On International Children’s Book Day, 10 to Translate from Arabic

International Children’s Book Day has been celebrated since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, which is the 2nd of April, and it’s celebrated to “inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books”:

IBBY Lithuania is the sponsor for International Children’s Book Day 2019. However, since we don’t know overmuch about Lithuanian kid lit:


1. Hussain Almutawaa’s tremendously sweet I Dream of Being a Cement Mixer  (Al Hadaek Group, 2018), which was illustrated by the celebrated Egyptian artist Walid Taher, won the 2019 Sheikh Zayed Book Award in the children’s literature category, which means the translation will be supported by the SZBA. Other possible titles include When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Cement Mixer. 

A rough translation from the beginning of this sweet, charming book:

Boomer’s dad tried to get him to join the demolition crew.

Once, he said: “Son, in life, things sometimes come to an end, and we need to be there to clear them away. If not us, someone else will do it.”

“Let somebody else do it,” Boomer said.

“But then we wouldn’t have any work,” his dad said. “Demolishing is what we do.”

“I don’t like demolitions,” Boomer mumbled. Then he finished his route, singing and swinging as he imagined carrying a cement-mixing tank.

Not everyone is understanding about Boomer’s (Haddam’s) dreams:

One day, when Boomer was walking down the street, he passed two bulldozers scooping wreckage from an old building. He stopped to say hello.

“Hiya, Boomer, you go-getter!” one of the bulldozers said. “They say you want to grow up to be a cement mixer.”

He was flooded with happiness. “That’s true!”

The second bulldozer rumbled: “Ho ho! And I want to be a paper airplane… And did you hear the one about the crane who became a race car?”

2. Think of Others, with text by Mahmoud Darwish, illustrated by Sahar Abdallah. This is a popular, child-friendly poem by Mahmoud Darwish, illustrated by Sahar Abdallah, which won the 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the illustrations category.

There are a number of adequate translations of Darwish’s poem floating around online. This one is by Mohammed Shaheen, from Almond Blossoms and Beyond, published by Interlink Books in 2009. Certainly a fresh translation could be done for the picture book:

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).

3. Seventh Day Sheep, by Amina Alhashemi, illustrated by the amazing Maya Fidawi.

From ‘Seventh Day Sheep’

Maya Fidawi is probably my favorite children’s book illustrator, and this is a sweet book about what happens on the seventh day after a baby is born.

From the book:

Why is Grandpa whispering in Alia’s right ear?

The cats exchanged curious looks!

“Isn’t it rude to whisper?”


Grandma understood the cats’ confusion

and reassured them, saying:

“Grandpa whispers to Alia

because that’s how we greet newborns!”

4) Answer Me, Leila, written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan. The Syrian children’s-book author Nadine Kaadan currently lives in London and has published two well-received children’s books in English, one originally written in English (The Jasmine Sneezeand the other translated (Tomorrow).

This beautifully illustrated picture book is a playful retelling of the fairy tale Rapunzel, but with a twist: Leila is deaf, so she can’t hear her suitor calling to her.

Leila and Sami keep missing each other: she sits up in her high tower waiting for him, but no matter how many times he comes and calls for her, she doesn’t answer. Things look better for them both once Sami realises that he needs to learn her language, sign language, in order to win her heart.

With its swirling illustrations, bright colours, and cheeky sideways glances, it’s a refreshing story about overcoming hearing difficulties. Leila’s lovely, ornate flowing hair, looping and curling like the Arabic letters it conceals, suggests the beautiful physicality of her language. And the book ends with Leila giving the readers a beginners’ lesson in sign language.

Answer me, Leila! was cited by The Guardian as a ‘badly needed story for young people’ in its feature on disability inclusive books which should be available in English. You can buy it in Arabic from Box of Tales Publishing.


5) Salwa Books has a number of wonderful easy-reader chapter books that are both educational and fun. A Strange Adventure, written by Taghreed Najjar and Illustrated by Charlotte Shamma, is a fantasy-adventure where Hind finds herself in “Embroidery Land” with a red thread spool as her guide. Hind needs to escape the Dark Shadow as the reader also learns about the traditional Palestinian embroidery called tatreez.

From inside the book:

You can read more about the book on the Salwa Books website.

6) Mama, My Classmate, by Lubna Taha, illustrated by Maya Fidawi is also a publication of Salwa Books. This is relatable for anyone — including me — who has shared a classroom with a parent. It was the winner of the 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the “Best Text” category, and is a charming eight-chapter book told from the perspective of young Noora, who — spoiler alert — is also the book’s author. Noora has lots of nightmares, but the worst of all is one that comes true when her mom decides she wants to improve her English.

Chapter one opens:

Do you ever have nightmares about school?

There is one nightmare where you find yourself in the middle of the school playground. You’re wearing your pajamas, and all the other kids are gathered around, laughing meanly.

Or there’s one where you accidentally fart in the classroom. Everyone knows you’re the one who did it, and they’re all pointing at you and giggling.


7)Thunderbird, by Sonia Nimr. This is the first book in a wildly charming Palestinian time-traveling trilogy where our protagonist, Noor, has to save the world.

Thunderbird begins as the local fortuneteller (a reader of coffee grounds), Umm Arab, has a strange and mysterious prediction for the orphaned Noor’s future. For the last two years, since the untimely deaths of her scientist/archaeologist parents’ in a plane crash, Noor has been living in the old family home with her Uncle Ziad, Aunt Widad, her cousin Wafaa, and her grandmother. Noor’s aunt and cousin do not make her feel welcome. Indeed, they deeply resent her. To make things worse, when Noor gets upset, mysterious fires flare up around her. The only person who believes in her is her beloved and sympathetic grandmother. Her grandmother gives Noor a gift–a strange ring–from her father before she dies.

Read more about it, including a sample, at ArabKidLitNow!


8)Wonderful Journeys in Amazing Lands,by Sonia Nimr. This book was both the 2014 Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature and also made the 2014 IBBY Honor List. It is an utterly charming tale in the style of Ibn Battutah but told by a Palestinian girl who is kidnapped and enslaved, disguises herself as a boy to work as a pirate, and loses her beloved in a storm, among other adventures.

Our story begins hundreds of years ago, when our hero — Qamr — is born at the foot of a mountain in Palestine, near her father’s strange, isolated village. Her mother solves the mystery of why only boys are born in this odd, conservative village. But then, in proper 1001 Nights style, this tale moves into another. Qamr’s parents die, and a prince with many wives wants to marry her. Qamr takes her favorite book, Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands, as she flees through Gaza, to Egypt, is captured and made a slave to the sister of the mad king in Egypt. After many adventures in the palace (and a time helping the sister to rule!) she then runs away to study with a polymath in Morocco. But when it’s discovered she’s a girl, she must leave there, too, and disguises herself as a boy becomes a pirate to sail the Mediterranean. Qamr has a child, who is stolen from her, and she follows her daughter to Yemen. In the final moments, we hold our breath, as it seems she’s about to find her little daughter. There is never a boring moment in this clear, charmingly told, girl-centric book.

Wondrous is around 220 pages inthe Arabic and about 70,000 words in translation. It has already been translated into Spanish.


And so it was that my mother went into labor while sitting astride the donkey that was carrying her from the city to our village. My father had to halt the caravan, then pitch my mother a small tent at the foot of the mountain.

It was a difficult birth. If it weren’t for the quick-wittedness of her servant, and the instructions my mother gave in spite of her condition, she would’ve died bringing us into this world. My mother bore twins in that tent at the foot of the mountain, and she stayed in it seven days before she managed to continue on the hardest part of her journey: the ascent up the mountai

That summer was scorching hot, and at this time of year the trip was almost suicide. Yet it was also the only time of year when the wide valley surrounding the mountain could be safely crossed by those who wanted to reach our village. My father had left his nameless town nearly four years before, thinking he would never return.

Yet fate had other plans.

Keep reading at ArabKidLitNow!

9) One Day The Sun Will Shine, by Taghreed Najjar, was shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award in 2017. One Day the Sun Will Shine is a powerful YA novel about one teen’s transformation from an ebullient but naïve Damascene girl to a young woman making her way alone as she deals with outrageous loss, xenophobia, and the struggle to define herself.

This epic bildungsroman is set during the first year of the uprising in Syria that became a civil war. One Day the Sun Will Shine follows sixteen-year-old Shaden as her brother joins the conflict, her father dies of heart failure, their building is destroyed, her brother is jailed, her mother is killed by a stray bullet, and her aunt suggests marrying her off to an older man in the Gulf.

Like Dave Eggers’ What is the What, the subject matter of One Day the Sun Will Shine is often painful and grim. But the experience is lightened by Shaden’s fighting spirit as well as moments of joy and humor.

Shaden goes from being a spirited girl who relies on others to one paralyzed with grief. Later, after the shock of overhearing her aunt’s marriage plans, she finds the will to deceive her aunt and uncle, buy a boat passage from smugglers, and travel alone across the Mediterranean. She reaches an Italian refugee camp and finally gets a train to Malmo, Sweden, where she makes a new life with her paternal uncle. There, things are not “happily ever after.” Instead Shaden must face all her bottled grief while integrating into a new country.

Although there are a few novels for young readers with contemporary Syrian characters, such as Alan Gratz’s Refugee, there is none yet translated from Arabic. Moreover, Shaden is not defined by her “refugeeness,” and indeed she bristles at the word meskina or “poor dear.” She is a human being struggling to find her way through violence, loss, depression, xenophobia, patriarchy, and the fickle hearts of fellow humans. And she not only survives, but finds a way to reclaim life, and to feel the sun again.

Read a sample at ArabKidLitNow!

10) Against the Tide, by Taghreed Najjar, was shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award in 2013.

When the course of her family’s life changes forever, 15-year-old Yusra is faced with a choice. Either she accepts her new life as it is, or she defies society’s expectations to do something no woman in Gaza has ever done before.

After the tragic death of her elder brother by an Israeli rocket, and an unfortunate accident that leaves her father paralyzed and bound to his wheelchair, Yusra’s family is forced to beg for handouts from their neighbors. Between her family’s struggles and the restrictions of life in occupied Palestine, Yusra feels like the walls are closing in on her. Then she has an idea: she decides to fix up her father’s fishing boat and take up his trade to become the first and only fisherwoman in Gaza.

Yusra repairs her father’s old boat with the help of her older brother’s friends, but that is only the first hurdle she has to overcome. She must convince her parents she responsible enough to take the boat out by herself, and that it does not matter if conservative Gazan society disapproves. Yusra perseveres and ventures out to sea where she faces the greatest challenge of all: catching enough fish to support her family, while staying within the 3-mile zone in which Palestinians are allowed to fish. One day Yusra accidently goes too far, and in a harrowing encounter, the Israeli navy threatens to seize her boat. After being interviewed by a foreign journalist, Yusra decides that she too wants to be a journalist when she grows up, to help show the world what life in Gaza is really like. She pursues her new dream with the same determination: she gains access to the Internet, starts taking photographs, and begins a blog. Eventually, Yusra realizes that she can be whoever she sets her mind to be, even against terrible odds.

The details of life in Gaza highlight the historical and political specificity of Yusra’s story. Nonetheless, Against the Tide shows that despite life under occupation, Yusra is much like a girl of her age anywhere: she seeks more independence, enjoys the help and companionship of her friends, and has a frustrating but loving relationship with her family. In the end she learns that, even if her goals change, her resourcefulness will carry her along her new path. This compelling read speaks powerfully in the name of social justice, by exploring global issues through a relatable and strong female protagonist who deals with complex real-life problems.

Against the Tide is inspired by the true story of a young Gazan girl named Madelein Callab, who became Gaza’s first fisherwoman at the age of 15. The novel was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2013, and this translation was awarded a PEN Samples Grant in 2015.

Read a sample by Elisabeth Jaquette on ArabKidLitNow!


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