Parents Should Let Their Children Have a Wide Choice in (Arabic) Books

Reader Anna Z. recently noted over at Arabic Literature (in English) that there are “legions” of Arab teenage girls “who are nearly as obsessed with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books as their western counterparts.”

It’s possible that some parents—particularly the sort who, like this Kuwaiti doctor, believe reading is a “means to an end”—would rather their daughters be reading a scientific manual or English-language textbook, and not the translation of Twilight. But all research seems to indicate that any reading—not just the “useful stuff”—will help exercise children’s brains.

The NYTimes’ Tara Parker-Pope summarizes it this way:

At a bookstore recently, Dr. McGill-Franzen said she witnessed an exchange between some mothers encouraging their fifth- and sixth-grade daughters to read biographies of historical figures, when the girls wanted to select books about Hannah Montana, a character played by the pop star Miley Cyrus.

“If those books get them into reading, that has great repercussions for making them smarter,” Dr. McGill-Franzen said. “Teachers and middle-class parents undervalue kids’ preferences, but I think we need to give up being so uptight about children’s choices in books.”

I still believe it’s good to steer kids when choosing the language of their books. Of course, this means we need more “high interest” books (about pop culture, tarantulas, Transformers*, vampires, and so on) available in Arabic.

In his article, “Digital Killed the Biblio Crescent,” Justin Martin also advocates more colloquial, as well as a greater intersection of books and Blackberrys:

More early childhood literacy programs are needed in this part of the world in order to better establish reading as a routine exercise, as is authorship and translation of texts in colloquial dialects so that native Arabic speakers aren’t alienated from book-length arguments. Literacy programs in early childhood and beyond should emphasize leisurely book reading on Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads, and whatever comes next, and must make more children’s books available on these mobile reading devices.

*I admit bristling myself when my son wanted to select a “Transformers” book as his English-language selection at a recent book-store trip. After all, it’s basically a commercial for some toys. But he did read it avidly, so I am—as Dr. McGill-Franzen suggests—trying to give up being so uptight.

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2 Responses to Parents Should Let Their Children Have a Wide Choice in (Arabic) Books

  1. Nesrin Amin says:

    I tend to boast a lot about my 13-yo being an avid reader, but must confess that I’ve wished she would eventually steer away from her passion for supernatural and paranormal storylines (yes, it all started with Harry P. and then Twilight) to more “proper” fiction about “real life”. But I suppose that would put me in the same league as Dr Abdali, wanting her to read for a specific purpose that’s not really her own. Well, I’ll just continue secretly hoping she’ll make that step of her own accord one day. 🙂

    • Nesrin,

      I think, at age 13, I read utter trash: pop fiction, bad science fiction, goofy derivative mysteries, goodness knows what else. Then, by age 16, I had completely transformed into a literary snob.

      My parents were quite disturbed. 🙂

      I guess I don’t think it can be pushed, except by having a wide variety of books around the house and setting the example of reading widely and with enjoyment.

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