When I talked with publisher Balsam Saad at her bookstore’s first anniversary party, the conversation turned to one of the topics that interests me most: Arabic in the schools.
As a parent in Egypt, I am most keenly agitated by the shortcomings in Egyptian schools, although Balsam’s comments surely also apply to schools in other Arabic-speaking countries and beyond.
Balsam noted that schools have a critical role in developing children’s appreciation for Arabic language and literatures. “The school has the upper hand,” she said, because they can compel children to read and encourage good reading behaviors. Many of Egypt’s private schools require students to keep daily reading journals for foreign-language books.
“Then they become a reader for life in that language,” she said. The same could be done for Arabic.
“Even if it’s just Mickey, it doesn’t matter. Let them get hooked on reading Arabic.”
The teachers are also key. “The Arabic teachers need to really care about learning and teaching Arabic. I think it starts with the teachers” being passionate about what they do. “Like any other subject, why not?”
Balsam was very optimistic about the future of Arabic children’s literature in Egypt. And for teachers, librarians and administrators who want to get a better sense of what Arabic literature is available, she suggested:
“Please come for a visit. Very few…make that effort.”