EBBY Seminar: Where Are The Books for Toddlers and Teens?

The Egyptian Board on Books for Young People (EBBY) has begun its new life with a talk at Al-Balsam Bookstore in Mohandiseen. Two problem areas were highlighted — the lack of Arabic books for toddlers and for teens:

By Dina ElAbd

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Rania Amin is talking with her hands. Photo credit: Balsam Saad.

Last Saturday November 15, 2014, Al-Balsam Bookstore hosted an inspiring talk on Egyptian children’s literature, titled “EBBY Seminar: EBBY a Home for Everyone Working on Children’s Culture in Egypt.” It truly was a room you wanted to be in, and not just because of the charm of Balsam’s cozy bookshop and the enthusiastic writers and publishers and nonstop conversation.

The speakers were: Dr. Yasmine Motawy, faculty member at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and children’s literature scholar, Dr. Shahira Khalil, Editor-in-Chief of Samir Magazine for children, and Rania Hussein Amin, well-known children’s writer and illustrator, author of the popular Farhana books.

Amin began the talk by sharing her experience in writing children’s literature in Egypt, providing insights into the converging and diverging expectations of writers and publishers. Two age groups were identified as missing from Egyptian and Arabic children’s literature, particularly: very young children and teen books. Young adults cited books such as Essam Youssef’s ¼ Gram, based on addicts’ true stories, and Ahmed Mourad’s thriller Blue Elephant, both rife with social taboos, as their selected reading material. This could be read as trying to understand more adult topics, albeit through inappropriate sources. The inevitable discussion of “which Arabic to use when writing for children” came up and the differences between what children want to read, what parents want to teach, and what the Ministry of Education propagates were explored.

Khalil spoke about the importance of children’s magazines to their readers and their function as an organic communal space for children — mostly those who attend the open Samir workshops in Dar Al-Helal in Sayeda Zeinab — to contribute comic strips, illustrations and even storylines and the trust fostered between the material and the child reader.

Motawy introduced the newly reborn EBBY and opened the floor to questions about how EBBY can serve as a hub for Egyptian children’s literature. EBBY, founded in 1987, today boasts a dedicated set of professionals who are quickly making this a reality.

The talk continued with writers, publishers, and people interested in children’s literature for two and a half hours. We were lucky to have several EBBY members in the room, along with children’s publishers Balsam Saad of Balsam Books and Amira Aboulmagd of Dar El Shorouk, as well as writers and children’s workshop leaders from other governorates. The following short term goals for EBBY were set following the seminar:

  1. Organizing workshops for both new and seasoned authors and illustrators to improve book quality
  2.  Creating a database of authors, illustrators, publishers and critics on the EBBY website,
  3.  Creating recommended and reviewed books by EBBY with an “EBBY recommends gold sticker,”
  4. Helping connect people to grant opportunities and competitions in the field,
  5. Nominating Egyptian writers for the the Hans Anderson award and books under the IBBY Honor List,
  6. Encouraging members from different governorates in Egypt to join and support EBBY,

Generally, the discussion was a huge success. EBBY is clearly important and we hope a lot can be expected from it in the future.