IRGs (or Informal Reading Groups for those in the know) are groups that read and discuss different novels once a week for part or all of a semester. They can be about pretty much anything, and they can be run by any student or faculty member willing to take on the challenge.

This semester, that was me!.. With a little help.

Jaci (GEF director) and I co-moderated an informal reading group centered around middle eastern children’s stories. It was a pretty amazing discussion and we covered some interesting topics over the course of the 8 week IRG. The two books were The Breadwinner and Habibi.

The Breadwinner is a book about a family who lives in Pakistan when the Taliban took over. They struggle to survive until the father, and only adult male, is arrested. Women were not allowed to work, or even leave their houses, alone. So the 12 year old daughter, Parvana, cuts her hair and pretends to be a boy to take care of her family. She has to mature far faster than any child ever should, and she sees some truly dark things happen, but she does her best to make sure her family can keep on living.

Habibi, on the other hand, is about a 15 year old girl, Liyana, and her family. The father is Israeli and the mother is American. They have lived in the United States for all of Liyana’s life, but decide to move back to Jerusalem at the start of the novel. Habibi is the story of a young American girl who has to learn to adjust to a completely new culture that has very strong opinions about what a young woman can and cannot do.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I won’t say anything more about the books, but if you haven’t read them, you should. My group and I had several really good discussions about anything from “what would you do to keep your family safe” to “how much should you be willing to adapt in a new place” to “why is green an important color?” Not all of our discussions were serious, we all had fun too! But it interesting to examine a region that has seen conflict for generations through the eyes of children.

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