Scholastic, Imperialism, Big Red Dogs, and Arabic-Reading Children

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.

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6 Responses to Scholastic, Imperialism, Big Red Dogs, and Arabic-Reading Children

  1. bibi says:

    no, i think they deserve a good trashing, if only for considering heidi a book from america. for the record, i had a first edition + a very early translation when i was growing up, and heidi’s hair was jet black. for your amusement only, directly from ebay:

  2. mlynxqualey says:

    Only $4.75!

  3. bibi says:

    and an oriental-looking girl on the cover! (i’ve never heard of scholastic. or clifford. we had this one: he is czech and so popular he has his own stamp, which is news to me. i loved the cartoons as a child.)

  4. Bodour says:

    In all fairness, I think scholastic has a point. Some Arab parents are more open minded than others. As a publisher of children’s books, I get a lot of comments from parents about what is culturally appropriate and what is not. Bear in mind scholastic Arabic books are all translations, so they are aimed at an American market and have been slightly adapted to be sold in the Arab world. So culturally there will be many things that are different.
    Carol’s comments are in the right place, in my opinion. At least she is not trying to push a Western product in the Arab market. Scholastic books are doing very well in the Emirates and are being used in many schools. There is still a need for home grown books but generally I think they do a good job.

  5. mlynxqualey says:

    My problem is not really with Scholastic. I browsed through any number of their titles last night at Diwan and found them a) OK, b) too expensive, c) not as compelling as home-grown titles.

    My problem is with the LA Times writer who constructed the piece along the same old “look at these craaaaaaaaazy (stupid, uncritical, unthinking) Arabs!” lines as any other article. Don’t kids get a pass?

    But it did make me think that I prefer home-grown titles because they can respond to the individual realities of each nation/culture rather than trying to worry about the sensibilities of people across a broad and varied region.

  6. Bernadette says:

    I wondered about that birthday comment, too….

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