Walid Taher’s النقطة السوداء: Children’s Books That Are for Grown-ups, Too

It's a terrible photograph (my apologies to Shorouk and Walid) but I LOVE this drawing.

Recently, I have seen a few queries to Al-Balsam Bookstore and Shorouk Kids, wondering if a 20- or 50-year-old is “too old” for one of their books or events. A family friend who attended this month’s Fatima Sharefeddine reading perhaps wouldn’t have gone without the cover of our two sons. After all, what are grown-ups doing appreciating children’s lit? Doesn’t that make them…childish?

The great poet W. H. Auden addressed the matter quite succinctly when he said:

There are good books only for adults, which presuppose adult experience, but there are no good books only for children.

Auden was referring here to Lewis Carroll, whose books (Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass) are certainly enjoyable both for children and for adults. He is not, of course, suggesting that any good book is good for any age; you shouldn’t push your four-year-old to read chapter books (although apparently many parents do). And while children might enjoy Spot books at three, they probably won’t enjoy them at 13 (and I’m pretty sure that means W.H. Auden wouldn’t call Spot great literature).

It’s easiest to spot the chapter books that are good for both children and grown-ups: Wind in the Willows, for instance. But many picture books are delightful, too. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. The real Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne. And Walid Taher’s  النقطة السوداء.

A great book has layers, and Taher’s book can be enjoyed by the seven-year-old who takes النقطة السوداء to be, well, النقطة السوداء.

As for my grown-up self, I couldn’t help but delight in the dot as an allegory for السحابة السوداء. My husband, on other other hand, thought it could apply to Palestine, to democracy movements, to more.

The book begins with a strong hint to adult readers that things are about to go terribly wrong:

كل يوم..يلعب الأولاد كل الألعاب.. على كل أرضهم الواسعة الخضرة .. كرة قدم .. كرة سلة .. بالونات .. طائرات ورقية .. سباق … استغماية .. برطوس …نط الحبل .. و صيادين السمك.

No matter how many times I read through it, my heart clutches when we come to the moment it all changes, the page that is consumed with the black dot. If I saw it just as a black dot, it might not have as much meaning. But, since I associate it with all the frustrating, immense, impossible-seeming battles of my life, it also looks frustrating, immense, and impossible.

The additional layer gives the adult an additional pleasure when the black dot is finally vanquished.

و الآن كيف سنتصرف في الفتافيييييييت؟

Of course, Taher is smart in that all the characters here are children, and the boy who leads the way in conquering the dot (yay, Marwan!) is…a child. This in no way reduces the book’s pleasure for adults (after all, we were once children) although it’s doubtful kids could enjoy a book with grown-up winners (since they’ve never yet been grown-ups).

The drawings are beautiful, and funny, and the humor never undersells either the child or the grown-up doing the reading. One gets the feeling that Walid enjoyed himself while writing this book. And, as Nicolette March wrote in the Sunday Times:

Good children’s writers, then and now, entertain themselves as they write. It follows that other adults will be entertained too.

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