I bristled—literally, I think—at the opening images of this L.A. Times article about Scholastic’s inroads into Arabic kid lit.
You’d think a piece about Arabic kid lit would be positive. Children! Books! What can go wrong?
Unfortunately, the article opens with suspicious, censorious Arab grown-ups. They say: No books with pigs! No books with big red dogs! No books with girls and boys touching! No, no, no!
First, I think the Clifford books are insufferable in any language. But they turn out just as nice in Arabic as they do in English, and my boys like them (in Arabic; I won’t suffer them in English). They’re published by Dar el Shorouk here in Cairo (see above as evidence). Is Dar El Shorouk imperialist? Are they insensitive to the Arab world because they publish books with…unclean dogs?
I also don’t understand this: “Because Islam does not acknowledge the celebration of birthdays, ‘Ladybug’s Birthday’ was renamed ‘Ladybug’s Anniversary.'”
Celebrating is one thing—and, as you know, Egyptians with means tend to celebrate birthdays—but are there really a lot of Arab children who haven’t heard of…birthdays? For goodness sakes, they celebrate birthdays on 3alam Simsim, the Arabic version of Sesame Street. They celebrate birthdays in the cartoons. What’s the point of censoring them from books?
I give Chip Rosetti the benefit of the doubt for not knowing our children’s-lit greats—Rosetti probably spends less time around mothers than do I, and it’s all right that Waleed Taher’s name didn’t trip off his tongue. But a few paragraphs later, the article made my eyes roll so far back I almost fell out of my chair:
Already, this literary infusion has transformed some children in a poor, religious neighborhood on the West Bank into critical thinkers.
Oh, bless you, Scholastic! Before you entered our lives, my children were dullard nincompoops! (In fact, I have no idea where individual consumers might buy Arabic Scholastic titles, so my children will, sadly, have to remain dullard nincompoops….)
All right, I will not blame Scholastic for this article, nor will I over-judge their titles by their censorious procedures. Perhaps, if anything, it argues against a children’s literature of the “Arab world” vs. a literature of individual nations and cultures.