Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Lit Has a New Organizer: Changes I’d Like to See

Last year's winner

The UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) has gotten a new assignment, the Emirates News Agency reports. It’s to take over the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, and to dig up a 2010 winner.

The prize is a big deal: it provides the winner with 1 million dirhams (about $270,000), and hopefully a bit of publicity. Last year’s winner was Ana Aheb (I Love), written by Nabiha Muhaidali and illustrated by Nadeen Saidani.

Note that 1 million dirhams is quite a bit more than the “Arabic Booker” winner will receive (the “Arabic Booker” provides the winner with a not-inconsequential $50,000). It’s more than most international writing prizes for children or adults.

UAEBBY is gearing up to receive the entry forms from publishers now; it plans to select the winner yet this summer.

According to the Emirates News Agency, there are a number of conditions a book must meet before it can be considered in the competition:

To be eligible for entry into the competition, the book should be written in Arabic, not translated, quoted or reproduced, and should have been published within the past three years. The book should not have received any previous local, regional or international award, and the contents should not violate the values, standards traditions and customs of Arab communities. Entry is open to children’s books that target the age group from 0 to 14 years, and each publishing house is entitled to nominate a maximum of three entries.

The requirement that the book “should not violate the values, standards, traditions, and customs of Arab communities” is quite broad; I hope judges will take it lightly. And I don’t understand why the book cannot have received any previous local, regional, or international award: No matter how small?

Anyhow, that aside, what I want to see from this prize:

  • A longlist! Let’s see a list of 12 or 15 great children’s books from around the Arabic-writing world that children (and parents) can get excited about months before the winning title is announced.
  • A shortlist! More publicity can be generated by a shortlist.
  • A sticker! When I walk into a bookstore in the U.S. and see that “Caldecott Award Winner” sticker, I immediately walk, zombie-like to the book.
  • The book in stores! Maybe I spotted a copy of Ana Aheb in a Diwan once? Maybe I’m hallucinating? But I would like to see these books in bookstores, prominently and proudly displayed as award-winners.
  • A short name by which we can all refer to the prize: The Booker, the Arabic Booker, the Orange…is this the Etisalat?
  • Then, in a few years, categories! Best children’s book for ages 0-4; best for ages 4-8; best for ages 9-14. I particularly would like to see energy put in middle-grade work for Arabic-reading children.

I am looking forward to hearing more about the winner—and perhaps a shortlist?