The first bilingual Finnish-Arabic children’s book was just published in Finland’s Avain. The book, by Marita Hauhla and Anne Randen, was translated into Arabic by translator-scholar Maria Pakkala:
The book, Emma & Eetu and the Surprising Discovery, is for emerging readers, aged 5+. The book is targeted both at Finnish and Arabic-speaking children living in Finland who want to “read what their Finnish speaking peers read, but in their own language,” Pakkala said.
The book can also serve as a cultural introduction to Finland, Pakkala said.
With the influx of Arabophone refugees, Pakkala said, Finnish publishers have begun “welcoming the newcomers through different projects.” A mini-dictionary that will be distributed for free is in the works, and this bilingual children’s book is another example.
The story is about a family who spends a summer afternoon at the beach, when Emma and Eetu find a seagull chick that cannot fly. They decide to help him learn to fly, and take him home and took good care of him. They try and try to teach the bird to fly, and finally succeed.
The book is available both in libraries and bookshops, and Pakkala felt it would have an impact, even just with its presence.
“I think having a bilingual children’s book will make Finnish children interested in Arabic,” Pakkala said over email. “At the same time, Arabic children feel normal.”
Pakkala said that at a previous event based around a Finnish book that tells the story of three kids–two Finns and an Arab–both Finnish and Arabic-speaking kids were very interested in the book, Pakkala said. “Some Arabic-speaking kids told me that they used to be ashamed about their language but now they feel proud.”
There are no precise statistics about the number of Arabic-speaking children in Finland, Pakkala said. “The number of Arabic-speaking people in Finland was approximately 13,170 in 2013.” She added that no one is quite sure how many more have arrived, but “30,000 people came from Iraq in 2014-15.”
The book appears in a growing landscape of Finnish-Arabic literary exchange. To date, Pakkala said, there have been 41 titles translated from Arabic into Finnish (forty works of fiction and one theatrical work). From Finnish to Arabic, there have been 42. They have been a greater variety, with eight works of fiction, three nonfiction, one comic, one theatrical work, and twenty-nine children’s books.
Next year, three more Finnish works are forthcoming in Arabic: two children’s books and a novel.