Lately, I have been reading about multilingualism, mother-tongue education and linguistic imperialism and trying to formulate my thoughts about how we individuals might make Arabic a more valuable language in our homes, our communities, and beyond. I think there are a number of excellent efforts coming out of the Gulf: the Etisalat prize for Arabic children’s literature, the Million’s Poet contest, the IPAF (Arabic Booker), the Bloomsbury-Qatar foundation.
But—since I can’t change the world this morning—I thought I’d look a little more into what makes a good book for the youngest readers (0-3), and what can help get them on track toward loving books. EverythingMom.Com has a good resource that can easily be adopted for other languages. They say:
- For newborn babies/infants –Look for picture books with bright images, simple and sharp, contrasting visuals, repetitive phrases or words, familiar objects, mirrors. Find durable board or cloth books that withstand chewing and drool! Note on Arabic books for infants: the Eric Carle translations are good here on sharply contrasting visuals and repetition, particularly هل للكانغار أيضا أم؟.
- For older babies –Besides the above elements, look for interactive features such as pop-up pages, texture variations and buttons that provide audio-visual stimulation. Nursery rhymes, short sentences and simple plots work well.
Choose books that ask questions (فين السمكة؟) or provide other opportunities for interaction. Note on Arabic books for older babies: My two-year-old is very big on السمكة الملونة هربت, which allows him to hunt for a fish on every page—he also has started joyfully naming other items on the page: هنا زرافة! And he can read sections of it aloud, because he’s memorized it. I also think the Karen Katz flip-up books would translate really, really nicely into Arabic, and Kalimat has recently published a book with flaps and sliding pages titled من…إلى, although I haven’t seen it yet.
- For toddlers and kids in pre-school–Continue to read books from the first two categories. In addition, introduce books with concepts such as counting, people, places, foods, animals and other topics that interest them. Fill your child’s bookshelf with a mix of familiar and new books so he is neither too bored with the former nor too overwhelmed by the latter. Note on Arabic books for toddlers and pre-schoolers: Counting and concept books that the two-year-old likes include the Fizo board books, the Fizo alphabet book, and ألوان الدكان, full of colorful fruit. He is also beginning to enjoy story books, but they need to be relatively short, feature repetition, and lots of animals and children in the pictures never hurt.
Of course, choosing good books does matter, but what matters even more is being consistent. Read every day (or nearly every day) to your child. The article on EverythingMom.Com has more suggestions: get rid of distractions, engage your child in the book, vary your tone, let your baby lead, read with friends, and more.
Some people might feel ridiculous reading to a baby, but infancy is hardly too soon to inculcate a love of the written word, both Arabic (and, if you choose) other languages.