Last year Magrudy’s bookstores announced that the popularity of Arabic books was rising, and claimed that Arabic titles now accounted for “nearly 20 per cent” of its sales in the UAE. The flipside to that statement is, of course, that the vast majority of sales are of foreign-language titles. Reading in Arabic is not, it is fair to say, the region’s favourite pastime.
This imbalance is not isolated to the Emirates either. It blights the region – Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and the Maghreb – and it begins in childhood. Indeed, many Arabic-speaking parents want their children to learn to read in English or French rather than Arabic, believing that both these languages will open more doors for their offspring in later life.
Nevertheless, there are some signs of revival. This process began in 1996 when the Jordanian author Taghreed Najjar founded the Al Salwa Publishing House, a publisher of fun Arabic books established (in part) as a counterpoint to the rather earnest path Arabic children’s literature had embarked upon two decades previously – which may also help to explain why the sector fell into decline.
“Arabic children’s literature was very morally related [in the Seventies],” according to Najjar. “Books had to have a clear-cut moral. The illustrations were generic and a lot of time in black and white, unless they were translated books.”
Oh, and the online version seems to be missing the “recommendations” sidebar, which I believe is there in print?
From Samar Mahfouz Barraj: Walid Taher’s Sahbi el-Jedeed, for ages 3-8 (Dar el Shorouk); Fatima Sharafeddine’s Arnab Sayeed (Al Asala), for ages 2-6; Samah Idris’s Taht el-Sireer, Qusa el-Koosa, and El-Mooza, for ages 3-8 (Dar al-Adab); Zakareya Tamer’s Li Maza Saket el-Nahr? for ages 8+ (Dar al Hadaek).
From Taghreed Najjar: Samah Idris’s Taht el-Sireer, Qusa el-Koosa, and El-Kol Mashghoul (Dar al-Adab), Rania Zaghir’s Man Lahas Karn El Booza? (Al Khayyat al Saghir).
From Zeyna al Jabri: Halla Bint Khaled’s Abjadiyyat Tannah, for ages 3+ (Dar Jerboa), Nabiha Muheidly’s Isba’ Marmar, for ages 2+ (Dar al Hadaek), Fatima Sharafeddine’s Pijamati, for ages 6+ (Asala), Taghreed Najjar’s Fi Saffina Difda’, for ages 3-7 (Dar Al Salwa), and Nadine Touma’s Al Qamar Wal Werwar (Dar Onboz), 3+.