Moving toward Better Arabic Children’s Lit

We were in a stationary store a few month’s back—these sometimes double as book shops in Cairo—and my six-year-old son asked for a new book.

Fine, we said. There were a number of cheap Arabic and Arabic-translated-to-English titles that he rifled through. He chose The Three Martyrs, in English.

It wasn’t the gore that put me off—even the cleaned-up German fairy tales I read as a child were much bloodier—but rather the dull pedantry, the hurry-scribble illustrations, and the heavy-handed drumming on a moral. All these factors mean the book was quickly shoved to the back of my son’s shelves and was never heard from again.

Of course, we can just go to Shorouk or Diwan or Kotob Khan and get our son a lovely English-language children’s book. But when we’ve wanted to buy Arabic literature for our two sons, the pickings have been far slimmer, and are often taken-from-American-TV titles hurriedly translated into Arabic.

Of course, the experience of U.S. booksellers tells us that good kid readers do not necessarily make good adult readers. I say: Who cares. Excellent children’s books are an end in themselves.

Again, the UAE is laying down money to pave the way. The winner of the million-dirham ($270,000U.S.) Etisalat Prize for Arab Children’s Literature was announced earlier this month. The winner, I Love or Ana Aheb (transliterated elsewhere as Ana Oheb??), was written by Nabeeha Muheidli.

I hope to see it here soon, insha’allah.