Literature for young adults has been part of the English-language landscape since at least the 19th century. Arabic has also had its YA titles — the popular “Adventures of the 5,” for instance, and I suppose 1,001 Nights could be YA crossover — but recently, Arabic has seen a fresh interest in broadening the genre, thanks in part to the new Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature (YA category):
The prize received 52 entries in this, its first, year. Judges narrowed that down to five very worthy titles on the shortlist. They are:
Jordanian author Taghreed al-Najjar’s ست الكل, for which Salwa Books will probably use a different title in English, maybe Against the Tide. This emotional short novel tells the compelling story of a teenage girl in Gaza who repairs her disabled father’s fishing boat — he was injured in a tunnel collapse — in order to help support the family. She faces difficulty both from her community and from the Israeli government, which limits where Gazans can fish. Gorgeous illustrations by Gulnar Hajo.
Emirati author Noura Noman’s sci fi اجوان (Ajwan); see a YouTube teaser here. Noura says that, when there is funding, the book will be a series. She also notes on Twitter that it’s seldom that a scifi book “gets in such a category.” The titular Ajwan is a 19-year-old girl who is from a water-breathing race; the book opens as she narrowly escapes being killed by the natural disaster that destroys her planet and annihilates her race.
Lebanese co-authors Fatima Sharafeddine and Samar Mahfouz Barraj’s غدي و روان (Ghadi and Rawan); the book written by the two authors in alternating chapters and alternating personas as Ghadi and Rawan exchange emails between Belgium and Lebanon. (More here.) Sharafeddine is also the author of the award-winning YA novel Faten, which was translated into English by the author and published by Groundwood Books as The Servant.
Palestinian author Ahlam Bisharat’s اسمي الحركي فراشة (My Nom de Guerre is Butterfly), published by the Tamer Institute. Blogger Susanne Abou Ghaida writes about this book, which was published back in 2009 and is thus the oldest book on the list, that it is “hands-down my favourite Arabic story for young adults.” Susanne also has an interview with Bisharat. She notes that “Ismi Al-Haraki Farasha was included in the IBBY Honor List for 2012, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books from more than seventy countries.”
Also by Palestinian author Ahlam Bisharat, أشجار للناس الغائبين (Trees for the Absent), also published by Tamer, new in 2013. According to the publisher, it follows a narrator who works in the public baths in Nablus.
I am really excited about all of these books and am delighted to see such a strong shortlist in the prize’s first year. The winner is scheduled to be announced on the opening day of Sharjah’s International Book Fair, Nov. 6.
Under the new category structure, the million-dirham award will be broken up into: 300,000 for the children’s book of the year, 200,000 for YA book of the year, and 300,000 for the best text, best illustration, and best production categories. Each amount will be distributed equally between author, illustrator, and publisher.
More about the winners in other categories: