You have to forgive Ali Abdel Mohsen, at Al Masry al Youm, for gushing about Essam Abdallah’s new middle-grade graphic novel Ehna wa Kowkab or Our Planet and Us, published in a small run in English and in Arabic.
After all, while Cairo has seen a surge in children’s picture books in the last decade, middle-grade and YA fiction have been largely absent from the literary landscape. And graphic novels? Well, there was Magdy Shafee’s Metro, which was yanked from shelves for offending public morals.
But young readers—except those lucky enough to attend Cairo’s World Environment Day at Al Azhar Park last weekend—will have to wait for their copies of Ehna wa Kowkab. The Wadi Environmental Science Center, which sponsored the initial print run, is still in search of a publisher to take on the project.
So, ye publishing houses! Tamara, the hero of Ehna wa Kowkab, examines Cairo’s real, gritty problems—trash fires, breathing problems, overburdened garbage workers, ubiquitous plastic bags—but through a engaging, sarcastic narrator who is charming both to middle-grade and YA readers, and even this adult.
The book has a message, of course (we can clean up our city!), but it is not overbearing, and my son wanted to sit down on a bench in the noon-day heat and read it cover to cover.