Walid Taher is one of the great, under-sung heroes of the new Arabic children’s literature.
He’s not un-sung, of course: He won Best Illustrator at the Suzanne Mubarak Competition for Children’s Literature (1999) for البطيخ. He won second prize in the same competition in 2001 for the very charming صاحبي الجديد. His book Tales of Thieves and Robbers (2002) received the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizon’s Award-Special Mention in 2003, and صاحبي الجديد was on the IBBY Honor List in 2004.
More importantly, his فيزو series gets high marks from Egyptian moms, including some very picky artists, writers, educators, and book-trade workers in my acquaintance.
While you could argue that the best Fizo book is شركة فيزو or فيزو يعرف…يعرف or maybe فيزو المحترم, in any case the books tap into an important sense of fun, irreverance, and a particularly Egyptian milieu. They make effective use of repetition (my two-year-old is oft heard quoting from random sections) and offer Egyptian children a chance to really connect with a character who has a life, and problems, not unlike their own.
So why do I call Taher undersung? Mostly, I suppose, because Arabic children’s literature does not have the same pride of place in the Arabic reader’s consciousness as does grown-up lit. (And yes, it should.) Of course, Taher doesn’t only do children’s books—he’s also a political cartoonist, and has put out a book of illustrations and notes called حبة هوا, a book fans have enthusiastically embraced.
But I say the singing should be louder! (Think of the chorusing we do for Eric Carle, for goodness sakes. Or Margaret Wise Brown.) Taher’s children’s books have been an important part of the revival of Arabic children’s literature in Egypt, and probably of the reported profitability of Shorouk Kids, which—at least in its Shera3 Baghdad store—has huge Fizo posters (and a big Fizo carpet) in its children’s room.
Walid Taher’s books should be available wherever children’s books are sold, although I have been disappointed in visits to Diwan (which lists Taher’s books as available on their website) and Alef (which has happily delivered them to me). The whole range of his work is not always available from Shorouk stores either. I suggest ordering them by email or phone, so as not to be dissapointed.
And a note to Shorouk bookstore managers: These should be impulse items at the counter! And please, always have several copies of حروفي الجميلة on hand; they make excellent new-baby gifts.