enemies, that he can trust his roommates and the nurses and doctors who care for him.

Samir and Yonatan bond over the stars.  "The stars are always there even in hard times.  Stars don't vanish when there's a curfew."  That one common interest allows Samir to realize that although at first glance he and Yonatan are very different, inside they are very much alike.  This message is one that benefits children around the world, not just those in the Middle East.

Samir and Yonatan won the ALA's Mildred Batchelder Award for best translated novel and the Middle East Outreach Council Award for outstanding book about the Middle East for children and young people.  It was also chosen as a Notable Book for a Global Society 2001 and is on the IBBY Honor List.

Works cited:

Arthur A. Levine Website. .  Accessed April 25, 2006.

by Monica Wood