Cairo Bookstore Visit: The Children’s Section of Alef (Merghany)

We made our first visit to the Merghany Alef yesterday evening (open since summer 2009), and of course the first thing anyone would notice is that it’s lovely, well-designed, and spacious. It was a pleasure to pass time inside.

I would’ve liked to explore the grown-up books, but we were on a mission to examine every nook and cranny of the children’s area.

The children’s section is a room down on the right, with a few “teen” novels (both YA and middle-grade) as well as a few display items on shelves just outside the room.

Right inside, a display table features all of the فيزو books—I immediately picked up one of each for an upcoming birthday gift (at 5LE each, I find them irresistible, like small, brightly wrapped chocolates)—and of course having all the Fizos on display was a point in Alef’s favor. They also had the leveled readers in the Dar el Shorouk series “خطوة خطوة,” and—while I am not crazy about leveled readers, preferring a focus on the best in children’s lit—I do think they are useful for assessing kids’ reading skills, particularly if they are well-illustrated and written. I picked one up.

Shorouk titles were well-represented (although I didn’t see the عالم سمسم
titles, which are always a delight to my two-year-old, particularly the ones with مفتش فلفل
). They also had a barrage of Book House and Nahdet Masr, which tend to be less expensive paperbacks, often not that well-crafted. I saw for the first time that Berenstein Bears titles have been translated into Arabic, but I don’t like them in English, so I don’t suppose I’d much like them in Arabic, either.

I found several good-quality Al-Balsam books (the Eric Carle translations) and picked up الدودة الشديدة الجوع, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. But I couldn’t find any Kalimat books, nor any from Bloomsbury-Qatar. And none from the fine publishers in Lebanon, such as Dar Onboz. (I also don’t understand why most of the big bookstores don’t carry comics, such as ميكي and the 99.)

On the English side, it was also a little harum-scarum (none of the uber-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, although I was just as happy not to see them). They had several nice Puffin Classics, and we picked up an Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, for the family to read aloud together. We also got one of my former student Hagar Abada’s Boxa books.

It was a good-sized room, with some sturdy wooden puzzles and lovely children’s art hanging near the window and a soft mat on the floor. With a little pruning and a greater variety of publishers represented, it has excellent possibilities.

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