An Appreciation for Arabic Books-from-TV: عالم سمسم

I am generally not the sort to appreciate Pooh, Dora, Elmo, Spiderman, Mickey, and Barney. My husband claims that, before we had children, I scoffed at these characters and said they would never be allowed in my home.

Now, of course, the idea seems a little crazy. No characters? How exactly did I expect to keep them out?

It’s true, I sometimes feel a twinge of disappointment when we walk into a bookstore and my six- (and three quarters) year-old wants a book about the Transformers rather than high-quality kid lit, but I remember what Steven Bialostok said in Raising Readers and I just smile and accept that reading is good.

And now, in fact, I have developed a marked appreciation for some TV characters who can get kids excited about reading. My two-year-old’s favorites are Khokha, Felfel, and Nimnim.

Just last night, I brought home نمنم يرسم الدنيا , part of the عالم سمسم series from Dar el-Shorouk. It’s nothing special, I suppose, just the lovable Nimnim painting things he loves in his world: a tree, flowers near the tree, a sun, clouds, birds, a house for the birds, a mouse, a cat to chase the mouse, a (clean) river, fish, a boat, and friends. The book is clear, easy to follow, and very simple. Best for 0-3 readers of the sort who enjoy endless repetition.

Inspector Felfel and the Case of the Missing Bananas!

And, hamdul’allah, it wasn’t crazy-expensive, either: 8LE at the Zamalek Diwan. (Perhaps it’s less at the Shorouk stores?)

My favorite in the series is المفتش فلفل و سر اختفاء الموز ; it’s also got a story line that’s interesting to both sons, and so could appeal to 2-6 readers. In it, Nimnim goes to visit his friend Felfel who’s set to harvest his bananas—but the bananas are missing!

Felfel investigates, and the kids can play along and try to figure out which of the following zoo animals is the culprit: the bunnies, the elephants, or the monkeys. (Hmm, now that I think about it, do bunnies really live in the zoo?) The language is formal, but not so stiff as to be absurd.

The binding on ours fell apart, but we just taped it back together again. I probably read this one every other day, sometimes more than once in a day. It’s also a good one for children at the age of repetition.

Another book-from-TV series I’d like to see is Bakkar and friends. I printed my copy of Bakkar at the Zoo off the Internet; you can do that, or read it online from the International Children’s Library.

Now that I think of it, perhaps my friends Felfel, Nimnim, and Khokha could do more to encourage a love of reading. Yes, they do talk about books on the show (abstract, generic books), but what about a Reading Rainbow-type segment about a particular book?

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