I Declare: The Emergence of Arabic Young-Adult Lit

Some of you might think that four titles are a rather slim basis on which to declare the emergence of a genre.

But that’s pretty much what I rest my cards on: The 2005 release of الملجأ by Samah Idris, the 2006 release of his النصأب, the October 2010 release of Fatima Sharafeddine’s فاتن and the December 2010 release of Idris’s فلافل النازحين.

What’s so special about these four books? Well, at this year’s Beirut Book Fair, going on now, Sharafeddine’s فاتن very deservedly won the fair’s “Best Book” award.


There are other, pre-2005 books that can be classed as Arabic YA—by Lebanese author Emily Nasrallah, for instance—but the books by Idris and Sharafeddine represent a new phenomenon: a simplified modern Arabic, short sentences, tightly written, strongly crafted, specifically targeted at the 12+ reader.

And more YA literature is appearing in Arabic translation, such as J.C. Michaels’ Firebelly, from Al-Balsam Books. Major houses such as Kalimat (which published فاتن) and Bloomsbury-Qatar (which published a translation of Randa Abdel-Fattah’s YA Where the Streets Had a Name) are both on the lookout for quality young-adult literature that will appeal to Arabic-reading teens.

Typically, the Arabic-writing world’s grown-up publishing ventures have focused on books for grown-ups, while children’s publishing ventures have focused on picture books for the 0-12 set, and very little—outside of a few translations—has targeted the Arabic YA market. They were either left to comic books, or adult literature, or foreign languages.

Earlier this year, bookstore owner and Arabic children’s-book revolutionary Zeyna al-Jabri told me that bookstores have had a real difficulty in attracting Arab teens to Arabic literature. She said:

We will either need some miracles stories to fall from the sky and grab the attention of that age group [12-19], or we will have to wait until the generation of toddlers who are being currently raised around enjoyable Arabic books…grows up with the love for Arabic in their blood.

Perhaps these are not those “miracle stories,” but they are a start.

I haven’t read (or seen) any of these, but…

The Tamer Institute has published a number of YA books by Palestinian authors.



  1. The two ‘Mazen’ books by Samah Idriss are very good. The Tamer Institute also publishes YA books in Arabic and in translation (e.g. Elizabeth Laird, Beverley Naidoo). I think Bloomsbury Qatar are also translating Faïza Guène as well. BTW, looks like ‘Firebelly’ is already available in Arabic: http://www.firebellythebook.com/Translations/Translations.aspx

    1. I didn’t know about The Tamer Institute publishing original Arabic YA, thanks. I haven’t managed to find their stands at the fairs. Thus far, they’ve managed to hide from me!

      And yep, that’s the edition of Firebelly I was referring to above.

  2. Dar al-Fata al-‘Arabi was an amazing publishing venture for children and youth in Arabic, and brought together phenomenal Arab talent in writing, illustration, design, artwork, and folk tale / folklore research. Originally based in Beirut, in 1982 (or sometime thereafter) it shifted its operations to Cairo (due to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year) where for many years it was located in Garden City at 9 Mudiriyat at-Tahrir Street. The sharp-witted and energetic Hasna’ Mikdashi was, among others I am sure, in charge of the venture in Cairo, I believe. Dar al-Fata’s demise has been a huge loss. I am sure there is a story to be told there, but I do not know it. An exemplary work published by Dar al Fata is the brilliant kashkool al-rassaam by Muhyiddine al-Labbad, which has been translated as The Illustrator’s Notebook, and has been developed into a journaling tool for middle school and high school students. al-Labbad might be able to provide some of the history of this fledgling and much too short-lived institution, which must be full of anecdotal richness. It would be an ideal topic for a retrospective coffee table edition with excerpts and book covers from some of their catalogue. I am not aware of any such history of this standard-setting children/youth publishing venture.

    1. Ah, yes! I forgot about Kashkool al-Rassaam.

      Boy, I wonder if it’s available in bookstores here. (I know I’ve seen it on Amazon.Com…at least in the translation.) I will have to ask around.

  3. I have been looking around bookstores in Cairo for this book. And I haven’t been able to find it, neither Diwan, nor Volume 1 in Maadi have it. Any ideas of where I can get a copy?

    1. I just realized, I never mentioned which book “Faten”, is what I am looking for.

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