My list might be different for children’s books in English or grown-up books in any language. (Indeed, I’ve not yet been upstairs at Al-Balsam books, where they keep the foreign titles. And they certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for grown-up books, as they don’t stock them.)
Now and again, sure, we do buy English-language books in Cairo. Bernadette Simpson’s An ABC Escapade through Egypt, for instance. Or those little Sunflower books featuring the adventures of Abdu and family. The odd Oliver Twist.
But mostly, when I go to a bookstore in Cairo, it’s to seek out the best Arabic books.
Anyhow, my list:
Hands down, hands tied behind its back, or “look ma, no hands”: This is the best place to buy Arabic children’s books in Cairo. Instead of marginalizing the Arabic children’s books on a single shelf, they are front and center—the entire first floor of the shop. And these books are not just from a few Egyptian publishing houses, but also from Lebanon and I’m sure elsewhere. (I need a full half-day to really explore the store.)
It’s quite a trek for us, over to the Giza side by the Sixth of October bridge, but well worth it. As we left, my older son told me that “we don’t have enough money for all the books I wanted to get.” (Probably true.)
My favorite is the store on Shera3 Baghdad, but there’s perhaps no good reason for that. Here, you can find many of the Sherouk titles you can’t find elsewhere, and it’s definitely worth your time to dig through the racks. They also host children’s book events and readings.
Lots of children’s titles here, and at excellent prices.
But make sure you go to a bigger one like Zamalek or Heliopolis; not the new Ma’adi store, for instance.
4. Kotob Khan
This might be tied with Diwan, except there’s little space/no place for kids to sit and look at the books. Good titles from a variety of publishers.
They have a lovely start—a gorgeous location on Shera3 Merghany, and some great book events–but right now they’ve mainly got Nahdet Masr (translations) and Shorouk titles, as well as a handful from Balsam. I appreciate that they have such a nice display for the Fizo books, of course. And there staff has always been very responsive to anything I wanted to order.
Places that will surprise you (in a good way):
Adam Bookshop (you can find a list of Arabic children’s books on their website, with an emphasis on books in translation. Perhaps not the widest selection, but some titles in translation you may not find elsewhere. They also have a nice English-language section, if memory serves, as well as a little corner where younger ones can play. )
Bookspot–I thought this story was all English-language titles (maybe it used to be?), but these days they also have some Arabic books, such as new Bloomsbury-Qatar and Kalimat titles. Also, if you’re going to find affordable English-language children’s books anywhere, it’ll be here.
Places that will surprise you (in a not-good way):
Books & Books, in Ma’adi. Their Arabic section is tiny and dusty and sad. It is outperformed even by their selection of books in…Spanish.
Samir & Ali. I don’t know why my husband continues to bring home titles he picked up here. They’re cheap, yes. And…they’re cheap.
Other stores that at least carry some children’s books, but I haven’t visited, so can’t rank them (list swiped from Al-Balsam Publishing):
- Planet Books Bookstores مكتبات بلانيت بوكس
- Egyptian American مكتبات ايجيبشان أمريكان
- Omega أوميجا
- Al Ahram Bookstores مكتبات الأهرام
- Afaq Bookshop, Kasr Al Aini St. مكتبة آفاق، القصر العينى
- Town House Gallery, Downtown مكتبة تاون هاوس، وسط البلد
- Sanabel Bookshop, Downtown مكتبة سنابل، وسط البلد
- Al Balad Bookstore, Downtown مكتبة البلد، وسط البلد
- Fair Trade Egypt, Zamalek فاير تريد مصر، الزمالك
- Opera Bookstore, 6th of October City مكتبة أوبرا، مدينة 6 أكتوبر
- Ain Bookstore, 6th of October City مكتبة عبن، مدينة 6 أكتوبر
- Books and Beans, Mansoura بوكس أند بينس بالمنصورة
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria مكتبة الأسكندرية
- Maarouf Bookshop, San Stefano Mall, Alexandria مكتبة معروف، سان ستيفانو مال، الأسكندرية
- Borsit Al Kotob, 25 Sherif St., Downtown – مكتبة بورصة الكتب، 25 شارع شريف، وسط البلد
I will try to gather intelligence about the best places to buy children’s books in other cities around the region. But please, if you have information, do share!