أنا لونا and Avoiding the Gender Imbalance in Arabic Children’s Lit

The other day, I was having coffee at Kotob Khan with an Arabic-English translator. He suggested that his daughter enjoys the أنا لونا books published by Dar Elias.

Since the boys and I weren’t familiar with this series, a store employee helped us dig them out of the stacks and I sat with several of the titles in my lap. But as we sat there, the translator looked at them again and said, “Well, maybe they’re better for a girl.”

There is a commonly held believe that “boys will only read books about boys, but girls will read books about either.” Indeed, a recent study found a “huge” gender imbalance in children’s literature. English-language children’s books are apparently dominated by male characters.

I don’t think this is true of the new wave of Arabic-language children’s books from publishers like Dar Elias, Kalimat, Shorouk, Al-Salwa, Asala, and Al-Balsam, almost all of which are run by women. Yes, we have our Fizos and Felfels, but we also have Farhana, Yasmina, Khokha, Jood, Faten, and many more center-stage female characters.

I also don’t beleive that “boys will only read books about boys,” so I bought all of the أنا لونا books in the store. And yes, both of the older boys enjoyed them (it’s hard to say about the two-month-old’s reaction). When we finished أنا لونا و لا أخاف شيئا, the three-year-old gave it his biggest compliment: “Read it again.”

Surely, at some point, Arabic children’s literature will become a little more market-focused. But I hope girls will keep the place they’ve claimed on center stage.

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2 Responses to أنا لونا and Avoiding the Gender Imbalance in Arabic Children’s Lit

  1. Jessamy says:

    This is a bit off-topic, but just in case you didn’t catch them, I wanted to share these two posts in the New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/publishers-as-partners-in-literacy/ & http://community.nytimes.com/comments/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/16/a-book-in-every-home-and-then-some/?sort=oldest&offset=2 After I recovered ever-so-slightly from reading that 42% of American children grow up “in families that lack the income to cover basic needs like rent, child care, food and transportation,” which is much worse than I realized, I started wondering whether this model might, someday, have any value for the children’s-book-mission in Egypt & other Arab countries…. Any thoughts?

    • mlynxqualey says:

      I read about the First Book Marketplace (which reminded me, in some ways, of Suzanne Mubarak’s largely failed “reading for all”).

      Problems: *there are affordable books, like the Fizos and Farhanas, but distribution is poor outside the affluent neighborhoods (and even within some of the affluent neighborhoods). So we need to fix the distribution problem. Somehow.

      *LIBRARIES. I realize that Egypt has other problems on the front burner right now, but somehow we need to band together and start little community libraries. Even like the one author Khaled al-Berry said they had under the staircase in his building while growing up in Assiut.

      *Someone told me yesterday that there were metro hawkers selling children’s coloring books. The metro would be a great place to sell small, inexpensive children’s books…or Mickeys…or something.

      *The “culture corner” book fair is a nice initiative because they have used books for 1-2LE. Even street kids managed to pick up some comics.

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