Bookmaking for Children in Egypt: Prizes, Initiatives, and Challenges

Publishers, writers, and children’s-book lovers gathered in Zamalek last Saturday to celebrate emerging writers and discuss the challenges of publishing for children in Arabic:

By Mona Elnamoury

On the 20th of May, the Greater Cairo Library in Zamalek hosted an important forum organized by the Egyptian Board on Books for Young People (EBBY) titled: “Making Children’s Books; Towards Creative Cooperation for Innovation and Greater Dissemination.”

The forum gathered people and institutions involved or interested in making children books: writers, publishers, translators, illustrators, educators, academics, and critics. There were three main events. The first was a celebration of the winners of the “Ardena” (our land) writing competition, for raising agricultural awareness through children’s literature, co-sponsored by EBBY and Shoura Foundation for Development. As the name of the competition indicates, it celebrates: “the Earth, eco-living, environmental awareness, agriculture and love of greenery.” Four winners were awarded prizes in the ceremony. The winners are:

Children (6- 12 category)

First Place: Raneem Hassan “The Tomato Plant”

Second Place: Ahmed Abdulraheem “The Angry Seed”

Young Adults (13-18 category)

First Place: Hany Kadry “The Orphan Tree”

Second Place: Ibraheem Abdulmoaty “The Green Surface”

Nadia El Kholy, the EBBY president, explained that judging those works was very difficult, because they were received as manuscripts without the illustrations that make such a great difference in children’s books. Moreover, the books contained specialized information which necessitated an agriculturalist on the judging panel. She expressed her wish that the four stories would find publishers soon, both because of their informative and their literary worth.

Both Elkholy and Yasmine Motawy had previously been judges for Hans Christian Andersen Award, the industry’s most prestigious, given to an author and illustrator of children’s books whose complete works have made a “lasting contribution to children’s literature.” The Danish award is considered a “Nobel Prize” for children’s literature. Motawy gave an illuminating presentation about the criteria for making a good children book that can compete internationally.

At the end of the day, the children’s-book makers gathered in an egalitarian circle, where they frankly discussed the issues around children publishing in Egypt and the broader region, and made a number of recommendations and plans for cooperation. This was a moderated discussion led by children’s publishers from Dar El Shorouk, Dar Al-Balsam, Dar Shagara, and Dar Almasriya Allubnaniya. Elkholy then presented EBBY’s proposal of a Notable Books List to assist parents, librarians, and schools in making informed decisions when selecting a book. The information would be disseminated both on the ground and informally through social media.

One of important takeaway points was the importance of the “children’s book editor” to deal with the weak editing in many works on the market today. Here, what is meant by “editing” is much more than sentence-level revision, but a challenge to the author’s ideas, organization, development, characters, everything. The value of “first readers” was also noted, a child reader in the target age group who volunteers to read the early drafts and discuss suggestions with the writer or editor.