On Tuesdays during #WorldKidLit Month, we aim to talk about literature for young readers in and translated from Arabic. For this first librarian-focused installment, we asked a leading Swedish librarian to give advice for other librarians around the world looking to build their collections in Arabic:
Back in 2018, Risberg said in an interview with Publishing Perspectives that her library already had 2000 Arabic books for children and young readers. After all, Arabic is now the second-most used language in Sweden. Risberg is not only a librarian at Sweden’s International Library, but also a translator of literature for young readers from Arabic to Swedish.
By Elisabet Risberg
Buying Arabic children’s literature for the library is not really very different from what applies to other languages, but you probably need to use other purchasing methods. The most important piece of advice is to trust your professionalism, regardless of language. Much of the rest of my advice may seem quite obvious.
1. Go through what is already in the library and think about what is missing. My experience is that many libraries (at least in Sweden, where I work) have plenty of translations into Arabic, but I really want to point out the importance of including literature written in Arabic, published by publishers in the Arabic-speaking part of the world.
2. To get an overview of the publishing market, a good tip is to visit an Arab book fair. There, you will have the opportunity to get to know the different publishers, authors, and illustrators, flip through the books and get an idea of what is available and what your particular library needs. If your workplace cannot sponsor your travel to a book fair, there may be funds for which you can apply.
3. There is a lot of information in English about Arabic children’s literature online. Use your professionalism and google! Look for publishers who have information in English, but also use translation tools so as not to miss publishers who only have information in Arabic.
4. Know that you’ll need to cover a wide geographical breadth with the publications. In many cases, you will need to buy directly from the publishers. If your library is tied up with procurement suppliers, this can be a problem; but if the procurement supplier is unable to deliver, you may have the opportunity to step aside and try a different path.
5. Many publishers have an online bookstore where you can pay with a credit card. But do not forget that there can sometimes be discounts for public libraries and that it can be worthwhile to contact the publisher first and pay by invoice.
6. When planning or arguing for a budget, remember that shipping costs are high, often higher than what the books themselves cost.
7. Also note that, in addition to the established publishers who publish books written in standard Arabic, there are a few private initiatives that have published books in different dialects. It can be good to know and to supplement your book collection with what is available in colloquial Arabics.
8. Do not forget the nonfiction! Here, it is more difficult to find books originally written in Arabic, and I have had to rely on translations from (usually) English. World history, football, and pets are subject areas I generally miss and I am happy to receive tips myself!
9. If you work in a small library, start small, perhaps with books from your two or three favorite publishers that you found at that book fair you visited. If you work in a larger library, think broadly, both geographically and subject-wise, about originals and translations.
10. But the most important piece of advice from me is once again to trust your professionalism, no matter what language.
A few books Elisabet Risberg has recommended:
A few more books to consider:
A Very Naughty Cat – قط شقي جدا – A beloved picture book by Abeer al-Taher, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, that tells the story of a lonely old man and a naughty cat, and the friendship that develops between them. Dar al-Yasmine, 2014 (4-8 years).
Akh, akh أخ خ خ – A funny story of a forgetful girl who leaves the house and, “akh!” There’s another thing she forgot. Written by Manar Hazza and illustrated by Soheila Khaled. Dar Alia for Publishing and Distribution, 2019 (4-8 years).
Captain Shereen كابتن شيرين – A small book with a strong female protagonist, Shereen, who confidently believes in her and her friends’ abilities to win a football match. Written by Hadil Ghoneim and illustrated by Hany Saleh, Dar Al Shorouk, 2020 (4-8 years).
Hamada, the Happiness Maker حمادة صانع السعادة – A little boy gets creative in finding ways to cope and to help his peers cope with all the surrounding tragic news of wars and disasters. Written by Samah Abo Bakr Ezzat and illustrated by Sahar Abdallah, Al Borj Media, 2017 (4-8 years).
Unnecessary Advice for the Young Reader نصائح غير مهمة للقارئ الصغير – A collection of unnecessary yet important advice for the young reader written in a witty style by Anas Aburahma and beautifully illustrated by Lubna Taha, Palestine Writing Workshop, 2016, (6-9 years).
I Feel Like. . . أشعر وكأن – An empathetic book about a little girl who uses imagination to express her feelings. Written by Soheir Abaza and illustrated by Walid Taher, Dar Al Balsam, 2020, (4-8 years).
Shahrazizi’s Nights: A Tale Within a Tale Within a Tale ليالي شهرزيزي: حكاية داخل حكاية داخل حكاية – Written by Hadil Ghoneim and illustrated by Sahar Abdallah, this book takes us to tales of the Nights for young readers. Winner of the Best Children’s Book of the Year Award from the Etisalat Prize. Dar al-Balsam, 2020 (6-9 years).
The Monster and Me أنا والوحش – A beautifully illustrated picture book about the beast that settles in after a loved one’s death and how to conquer it. Written by Aisha Abdullah Al Harithi and illustrated by Baraa Awoor, Dar Ajshar, 2020 (4-8 years).
Think of Others, poems by Mahmoud Darwish for children فكر بغيرك – Illustrated by Sahar Abdallah and winner of the 2020 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in the Best Illustrations category. There are also هكذا قالت الشجرةالمهملة and خبز أمي as well (4-8 years).
The Invisible الخفي – A story about the invisible nature of death for different creatures told with a poignant text and expressive illustrations. Written by Amal Farah and illustrated by Ossama Abou El Ola, Dar Shagara, 2017, (4-8 years).
Hope أمل – Life events are sometimes hard, but there is always hope as we navigate a surreal world in this beautifully illustrated book about resilience by Lebanese-Mexican author Amal Nasser and illustrated by Syrian artist Haya Halaw, Dar Rummana, 2020, (6-9 years).
Mansour’s Memory ذاكرة منصور – Mansour has a unique ability to recall, but the memory police are after him, trying to confiscate his memories of the past. A powerful story about Palestine by Mohamed Khaled and craftly illustrated by Diala Zada, Hikayati Publishers Limited, 2021 (4-8 years).
What Happens When We Miss Each Other? ماذا نفعل عندما نشتاق؟ – When a little girl relocates to another country with her family, she misses her friend. Written by Bothayna Al Issa and illustrated by Amama Mobarak, Dar Arwa Al Arabia, 2017, (6-9 years).
A Forest in My Head في رأسي غابة – A magical journey about what happens inside a person’s head when they’re reading. Written by Al Hassan Benmouna and illustrated by Sara Tayeb, Dar Arwa Al Arabia, 2017, (6-9 years).
Creatures of the Ceiling كائنات سقف الغرفة – Every night at bedtime, Karim’s vivid imagination takes him on a journey with the shapes formed by the peeling paint of the ceiling of his modest room. Then one evening he can’t see his imaginary friends! Written by Nabiha Mheidly and illustrated by Hassan Zahreddine, Dar Al Hadaek, 2011, (6-9 years).
شوشويا (Shoushoya), Shoushoya, written by Bassam Altaii and illustrated by Charlotte Shama, is a dragon. A bedtime story where a giant dragon friend shrinks down to a cuddly stuffed toy. Dar al-Salwa, 2019 (4-8 years).
Chapter Books and Longer Picture Books
Damascus – Tale of a City دمشق، قصة مدينة – This beautiful book, illustrated in a classic medieval-manuscript style, was written and illustrated by Alaa Murtada and tells the story of Damascus through the eyes of a young boy. Winner of a best illustration award from the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature. Dar al-Balsam, 2019 (6-9 years).
Teta and Babcia – Kitchen Tales from Egypt, Poland, and Syria تيتا وبابتشا: رحلات في وصفات الجدات This illustrated family story, about food and love across generations and nations, tells history through food. By Miranda Beshara, Dar al-Balsam, 2019 (6-9 years).
مغامرة عجيبة غريبة (A Strange Adventure) — While Hind is examining the contents of a straw basket she got as a present from her Aunt, she is suddenly transported to a strange world where thread spools talk and a lobster plays a musical instrument. An exciting story that is full of fantasy and adventure, told through the lens of Palestinian tatreez embroidery. Written by Taghreed Najjar and illustrated by Charlotte Shama, Dar al-Salwa, 2018 (6-10 years).
الرقم 25 (Number 25) – This short charming adventure story, written by Feda Shtia and illustrated by Ruth Boros, follows two brothers, Reda and Badr, as they confront bullying and try to save up their money for book-fair day, the biggest day of the year. Sununu Publishing, 2020 (6-10 years).
ثلاثية طائر الرعد (Thunderbird Trilogy) — The Thunderbird books, written by the great Sonia Nimr, are a time-travel fantasy led by a young teen girl, Noor, who was orphaned after her parents died in a plane crash. Noor must set out across space and time — and even travel past the wall to the world of the djinn and other creatures — in this hugely exciting fantasy adventure series that takes place between Ramallah and Jerusalem in different historical periods. Published by the Tamer Institute.
ست الكل (Sitt al-Kol, or Against the Tide) – Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2013, this book, by Taghreed Najjar, follows 15-year-old Yusra, who must accept her new life as it is, or defy society’s expectations to do something no woman in Gaza has ever done before: become the first and only fisherwoman in Gaza. Published by Dar al-Salwa in 2013.
تنين بيت لحم (The Dragon of Bethlehem) — Huda El Shuwa’s 2017 YA novel Dragon of Bethlehem is built around a 16-year-old who lives in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp just south of Bethlehem. This wonderful, fantastical tale follows the bullied young Khidr who meets a dragon that changes his life. Published by the Tamer Institute.
كابتشينو – (Cappuccino) – Fatima Sharafeddine’s Etisalat Prize-winning YA novel follows two Lebanese teens, Lina and Anas, as they confront domestic abuse. Published by Dar al-Saqi in 2016.
لغز عين الصقر (Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye) — Shortlisted for the Etisalat Award for Children’s Literature Award in 2014, this YA mystery, by Taghreed Najjar, follows Ziad and his family. When the discovery of an old family heirloom reveals a cryptic glimpse into his family’s past, 17-year-old refugee Ziad must embark on a dangerous journey across the impenetrable border that divides him from the buried secrets of a past Palestine, a journey which may hold the key to his future. Published by Dar al-Salwa in 2014.