Middle Grade

Sonia Nimr’s ‘Thunderbird’: First in a Time-Traveling Palestinian Fantasy Trilogy

ArabKidLitNow recommends Sonia Nimr’s award-winning middle grade novel, Thunderbird (طائر الرعد).

Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2017

Author: Sonia Nimr

Publisher: Tamer Institute

Contact: info@arablit.org

Buy in Arabic: طائر الرعد

Thunderbird begins as the local fortuneteller (a reader of coffee grounds), Umm Arab, has a strange and mysterious prediction for the orphaned Noor’s future. For the last two years, since the untimely deaths of her scientist/archaeologist parents’ in a plane crash, Noor has been living in the old family home with her Uncle Ziad, Aunt Widad, her cousin Wafaa, and her grandmother. Noor’s aunt and cousin do not make her feel welcome. Indeed, they deeply resent her. To make things worse, when Noor gets upset, mysterious fires flare up around her. The only person who believes in her is her beloved and sympathetic grandmother. Her grandmother gives Noor a gift–a strange ring–from her father before she dies.

This fantastic, Harry Potter-esque time traveling novel follows Noor as she hooks up with a cat (who’s really a djinn), discovers that the King of the Djinn needs her help to save the world, and travels back 500 years — although not before she has a harrowing trip through checkpoints to get to contemporary Jerusalem.

We learn about history and folklore as Noor and a girl from 500 years ago — Andaleeb — team up to find the first of the Phoenix feathers that will help them keep the world together.
Sample from the first chapter:

Umm ‘Arab looked carefully into the coffee cup, wordlessly tipping it left and right. She allowed only a few grunts to escape each time she turned it in a new direction. “Hmm. Hmmmm.”“What do you see in the cup, Umm ‘Arab? Is it good?”

As Widad asked, she shifted her huge body toward the ashtray that sat on the table in front of her. She stabbed out her cigarette and looked back at Umm ‘Arab with an expression of keen interest.

“It’s good, Widad, it’s good. I see a big fish, and you know what that means—wealth is on its way.” Umm ‘Arab glanced up at Big Widad to see the effect this had on her before going on. “Didn’t I tell you good days were coming?”

Widad focused on Umm ‘Arab with serious attention. “When’s it going to happen? Soon?”

“I don’t know exactly. I see three signs, so it might be three days, three weeks… You know the cup doesn’t give specifics.”

After Umm ‘Arab spoke, she looked back at the cup.

“And what else?” Widad asked, urging her on.

“A phone call’s coming that will make you very happy. Mmm, I see two signs, which means it could be two hours or two days.”

Umm ‘Arab moved the cup toward Widad’s hand. “Now, when you’ve got your wish in mind, press your thumb to the bottom of the cup.”

Widad cradled the cup as though she were holding something sacred. Then she looked around until her eyes settled on Noor, who was sitting glued to her grandmother. Widad gave a spiteful smile as she pushed her thumb with all her strength to the bottom of the cup, jabbing it down so it left a clear mark. She handed the cup to Umm ‘Arab before she took a tissue and wiped off her thumb.

Umm ‘Arab looked at the bottom of the cup, and after a moment she turned to Widad. “You’ll get your wish.”

Widad smiled triumphantly. “Bless your mouth.”

There was a brief silence in the room before Umm ‘Arab spoke again. “Evening prayers are coming, I have to go.”

The grandmother had been watching the scene in silence. Now, she finally spoke. “Before you go, Umm ‘Arab, take a look at this little one’s cup.” She put a tender hand on Noor’s back.

“Little ones don’t drink coffee!” Widad said, indignant.

The grandmother quietly interrupted. “She’ll take a sip from my cup. I haven’t drunk from it, and I want Umm ‘Arab to see what can be seen.” She looked at Noor and stretched out her cup. “Drink, drink, my love. Maybe your fortune will be as lovely as your face.”

Extended samples, plot summary, and more available upon request.

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