Etisalat Award Only One Day Away! Shortlistees أفتش عن هواية and فرحانة وسر جمالها

It’s almost prize time (tomorrow, October 26!) and thus far I’ve only written about one of the five shortlisted books.

Of course, they haven’t been easy to get hold of. I do have a copy of أفتش عن هواية (from Al-Balsam Books, thank you), but Rania Hussein Amin’s فرحانة وسر جمالها has been sold out or unavailable, and the other two contestants—تعال ألعب معي and أحلام ورقة اصدارhave been similarly hard to find.

This is a bit of an irritant to me: If I can find Skippy peanut butter and South American bananas—from a pair of distant continents! when we have better peanut butter and bananas in Egypt!—I should be able to get children’s books from a couple countries over. And, well, and Farhana and Fizo books should be sold at every street corner in Cairo.

Anyhow! I imagine that any Egyptian reader is already familiar with Farhana, that oval-nosed, scrappy, wild-haired girl who likes to play soccer, read books, and occasionally cause trouble. My boys like Farhana, and they like spending time with her. While I haven’t read فرحانة وسر جمالها, I can say that Farhana is a particular bed-time and book-store request, and that they appreciate her sometimes red-faced mother and the fact that Farhana isn’t perfect and doesn’t always make the right decision, at least the first time.

As for أفتش عن هواية, it begins in a way that is probably familiar-sounding to many children, in the Arabic-reading world and beyond:

أنت تكثرين من مشاهدة التلفزيون و اللعب على الكمبيوتر. فتش عن هواية جديدة. هذا ما كانت تقولى أمي…دائما.

(I couldn’t get the quotes to come out right, so I bolded her mother’s first statement. Anyhow.)

Our wide-eyed heroine does try to find a hobby. Her parents get up at the crack of dawn and go jogging. Maybe that could be her hobby? (For obvious reasons, no, no, and who are these parents?) Her grandmother bakes delicious food, and maybe cooking could be her hobby? (But the fire is dangerous.) Her grandmother also knits, (but knitting is hard for small hands.) Her grandfather gardens (and oh, isn’t mud fun!) Her uncle makes beautiful music (but hers isn’t quite so beautiful.)

Her aunt draws…her cousin does karate…another cousin plays basketball…yet another cousin does ballet. Some of these she enjoys, and some—not as much. In the end, she finds she has several new ways to spend her time, including the best discovery of all:

أضافة إلا رقص البالية و كرة السلة، يمكنني مشاهدة البرامج تناسبني على التلفزيون و اللاعب على الكمبيوتر. المودة التي تحددها لي أمي. يمكنني أيضا أن أستمتع بقرأه القصص  الجميلة . كم أحب قراءه و سماع القصص ! أنها مسلية جدا…

أصبح عندي عدة هوايات

This is a fairly simple journey of self-discovery; what I find most enjoyable is the very knowing child’s tone:” هذا ما كانت تقولى أمي…دائما” and the warm and engaging pictures. Little additional details like the funny family tree on the back, and the cat mimicking the girl at every turn, also are an added delight for children—and discerning adults.


What: أفتش عن هواية

By whom: Written by سمر براج and illustrated by لينا مرهج.

For whom: Slightly older picture-book set, 4-8. Those who can imagine having a “hobby,” or who have older brothers and sisters who do.

Where: From Asala publishing in Beirut.

Why: Because children wonder about these things! And this is a book that might spark some creative hobbying ideas (more than TV and computer games) in its readers without having a heavy, soul-ladening moral.

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