Friday, May 30, 2008

The Arabian Date Palm by Frances LaBonte

This is another beautifully presented book on the Arabian region by Frances LaBonte. It will be placed in the Childrens' Book section of bookshops but this volume, like all LaBonte’s books, has a universal appeal.

The author takes something as ancient, iconic and ordinary as the Arabian Date Palm—Phoenix dactylifera—and with text and pictures shows how fascinating this tree is. For instance every page has a ‘Fascinating Fact’ like this one: ‘Did you know that there are more than 500 names for the date palm in the Arabic language?’

LaBonte traces the history of date palms in the region, points to their mention in the Holy Qur’an, their cultivation, their susceptibility to pests and diseases and she explains the process of production. What an astonishing number of date varieties there are in the world!

The chapter ‘Dates as Food’ tantalizes readers with photos of cakes made from dates and it shows how various parts of the date have different uses. One can understand why dates were ideal food for desert travelers and why they continue to be significant today for their nutritional and medicinal value.

In addition to the date, the author writes of the many historic and contemporary uses of the tree—the trunk, the fronds and the leaves.

Frances LaBonte writes with clarity and an economy of words. She possesses the gift of being able to synthesize a mass of literature and present it in an interesting and informative manner. Most important is her style which moves along with pace and never suffers from condescension.

Coming with a glossary of important Arabic terms and an index, this book will become the raw material for many projects and it needs to find a place in every school library. But it is a book for every home, ideal for leaving on the coffee table and browsing from time to time, especially when you’re doing something as enjoyable and as Arabic as drinking coffee and eating dates.

Frances LaBonte, The Arabian Date Palm (Dubai: Jerboa, 2006).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 56.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of The Arabian Date Palm.

The book, Sheikh Zayed, is also written by Frances LaBonte and a review is posted at this link: Reviewing Books and Movies.