Reader Comments: The (Arabic) Children’s Book Discussion, Continued

Poor Bibi has been tearing her hair at claims that the gap between the various 3meyas (local Arabic dialects) and fos’ha (standard literary Arabic) is anything unique in the world of languages.

She says: All children have to deal with a gap between spoken and written language, some children more than others. Village dialects, for instance, often differ from the written language a child learns.

The essential problem with Arabic children’s books, Bibi says, “is just poor writing and editing.”

Bodour al-Qasimi underlines the same point in her post, noting that: “writers need to step into the shoes of children when they are writing and make sure the topics and language are familiar and close to their personal experiences and emotions.”

Al-Qasimi, in a paper she presented at the Sharjah Reading Festival, also discusses some of the other hurdles to reading in the Arabic-speaking world: parents who believe that reading should be addressed in the schools and not at home, children who prefer DVDs and video games to books.

However, “Qifa Nabki” (Elias Muhanna) is hardly in this camp, nor is he alone: there are many concerned, book-loving parents who would like nothing more than to provide their children with good, (and fun!) literature in Arabic.

I applaud Kalimat and Bloomsbury Qatar for the steps they’re taking in this direction, but yella ba’a, we need more: more great books for all reading levels, Arabic children’s book guides/reviews for parents, better distribution, widespread story times, more incentives for children to read, children’s magazines, library access, an Arabic version of Starfall.Com.

And a pony. I want a pony.


  1. There is an enormous gap between spoken and written English, although people with the text-speak of email and sms (that I struggle to translate) are doing their best to close it. Still, in the end, there is a richness to the use of the written language that is different from the richness of the use of the spoken language. This is why reading a marvelous book and then seeing it really well done as a movie or play is an entirely new kind of experience. For children to get a real grounding in their language they need the two…but that presupposes parents who are willing and able to explain the nuances of meanings when it is called for. It’s a bit of a catch-22. When parents can’t bring a love of language to the children, the language as a whole deteriorates. This is not a school problem…this is a cultural problem.

  2. gruffaloooooo!!!!

    and this, although technically not a pony:

  3. Oh, Bibi, a horse and a bunny are just as good.

    Now get to work on my Arabic version of Starfall.Com, please.

  4. Hey, I totally agree with you. As a certified French Teacher in the American school system, I recognize that there are tons of books available in the Romance languages that fill this gap between strong readers and reluctant readers. But this doesn’t seem to exist anywhere for Arabic readers, native or non-native. Which is really a shame, because we need more Arabic readers! I think blaming Ammiya is a cop-out; it’s just an excuse to keep people from writing. I think the deeper underlying issues have to do with the social stigma of reading in Arabic speaking countries, which may be caused by general poverty and lack of access to education. I think somebody who wanted to start a business writing Arabic children’s books, both for reluctant readers and for non-native speakers, could do very well. Do you think so?

    1. I’ve never experienced/witnessed a social stigma associated with reading in Egypt, nor a lack of access to education (lack of access to high-quality education being a different thing).

      But books are priced out of the reach of most consumers (and/or the bookstores are in more upscale areas), libraries are inaccessible, and there is not a widespread communication to parents that reading is important for kids. Reading is often seem as just a way to deliver information rather than a joy and an important skill in and of itself.

      Plus, of course, the ubiquity of TVs and PlayStations and the like.

      There are a growing number of high-quality Arabic books, but they are not necessarily widely accessible…or very well-known.

  5. Elias Nasr is dead

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