8 Books for Young Readers: Arab Women’s KidLit in Translation

For Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), eight books for younger readers, written by women and translated to English, for readers in utero and up:

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1. Mimi’s Hair, by Fatima Sharafeddine, illustrated by Rasha Mounib alHakim, translated by the author

2. Mimi and the Piano, by Fatima Sharafeddine, illustrated by Rasha Mounib alHakim, translated by the author

Several of Sharafeddine’s “Mimi” series, charmingly illustrated by Rasha Mounib Al Hakim, are available from Bloomsbury. Originally published by Kalimat in the UAE, the series features Mimi, a charming curly-haired girl with ordinary concerns, who–gasp–happens to be Arab.

3.Watermelon Madnessby Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, translated by the author

Any time you can get a book written by Taghreed Najjar and illustrated by Maya Fidawi, you should do it. If you have a watermelon-lover in the house (or if, like me, you recently googled “how long can a person live on watermelon alone”), so much the better!

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4. Tomorrowby Nadine Kaadan, illustrated and translated by the author

I find picture books of children during war tremendously moving. Fatima Sharafeddine’s “في مدينتي حرب” (In My City, There’s a War) a big tear-jerker, as have my children. Among more recent picture books, several by Syrian author-illustrator Gulnar Hajo (some of whose work, I’ve recently learned, will be forthcoming from Darf Publishers, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp) and “غدا” (Tomorrow) by Syrian author-illustrator Nadine Kaadan.

The latter — set for a September 1 release from Lantana — is Kaadan’s second work in English, following her The Jasmine Sneeze in 2016.

In TomorrowNadine‘s brilliantly imaginative drawings tread a careful line: they help children imagine how war might affect a little boy like Yazan without overwhelming them. Best of all, the book manages to give Yazan an honest happy ending. Even in the most terrible of times, art still creates joy.

5.The Blue Pool of Questionsby Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, illustrated by Hassan Manasrah, translated by Hanan Awad

The Blue Pool, which won a 2016 Etisalat Prize and made ArabLit’s list of 8 New Must-translate Palestinian Books for Children, came out from the Oklahoma City-based Penny Candy Books and comes with its own website (www.bluepoolofquestions.com) and an activity guide for schools.

“The book,” as librarian Elisabet Risberg wrote on ArabLit, “is a work of art in itself and attracts really imaginative musings, both for children and for adults.”

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6. A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, by Zeina Abirached, translated from French by Edward Gauvin.

This is a book my children read until the pages fell out of the spine. It’s also about children living through a civil war, illustrated in Abirached’s gorgeous style.

A 2013 Batchelder and American Library Assocation honoree.

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7. The Servant, by Fatima Sharafeddine, translated by the author

This charming, smoothly told novel — Faten, in the original — follows a girl who works as a servant in a home in Beirut, and the choices she makes to move toward self-determination.

8. Code Name: Butterflyby Ahlam Bsharat, translated by Nancy Roberts

This IBBY Honor Book, set in Palestine, is poised between the earnest questions of childhood and the disillusionment and disappointment of adulthood. Chosen as the 2018 read for the ‘One Book, Many Communities’ project, this book was shortlisted for Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in its original version and, in Roberts’ translation, for the Middle East Monitor Palestine Books Awards.

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