Today starts World Kid Lit Month (#WorldKidLit Month), celebrating literature for young readers in translation, and you can find out more at the World Kid Lit website:

A few years ago, it was hard to find any contemporary children’s literature translated to English from Arabic. Now, several new titles are being published each year. Here, a list of ten children’s books translated from Arabic for young readers.

Picture books

 Alya and the Three Cats, by Amina Hachimi Alaoui, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, translated by Mehdi Retnani

In this book, Maryam and Sami have three cats: Pasha the black Angora, Minouche the grey tabby, and Amir the playful Siamese.

One day, Maryam’s belly starts to get bigger and something starts to stir in it. Maryam disappears for a few days and comes back home with something that screams and demands a lot of attention. The three cats are very confused. A wonderful book for a child who’s expecting a young sibling.

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My Brother and Me, by Taghreed Najjar, ill Maya Fidawi (Illustrator), translated by Michelle and Tameem Hartman 

In this brotherly love story, Aloush — the youngest in the family — adores his big brother Ramez. But then suddenly Ramez is absent, as he’s fallen in love and — ugh — about the get engaged. Fortunately, Aloush’s new sister-in-law-to-be knows how to deal with this situation. A lovely look at a Jordanian family system in a moment of flux, and how they deal with it.
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The Ghoul,by Taghreed Najjar, ill Hassan Manasra, translated by the author 

An Arabic folktale-inspired story about facing your fears and accepting differences. Villagers are afraid of the “Ghoul,” who Hassan finally meets living on top of a mountain (and who is just as terrified of people as they are of him). Hassan and the Ghoul realize that they can still be friends, despite their differences.

As in Kirkus Reviews, it’s: “A stimulating and funny fantasy about acceptance.”

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Tomorrowby Nadine Kaadan, illustrated and translated by the author

“غدا” (Tomorrow), by accomplished Syrian author-illustrator Nadine Kaadan, came out this month from Lantana. It’s 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, the book tells us, art still creates joy.
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A Blue Pool of Questionsby Maya Abu-Alhayyat, illus. by Hassan Manasrah,  tr. Hanan Awad.

This book, 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.

In the words of children’s-book author and poet Naomi Shihab Nye: “Maya Abu-Alhayyat’s haunting, evocative text and Hassan Manasrah’s exquisitely gorgeous art combine to make a book worth holding very close. Give it to all your friends, big and little.”

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Nour’s Escape, by Abir Ali, ill. Gulnar Hajo, tr. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

This is the story of Nour, a little girl who didn t have a family or a home. She lived on the street somewhere far away and long ago. Sadly, when you re the main character in a book, you can t escape from your story and go off and find a happier life. Or can you?

Well, for her part, Nour manages to escape the pages and be free.

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Watermelon Madness, by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, translated by Michelle and Tameem Hartman 

A book for the smallest of watermelon lovers, Watermelon Madness follows Noura, who is crazy about watermelon. She wants to eat nothing else: morning, noon, and night. Indeed, Noura is pretty sure there’s no such thing as too much watermelon.

Then, one night, the watermelon she has hidden in her room to eat all by herself begins to grow, and Noura gets taken on a wild watermelon adventure.

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Middle grade

Ghady and Rawanby Samar Mahfouz Barraj and Fatima Sharafeddine, tr. Sawad Hussain and M Lynx Qualey 

According to Kirkus Reviews, Ghady and Rawan is “a heartfelt and beautifully written page-turner.”

It follows the friendship of two young Lebanese teens. Ghady lives with his family in Belgium while Rawan lives in Beirut. Ghady’s family travels every summer to Beirut, where Ghady gets to spend all his time with his friend Rawan. During the rest of the year, they keep in touch by email. Through this epistolary format, we watch their struggles unfold: Ghady’s homesickness and his trouble with racism at school, and Rawan’s conflicts with her friends and family.” From a review in Al Jadid“Ghady & Rawan explores the daily conflicts of adolescents in mature yet refreshing letters between the two characters. The perspective shifts every chapter, giving readers a very personal glimpse while showing just how different each character’s experiences are. Through it all, Sharafeddine and Barraj do not depict life in one city as better than the other; rather, the novel focuses on human struggles that unite them both: fear, loss, and change.”

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Young adult

The Servantby Fatima Sharafeddine, tr. the author

Faten — the first YA novel he award-winning author Fatima Sharafeddine — was translated into English by the author, with some help from her daughter, as The Servant.

Faten’s life and schooling in her Lebanese village comes to an abrupt end when her father arranges for her to work as a servant for a wealthy Beirut couple and their two daughters. But this bright, ambitious teen finds a way to navigate this new world, and also discovers a way out.

Through it all, the book asks: What is agency, what is servitude, who is visible and invisible?

As in the New York Times: “[Faten’s story] will draw in young readers preoccupied with society, challenging parents and their own fears.”

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Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands, by Sonia Nimr, translated by M Lynx Qualey (October 2020, Interlink Books)

This novel won the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the Young Adult category, it’s a thrilling historical fantasy  for adults and children alike. It follows the adventures of the medieval Palestinian girl, Qamr, who sets off from her small village life in Palestine and finds herself kidnapped, enslaved, escaped, joining pirates, opening a bookshop, finding love, and having a hundred other adventures before finally, in the end, finding (we hope) what she was searching for.

A fun read for teens and, for adults, an escapist guilty-pleasure novel for our times.

Full disclosure: M Lynx Qualey is ArabLit’s chief editor.

More: 

Recommendations: ArabKidLitNow!

Excerpts: YA in Translation by Taghreed Najjar, Djamila Morani, and Sonia Nimr

Young poets (14-18) who win the Barjeel Poetry Prize will have their work translated to Arabic

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