But which books? Anyone who’s perused the stacks of Arabic literature knows that there are a lot of disappointing Arabic kids books out there: hurriedly illustrated, badly written, with an overbearing moral. (I will not pause to tell you about my older one’s experience with a book called The Three Martyrs.)
I will be posting Arabic children’s literature suggestions, broken up by age group, over the next few weeks. For those who are not in the Arabophone world (but who want their children to read in Arabic), many of the titles are available via Neelwafurat.com and Waterstones.com.
Suggestions from Sheikha Bodour Alqasimi, president of the Emirates Publishing Association:
I wish, I wish .. I were an animal so I could fly, jump, dive or simply go unnoticed.. Ahlum An Akoun is a beautiful little board book that reflects the wild imagination of a child. The character in the book imagines she is a different animal in each spread.
A number book with brightly coloured illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Hassan Zahreddine, also introduces the names and sounds of various animals. The numbers are embossed helping the children trace their shape and eventually learn how to write them
Bak Beek is a chicken that lives in a pen on the rooftop of a building. She feels imprisoned there and dreams of flying freely someday, just like a bird. Accompanied by an audio CD read by renowned Syrian comedian, Dureid Lahham, Dajaja Bak Beek was named best children’s book at the Beirut Book Fair 2009. It is ideal for bedtime reading with colourful illustrations and plenty of scope for role-playing.
ماذا في بطن ماما ؟ (What’s in Mom’s Big Round Belly?)
Mummy’s belly is getting bigger and rounder.. The children are very excited and have so many questions to ask, but when the baby is finally here, someone gets upset. The baby took mummy away.
It’s a simple but effective book dealing with sibling jealousy.
elephants, sing like nightingales… Rich in visual detail and imagination, this book is ideal for fathers and sons to read together.
Najmet Al Ballet Al Saghira (The Little Ballet Star)
Raneen longs to learn ballet more than anything else. But on enrolling in ballet class she finds it tough to follow the teacher’s dance steps and is tempted to give up quickly. Raneen almost gives up on her dream of dancing in a ballet onstage. This book can be used to motivate kids to pursue something they love.
هدية لي (A Gift for Me)
Rani tells us in this wildly imaginative book about how even kids can make their own little efforts to safeguard land and sea animals, limit pollution, and conserve forests to make the world a better place for the next generation. I especially like the style of illustrations in this book.
Ibn Battouta is the first book in a cultural series about famous personalities from the Arab civilization talking about their lives, their ideas and their accomplishments. This book explains through a series of fascinating anecdotes the travels of the globe-trotting Ibn Battouta. He left behind an outstanding book detailing his adventures and the cultures of the diverse lands he visited such as Algeria, Russia, India and China. This book is a must-have for every school and home library.
Ameerat Min Al Alam (Princesses of the World)
From the desert sands of Egypt to the sparkling snows of the Russian tundra, this book takes you on an enchanting journey through the ancient world as seen by fourteen imaginary princesses from this era. This collection of tales from east and west from cultures as diverse as China, Japan, Spain, India, Tahiti, Egypt, and others is a must for the collection of every little princess.
The illustrations by Misstigri are delightlful with several pullouts and with each spread resembling an exquisite painting.
Suggestions from Rehab Bassem, project manager in the children’s literature department at Dar el Shorouk:
Note from Bassem (and I second this!): Take into consideration that any book could be read to the children before the age of 3 even. It’s advised to start reading to children as early as possible. Even babies like to hear stories told by a loved one’s voice and to look at colorful illustrations.
1. فيزو –– Fizo series: (7 titles) in this series, the hero, Fizo, gets into all sorts of dilemmas: he’s shy and doesn’t know how to overcome his shyness, he’s angry without a reason and doesn’t know how to snap out of it, he’s a know-it-all that harms himself and others, he wants to be “respectable”, or he just decides to open his own company. The language is simple, the illustrations are colorful and childish, and Fizo is just so cute! 🙂
2. الحيوان صديقي (The Animal is My Friend): (4 titles) in every story, the hero or heroine tries to convince their mother that they really really need a pet. The problem is, the pet they want is either an elephant, a kangaroo, a lion, or a dolphin! Funny stories with very simple language, short sentences, and repeated words in order to help the child practice the words he learned. The book contains no more than 70 words and it’s a boardbook to make it easier for tiny hands to flip it and to avoid papercuts.
3. معلومة و حكاية (Information & Story): 5 titles explaining basic scientific and linguistic info about animals. The topics are: animals and their babies, animal homes, animal sounds, the difference between carnivores and herbivores, and animals that hatch out of eggs.
4. كتابي المحمول (My Portable Book): (6 titles) a novelty book i.e. a book and a toy in the same time. The books tell simple funny stories about animals, and they have a handle so that the kid can carry it around. They also have a head, tail, and legs of the animal who’s the hero of the story: elephant, donkey, bull, dog, lamb, and cat.
5. عالم سمسمAlam Simsim (7 titles + 2 activity/coloring books and 1 huge activity/coloring book): stories featuring the characters of the beloved “عالم سمسم” show. Easy to read, funny, and focus is on positive behavior, environment, and health.
6. أجمل حكايات العالم Agmal Hekayat Al Alam (The Best Stories of the World): 6 classic stories simplified to act as readers i.e. books to train kids on reading.
Titles include: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Little Dragon, Sleeping Beauty, and Afrakoush the Wizard. The text of the stories are divided to a simple line at the top of the page, and two lines at the bottom of the page. The kid who’s just starting to read could easily read and follow the story by reading the top line, and the two bottom lines could either be read by the parent or by the kid who’s more skilled in his/her reading.
Level One (4-5 years): the story has no more than 200 words, the vocabulary is simple, the words are repeated, and the story is fully illustrated so the kid could follow it easily, either when it’s read to him or when he attempts reading it.
Level Two (5-7 years): the story has no more than 500 words, the vocabulary is simple yet more advanced than level one.
Level Three (7-8 years): the story has nearly 1000 words, trains the child to follow the storyline and the characters which enhances their concentration and observation skills. By this level, the child is now confident enough to read on his own.
1. Shorouk Classic stories: translated stories from world literature or famous adventures. The series includes the following titles: Oliver Twist, Little Women, Titanic, Tut Ankh Amoun, and Romeo and Juliet.
2. The Story of Stuff: an interesting and fun series about the tracing the history of famous inventions and ordinary things around us such as: Flying, Rubbish, Chocolate, Electricity, Cars, Ships, Trains, and Boats.
Suggestions from Amira Abed, educational programs director at Bloomsbury-Qatar.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I believe the delightful الغرفول is available at Diwan stores in Egypt, as well as Virgin, and I have seen حينما كان للشوارع أسماء widely available: this is an excellent choice for teen-aged readers.
A book about colours, friendship and fun by the two award winning artists Nick Sharratt and Sue Heap , each illustrating alternate pages in his own distinctive style. The simple Arabic text is a lively translation of ‘Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly’, its message speaking to the youngest of readers in the language of colours about how you can have a strong friendship and still be yourself. It is the story of two friends who have different tastes of all sorts of things – from Apples to Aliens – in a magic mix of colours and combinations. But there is this one thing that they both like.
عزيزة وغلام القمر (Aziza wa Ghulam al Qamar / Elizah and the Moonchild – Arabic edition)
The Moonchild is tired of seeing only white so he pops down to Earth in search of color. Disappointed to find a grey shadowy place, he meets Eliza who tells him that when the Sun rises, the Earth will shine with brilliant colors. Together they watch the sun rise while Eliza paints everything they see. When it’s time for the Moonchild to go back, Eliza has a surprise for him.
مهما كان (Mahma Kan / No Matter What – Arabic edition)
Feeling grouchy and uncertain, a little fox asks his mother if she will love him no matter what happens. What if I’m a scary bear or a big green bug, he asks? The mother reassures him that she will always love him and that her love for him is greater than everything else. “Love, like starlight, never dies.”
With simple rhymes and bold illustrations of this international bestseller, award- winning Debbi Gliori explores the unconditional love of a parent while dealing with the anxieties and insecurities that children sometimes feel.
الغرفول (Al Gharfoul / The Gruffalo – Arabic edition)
A rhyming tale about a cunning mouse. When a series of predators invite the mouse for dinner (and who will be served for dinner?) the mouse pretends he is on his way to meet the big scary Gruffalo. Hearing the mouse describe the monster, the animals run for their lives until the mouse finds himself face to face with … the Gruffalo!
التمساح الأناني (Al Timsah Al Anani / The Selfish Crocodile – Arabic and dual-language editions)
What do you do when a big angry crocodile tells you to stay away from his river? You stay well away! All the animals in the forest are frightened of the cranky crocodile and dare not go anywhere near him or the river until one day the whole forest is woken up by the sound of loud groaning. The moans were coming from the crocodile who was in a great deal of pain! While the animals stand and watch in fear, it was the tiny mouse who finds a clever solution that makes everyone happy again.
Available in Arabic and as an Arabic/English bilingual edition.
الإنتصار على أبى دريا (Al Intissar ala Abu Derya / Victory over Abu Derya)
When Rashid’s grandmother has a dream in which her grandson’s hands are filled with pearls, the villagers are determined to reverse their fortune. But Abu Derya is ready once again to unleash his forces including poisonous jellyfish and a giant whale. Who will be victorious?
Available in both Arabic and English editions.
حينما كان للشوارع أسماء Where the Streets Had a Name – Arabic edition
When 13-year-old Hayaat’s grandmother falls gravely ill, she knows that there’s only one thing to do. She vows to bring back a handful of soil from Setti Zeinab’s ancestral home in occupied Jerusalem, where her grandmother yearns to return to. Taking along her friend Samy, a daredevil troublemaker who dreams of playing football in Italy, they leave their homes in Bethlehem pretending they are going to school. It is the most dangerous and eventful journey of their lives. They must cross the Wall that divides the land with its watchtowers, checkpoints, barbwire and heavy iron gate.
Suggestions from Balsam Books, the first children’s bookstore in Cairo: