Why (Cairo’s) Kids Should Read Over the Summer

Bodour Alqasimi, President of Emirates Publishers Association and founder of Kalimat, noted in a recent talk about publishing challenges in the Arab-speaking world that: “reading is often considered to be an educational activity that should be relegated to schools.”

So—just ask Cairo bookstore owners, many of whom are offering deep June discounts—Cairo kids often don’t read over the summer.

OK, but shouldn’t kids get a break over the summer?

If I agreed that reading was torture, then sure, I’d have to allow kids a break over the summer. But reading—and this can be Mickeys, or الـ 99 or other popular comics—should be fun! Books can come along to the beach, in the car, or on a plane. They never run out of batteries, and can be stuffed into a knapsack, dropped without being broken, and read again and again.

Also, books are the best way to stop the “summer learning slide“. U.S.-based research shows that $50 worth of books is more effective than thousands of dollars in torturous summer school. (And yes, I do think summer school is torture.)

Nobody reads over the summer.

Lots of kids read over the summer. And the ones who read over the summer are smarter. Yes, smarter. Research shows that—regardless of social class or education level of a parent–kids with books in the house turn out smarter.

Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do! My son/daughter prefers video games and TV.

There are step-by-step guides online to help parents wean their kids off TV or video games and onto books. Did I mention that research shows that kids who read books are smarter?

But it’s the World Cup!

So have your kids read about football.

Fine, then I’ll have them read in English. Arabic books are boring.

Tsh: You haven’t met the right Arabic books! For the youngest readers (0-2), there are excellent, high-color books, such as Al Sandoo’ Haywanat (Walid Taher), the translation of Hal Al Kangharoo Aidan Um? (Eric Carle) and Alwan al Dukkan (Dareen Charafeddine).

For slightly older readers (2-6), all the Fizo books are exceptionally charming, although I’m partial to Fizo Y3araf…Y3araf. Those who like 3lam Simsim can relate to the Detective Felfel books, and I think the Shams titles, such as Kol el Bisilla, are wonderful. Certainly, two- to seven-year-old readers shouldn’t miss the internationally best-selling and award-winning The Gruffalo, now available in bookshops around Cairo.

For middle-grade readers, I’m less in-the-know, as my children are two and six. But الـ 99 makes for a fun read, and Bloomsbury Qatar is starting to come out with YA literature for the 12+ set, starting with Randa Abdel Fattah’s Heenama Kan Lil Shawari Asmaa.

Also, as Gruffalo translator Andy Smart has noted on our sister blog: “The research that I’ve seen suggests (unsurprisingly!) that young children who regularly listen to good picture books read aloud in standard Arabic tend to become better readers.”

I need more help.

The website Raising a Reader is full of excellent suggestions, as is the book of the same title.

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