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#SeekingAPublisher: Arabic children’s book recommendations 2022

Next week is Bologna Children’s Book Fair, with Sharjah as the guest of honor. To help publishers navigate what’s out there for children and young adults in Arabic, we’ve collaborated with World Kid Lit to share a few suggestions of Arabic books we think readers (of all ages) would love in English…

Picture books

Teta and Babcia: Kitchen Tales from Egypt, Poland, and Syria
Written by Miranda Beshara, illustrated by Heba Khalifa
Published by Dar al-Balsam, Cairo (2019)

Teta and Babcia is an intercultural coming-of-age memoir told through grandmothers’ recipes from Egypt, Syria, and Poland. Farah, 12 years old, lives in Paris, France, and is curious about her roots that extend across three other countries. Farah is lucky to have three grandmothers to help her on her quest: Teta Aida (her Egyptian great-grandmother), Babcia Monika (her Polish maternal grandmother), and Teta Afaf (her Syrian paternal grandmother). The amazing women walk with Farah down memory lane opening their hearts and kitchens and infusing their dishes with their delightful stories. The book is beautifully illustrated using collage combining family photos and drawings. It is suitable for middle grade readers to explore questions related to cultural diversity and mixed heritage. 

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The Nights of Shahr Zizi: A Tale within a Tale within a Tale
Written by Hadil Ghoneim, illustrated by Sahar Abdallah
Published by Dar al-Balsam, Cairo

The Nights of Shahr Zizi was Children’s Book of the Year in the 2020 Etisalat Awards. Divided over ten nights of storytelling, this new adaptation of the Arabian Nights updates the cluster of tales known as the Fisherman and the Jinni and brings it to present day children. The frame story is reimagined in a contemporary setting in which the three main characters are all children: Shahr Zizi, the clever girl who tells stories to her grumpy little neighbor, Amro Yar, and to her younger sister, Dina Zuzu. Readers are captivated by the cliffhanger that ends each night, and further teased by the enticing illustrations of some of the magicians, sultans, talking birds, and people who turn into fish that populate the book. It’s a bundle of interlinked stories that is characteristic of Arabic storytelling.

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Damascus: The Story of a City
Written & illustrated by Alaa Murtada
Published by Dar al-Balsam, Cairo, 2018

Damascus: The Story of a City explores the ancient and enduring history of the capital city of Syria, widely believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, with evidence of habitation dating back thousands of yearsThe book follows Kitkitkan as he explores the story of the great city of al-Sham, one of the names for Damascus. The illustrations in this book use the miniature technique, a form of book art popular in the medieval Middle East.

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Grandma Nafeesa
Written by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Maya Fidawi
Published by Salwa Books, Amman, Jordan (2016)

Grandma Nafeesa is a charming story about an unusual grandmother, by the much-loved and multi-award-winning duo Taghreed Najjar and Maya Fidawi. Majid’s parents are busy with work, so he goes to spend the day at his Grandma’s house. He’s delighted, because what could be more fun than a day at Grandma Nafeesa’s place? After all, she’s not your typical grandmother. She’s an artist and an active grandma, and Majid has to work hard to keep up with her!

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Middle Grade

Me, My Friend, and the Donkey
Written by Mahmoud Shukair
Published by Tamer Institute, Ramallah (2016)

Me, My Friend, and the Donkey is a humorous detective adventure, with elements of fantasy, set in and around Jerusalem. It tells the story of Mahmoud (the narrator) and Muhammad (his friend) as they try to find Muhammad’s stolen donkey. Inspired by detective novels and adventure movies, the pair assemble a group of friends to solve this mystery, some of them adopting code names. Along the way, the donkey appears to the pair in their dreams, talking and roaming about freely. They are also visited regularly by two mysterious girls who know everything about them, and give advice on the mission, but who no one else seems to see. They do—eventually—find the donkey, but the dreams, and visits from the girls, continue. Years later, Muhammad has moved to the US and has a happy and successful life. The pair still reminisce about donkeys whenever they meet, leading Mahmoud to decide that he will honour the donkey by writing its story.

Inspired by the true story of Shukair’s childhood friend, the novel is a welcome addition to the flourishing child detective genre. Weaving together Palestinian history, culture, and a healthy dose of humour, readers learn that about the challenges of perseverance and the importance of friendship when faced with adversity.

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Sindrani: Diver of the Deep
Written by Umama Lowati, illustrated by Cesar Samaniego
Published by Salwa Books, Amman, Jordan (2022)

Sindrani is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sindbad the Sailor, and in this swashbuckling voyage for young middle grade adventurers we explore the high seas and the treasures of the deep. Out in 2022, this is a brand new title by Omani author Umama Lowati, who has published several children’s books in Arabic.

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Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye
Written by Taghreed Najjar, illustrations by Ammar Khattab
Published by Salwa Books (2014)

When the discovery of an old family heirloom reveals a cryptic glimpse into his family’s past, 17-year-old Palestinian refugee Ziad must embark on a dangerous journey across the impenetrable border that divides him from the buried secrets of a past Palestine, a journey which may hold the key to his future. The everyday details of life for refugees in the West Bank are seamlessly woven together with an oral history of Palestine before the Nakba in this exciting adventure story from Taghreed Najjar, one of the leading writers of children’s and YA’s fiction in Arabic. It is a story that shines a light on the reality of Palestine, while also showing young readers that Palestinian children have many of the same worries and desires as children anywhere else. The charismatic lead Ziad and his resourceful younger sister Najwa will inspire and charm young readers and leave them deeply invested in this compelling tale of a perilous journey into a mysterious forgotten world.

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Dates and Masala
Written by Mohamed Zakaria Nabulsi
Published by Wow for Publishing and Educational Services, UAE, 2017

Dates and Masala was one of three novels shortlisted for the Young Adult category of the 2021 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature. The novel, aimed at readers aged 10 to 16, is a culinary travel coming-of-age set between Sharjah, UAE and Kochi, India, which includes twelve Emirati and Indian recipes at the end. Mohamed Nabulsi is a Jordanian author and disability-rights trainer who lives in Sharjah, UAE.

Young Adult

Cappuccino
Written by Fatima Sharafeddine
Published by Dar al-Saqi, Lebanon (2017)

The second YA novel by celebrated Lebanese author Fatima Sharafeddine, Cappuccino won the 2017 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature for best book in the YA category and, according to researcher Susanne Abou Ghaida, is a favorite of Lebanese teen readers, who see themselves in the book. Like Fatima’s middle-grade novel Ghady & Rawan (published in English translation), the novel is co-narrated — by the characters Anas and Lina — and their lives unfold, chapter by chapter, in their voices. At the center is a story of domestic abuse, resistance, friendship, and hope that will resonate with young readers around the world.

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Against the Tide
Written by Taghreed Najjar
Published by Salwa Books, Jordan (2013)

Against the Tide is inspired by the true story of a young Palestinian girl named Madelein Callab, who became Gaza’s first fisherwoman at the age of 15. When the course of her family’s life changes forever, 15-year-old Yusra is faced with a choice. Either she accepts her new life as it is, or she defies society’s expectations and does something no woman in Gaza has ever done before: support her family by becoming a fisherwoman. Notable for its strong female protagonist, complex characters and relationships, and rich details about life in Gaza, Against the Tide explores universal themes: feelings of being trapped by family restrictions, frustration with society’s expectations, and eagerness for greater responsibility. Yet Yusra’s circumstances are anything but ordinary, and the novel candidly addresses challenging realities of poverty, family stress, and losing a loved one. Shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Children’s Literature, and featured on the list of ‘10 Books by Arab Women Writers that Should Be Translated’, this title is not to be missed. The book has been translated to Italian as Contro corrente: Storia di una ragazza «che vale 100 figli maschi»; Italian translation by L. Mattar, published by Giunti Editore, 2018.

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Many thanks to the translators, authors, publishers and agents who helped us compile this list of recommended children’s and YA books. Thanks especially to the following for providing blurbs and sample translations: Marcia Lynx Qualey, Sawad Hussain, Anam Zafar, Taghreed Najjar, Joseph Devine, Elisabeth Jaquette, Hadil Ghoneim, and Miranda Beshara.

Music

Mophradat Launches ‘Affratta,’ An Album of Music for Kids


Mophradat has launched an album of children’s music called Mophradat Songs for Kids, vol. 1, Affratta,which was commissioned by Mophradat and produced as a result of one of its recent collective retreats. This collective retreat was part of the “Distinct Voices” project; you can read more about it at the Mophradat website.

Jumana Emil Abboud, artwork for Affratta


You can listen to the entire album on Apple, Spotify, Anghami, and other platforms. 

It features:


 
Kalbi Balady (My Baladi Dog)
Affratta (Shenanigans)
Girani (My Neighbors)
Beit Teta (Grandma’s House)
Al-Tennin (The Dragon)
Shahrour (Blackbird)
 
The songs were written by accomplished children’s-book authors Ahlam Bsharat, Hadil Ghoniem, and Yosra Sultan, composed and performed by Aalam Wassef, Aya Metwalli, Huda Asfour, Maurice Louca, Rehab Hazgui, and Sam Shalabi. The cover artwork was by Jumana Emil Abboud, and the cover design by Joud Toamah. 

Interviews

On Launching Liblib: A Children’s Publishing House for Arabic Dialects

By M Lynx Qualey

Late last month, the new Liblib publishing house made their first public appearance on Facebook, with organizers announcing it as “The newest children’s publishing house on the block for Spoken Arabic Dialects.”

The publishing house, which has been several years in the making, aims to be “a world-class children’s colloquial Arabic publishing house, instilling a love of reading by providing inspiring, inclusive, accessible and diverse stories for Arabic speaking children everywhere.”

The three founders are Nada Sabet, an entrepreneur, theatre director, and arts development expert; Mariam Ali-Puttergill, an editor, translator, writer, and educator; and Muhab Wahby, an aspiring board game designer and business intelligence analyst.

They will be launching their first slate of children’s board books on Kickstarter in early 2022. Until then, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @LibLibPublishing. Nada Sabet answered a few questions about the startup for ArabLit.

When did you decide not just that there needed to be a publisher bringing out a range of fun and attractive children’s books in colloquial Arabics, but that you three wanted to commit yourselves to doing it? 

Nada Sabet: I had decided in 2018 to set this up, and I had planned to start in 2020… but we know what happened then.

Mariam and Muhab joined this year. Although, to be honest, Muhab and I did start speaking about the project earlier, we were not sure how he would join or in what capacity until i moved to the UK. Muhab was struggling because of the lack of entertaining Egyptian material out there to try and introduce his children to Arabic and did so through a board game he had designed. At some point on a walk through Oxfordshire we decided to partner up, as it made sense, and the rest is history.

Mariam was a lot more spontaneous; when I asked her, she immediately responded “YES… I’ve always dreamed of doing that!”

So here we are, knee-deep already.

What resources (if any) are there for startup kid-lit publishers, especially those working in Arabic colloquials? What resources should there be, to foster more children’s publishing projects?

NS: There isn’t much in Arabic. The book fairs have a lot of resources for those willing and wanting to diligently go through seminars, master classes, and network. The publishing community has been very generous with me so far.

You have to know what you want and go for it… like anything else, really. Incorporating a company, finance, marketing, etc. All that exists online in multiple formats, and for free as well as paid.

There is a lot to be done in children’s publishing, especially in Arabic. The way it runs as an industry is not profitable, so we are also taking a big leap into looking at how to operate slightly differently from the industry norm in an attempt to tap into new markets and explore a less financially taxing system of operation, one that allows us more market reach and agility in production.

The name “Liblib” is just perfect. Do you remember how you came up with it? 

NS: Yes, we were all brainstorming and Muhab suggested it… It was simple, yet provided depth because of how descriptive and culturally relevant it was. Childish, in a sense.  It invokes that element of surprise, of getting to know that someone has the capacity to speak another language, or a kid with incredible speech abilities, or a delightful fluency in the way they speak. It’s playful, it’s about the spoken words rather than the written, and we all loved it.

You’re planning to start out by crowdfunding. Of all the possible startup funding options (applying to a foundation? getting a bank loan? finding a … rich sponsor?) why did crowdfunding turn out to be the best way to get off the ground? 

NS: We don’t know that it is, but it’s a great way to test the market, and that is what makes it a very attractive proposition for us to launch our presales. It should help us to gather our customer base’s perspectives; what (content)  and where (location) demand is. The issue with a lack of Arabic children’s literature in spoken/colloquial is truly everyone’s problem, and we want our customers to feel like they are providing solutions by being an integral part of solving the issue rather than a bank or sponsor.

It also helps us focus on online marketing, where most of our customers are, as well as to test the market with presales. It allows us to sell without breaking the bank. And it’s a great way to test the idea. If we can’t sell online, then commercially we are failing.

You have a fantastic mission statement — not only aiming to be world-class, inspiring, inclusive, accessible, and diverse, but also to get the books to children everywhere. Not literally of course, nobody gets books everywhere, but what is your distribution plan, and how will you get them to wide audiences in diaspora communities and where each colloquial is a majority language? 

NS: Our first distribution plan is online sales. This said, it’s not the best time for worldwide shipping! But we can in theory still ship globally (at varying costs). After that, we will be available in bookstores in countries where there is demand. But again, if we don’t make our kickstarter sales goals…we won’t have any books to send anywhere. So it’s very important that all the support we have found both online and offline so far translates into sales, in numbers that allow us to print. So in essence we are asking for backing now so that there is a later.

Seems very sensible to start off with a miniature library of board books for ages 0-3. Do you have a plan, after that, for moving into picture books for 3-6, chapter books for 6-8, perhaps some books that bridge into fos7a?

NS: Yes, our plan is to expand first to story books for younger children, followed by chapter books and eventually even tween/YA fiction – in as many spoken dialects of Arabic as there is demand for! So we’re starting with Egyptian boardbooks; once that is successful, we move into Egyptian storybooks and Iraqi boardbooks and so on.

This will also allow us to standardize the dialects as well as plan for transition books and games to allow our readers to transfer their reading skills to fos7a (though we also expect that will be a natural consequence of fostering a love of reading in the languages children actually speak, or hear spoken). 

What are the distribution challenges and opportunities particular to publishing colloquial Arabic children’s literature? Do you imagine yourselves traveling to book fairs? I suppose you wouldn’t expect support from schools, for instance?

NS: We hope to make it to all the book fairs. I must say, we were lucky to attend online this year and last, the three biggest book fairs. Hopefully next year, we can show up in person to many with a more diverse library of our own content.

We have a little plan for schools, but I’ll keep that for the right moment to share.

How do you see colloquial books as part of the overall landscape of Arabic children’s books? 

NS: We believe if stories and books reflect how people actually speak around them, they would be a lot more interested in reading, in books, in learning Arabic – and eventually in fus7a too.

It’s an obvious stepping stone for children to learn the language before truly getting into formal education in fus7a, especially with how reading is taught phonetically in most countries now. Regardless, children first and foremost need to be interested in the content itself. It has to be relevant, fun and attractive. Especially at that young age. It feels like a really good time to test this theory practically, especially now that everyone is reclaiming 3ammiya on social media. Think, for instance, of the case of Luxembourgish.

Honestly, we just hope it brings children a lot of joy and helps them love reading in Arabic and to own the language.

Who knows, maybe they’ll even learn a new dialect or two in the process.

Find more at facebook.com/liblibpublishing.

Chapter Books · Illustrators · Interviews · Middle Grade · Picture Books · Young Adult

The Book Conversation: Hend Saeed interviews Arabic kid lit authors and illustrators

Literary consultant Hend Saeed introduces Hiwar al-Kutub/The Book Conversation, her growing series of recorded video interviews with Arabic children’s and YA authors…

By Hend Saeed

Last year, I started my book conversation program via Zoom, aiming to shed light on what’s new in Arabic literature, in both adult and children’s books. I have interviewed several writers so far who, without intention, are all women. We’ve also shared an introduction for a special new competition created by Intelaq Mohammed Ali.

The links to the interviews on YouTube can be found below, some in Arabic and some in English.

Sonia Nimr                                                     

Sonia Nimr (سونيا نمر) is a Palestinian Children’s and Young Adult author, storyteller and academic. Her books are inspired by Palestinain folklore. She won the 2014 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature, in the Young Adult category, for her book Wondrous Journey in Strange Lands (translated into English by Marcia Lynx Qualey, published by Interlink).

In our interview, Sonia talked about her new YA book طائر الرعد – الجزء الثاني (Thunderbird 2), the second book of her Thunderbird trilogy.

The first book of the trilogy was shortlisted for the 2017 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in the Young Adult category and has been translated into English by Marcia Lynx Qualey. The third book is not yet published. More about Thunderbird on ArabLit.

Watch the full interview – in Arabic: 

Hend Saeed interviews Palestinian author Sonia Nimr (in Arabic)

Naseeba Alozaibi                                          

Naseeba Alozaibi (نسيبة العوزيبي) is an Emirati children’s and YA writer. Her book My Mother is a Gorilla and my Father is an Elephant won the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2017 and her book Frown (تكشيرة) was shortlisted for the Etisalat Children’s Book of the Year (CBOY) category in 2013. 

Naseeba Alozaibi talked about her new book The Superhero (البطل الخارق). It is about a hero who loses his superhero powers and abilities, and who tries to find a cure, but when no doctor in the city is able to cure him, he decides to leave the city and the people who love him. What will happen to him and will he get his superhero power back?

Watch the full interview – in Arabic:

Hend Saeed interviews Emirati author Naseeba Alozaibi

Taghreed Najjar

Taghreed Najjar (تغريد النجار) is a Palestinian-Jordanian Children’s and YA author and founder of Al Salwa Books. She has written over 50 children and young adult books, some of which have been translated into different languages including English. She has been awarded the Etisalat Award for Arabic children’s literature twice and has been shortlisted for the prize three times.

Taghreed Najjar talked about several books about Palestine that are published by Al Salwa Books:

  • The Memory Factory (مصنع الذكريات) by Ahlam Bsharat. There was an interview with Ahlam Bsharat about The Memory Factory at ArabLit.
  • Sitt al-Kul (ست الكل) by Taghreed Najjar. Excerpt published by ArabLit, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
  • Mystery of the Falcon Eye (لغز عين الصقر) by Taghreed Najjar, which was shortlisted for the Etisalat Award for Children’s Literature in 2014. There’s a sample from the book here on ArabKidLitNow, translated by Joseph Devine
  • Whose Doll is This? (لمن هذه الدميةby Taghreed Najjar. This novel won the Etisalat Award, Young Adult Category, in 2019. More about the book at ArabLit

Watch the full interview – in Arabic:

Hend Saeed interviews Palestinian-Jordanian author and publisher Taghreed Najjar

Samar Mahfouz Barraj                

Samar Mahfouz Barraj (سمر محفوظ براج) is a Lebanese children’s writer. She has published around 60 children’s books. Her book When My Friend Got Sick won the second prize for Children’s Book Award at the Beirut International Book Fair 2011, and the Arab Thought Foundation’s Kitabi Award in 2013. It was also shortlisted for the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2011.

Samar Barraj talked about her books The young Chef (الطباخ الصغير), The Fat Story (قصة دهون)  and the new books in the Waseem series.

The Fat Story, shortlisted for the Al Multaqa Prize for Arabic children’s book publishers in 2021. Miss Fat and her friends enjoy their lives inside the body of a person who doesn’t move and loves eating. But when he starts following a good diet and exercise, life changes for them. What happens to Miss Fat and her friends?

The Young Chef is about a young boy who loves cooking and helps his mother in the kitchen.

The full interview – in Arabic:

Interview with Lebanese children’s book author Samar Mahfouz Barraj

Sahar Shehade                                              

Sahar Shehade (سحر شحادي) is a Lebanese children’s writer and storyteller. She has her own YouTube channel for children’s stories and has participated in a number of storytelling festivals.

Sahar talked about her new book I Can’t Breathe (أكاد أختنق), which won Al Multaqa Prize for Children Book Publishers in 2021. Wissam is a hyperactive child who can’t sit still. After his younger brother was injured while they were playing, his father tells him he has to sit still for twenty minutes, which is very difficult for him to do, but when he finds the encyclopedia on the bookshelf and starts reading, he loses himself in the book.

Watch the interview – in Arabic:

Interview with Lebanese children’s book author Sahar Shehade

Sahar Naja Mahfouz                                      

Sahar Naja Mahfouz (سحر نجا محفوظ) is a Lebanese children’s writer based in UAE. She has written a number of children’s books and stories for the TV series Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic version of Sesame Street. 

Sahar talked about her new self-published book My Mother’s Scent (عطر أمي). This is the story of a young girl who misses her mother’s special scent at school but then finds it on her scarf. Sahar also talked about her journey in self-publishing.

The interview – in Arabic:

Interview with UAE-based Lebanese children’s book author Sahar Naja Mahfouz

Intelaq Mohammed Ali                                           

Intelaq Mohammed Ali (انتلاق محمد علي) is an Iraqi children’s writer and illustrator, and founder of the OUKA Award for Children’s Book Illustrators. She has won a number of international prizes for her illustration work and was a judge in the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature in 2017. She’s on Instagram here.

Intelaq talked about the OUKA Award for illustration. Intelaq wanted to create a book that combines all the best Arab book illustrators, so she set up a competition in which new and experienced illustrators can participate with their published and unpublished work.

You can find out more about the competition here (in Arabic). In the interview, Intelaq talks about the competition and its aims.

Hend Saeed interviews Iraqi children’s book author and illustrator Intelaq Mohammed Ali

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Hend Saeed is an Arabic literature & cultural consultant, and literary translator. She has published articles, reviews and translations in a number of publications in Arabic and English, and published a collection of short stories. She is curator and presenter of the YouTube series Hiwar al-Kutub/Book Conversation.

Picture Books

Sabir’s Paradise: Author Amal Alaboud introduces her Arabic-English bilingual picture book

In a shared blog post with World Kid Lit, today we welcome Saudi children’s book author Dr. Amal Alaboud to tell us about her debut picture book, Sabir’s Paradise/جنة صابر, published as a bilingual edition in Arabic and English.

Sabir’s Paradise, by Dr. Amal Alaboud, illustrated by Nour Altouba (Nour Publishing)

WKL: Congratulations on the publication of Sabir’s Paradise. What was the inspiration for the book and did you develop the story in Arabic or in English first?

Dr. Amal Alaboud: I got the idea for ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ on a snowy day in Upstate New York, back in 2016. I was headed to the Writing for Children class instructed by the amazing Liz Rosenberg. As I pushed forwards along the street and through the icy blizzard, I had an idea! A fantasy folk tale. Something for children that related to my homeland, Saudi Arabia, and so, the snowstorm became a desert storm and – as if by magic, little Sabir the camel was born.

Time passed and I all but forgot about my story idea. However, whilst rummaging through my old manuscripts during lockdown 2020, I came across the draft for ‘Sabir’s Paradise’. As I leafed through the pages it sparked something from within, and I knew that I had to share Sabir’s adventures with the world.

Liz had worked with me, giving me invaluable written feedback. I worked on developing the writing and it wasn’t long before I realized that this story had the perfect dynamic to be translated into a bilingual book. I translated it into Arabic myself and sent it to Nour Publishing house. They welcomed ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ with open arms and in December my book hit the shelves. The book featured at the acclaimed International Sharjah Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates. 

WKL: What’s the story about? What themes might come up when parents are reading the story with their children? And is there a reason you chose the name Sabir for the main character?

AA: This cautionary tale about a little camel who gets lost in the desert appeals to children by igniting their imagination and thirst for adventure. Creating a link between cultures and languages that all children will love.

I want ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ to serve as a beacon of hope during stormy, dark days. Sabir, meaning ‘patience’ in Arabic, shows that if you stay calm and collected, you will reach your paradise. Hammam and Tammam, Sabir’s magical desert guides, show that you are never alone. That if you have a resolute attitude and act maturely in difficult circumstances, all will be well.

It is my hope that children will take on these values, and my book will act as a reassurance to both parent and child that they have the strength to achieve anything they put their mind to, be it a fairytale adventure or learning a new language.

WKL: You wrote the story in the US and it’s published and distributed from UAE. Who do you envisage as the audience for this bilingual picture book? And why did you choose a bilingual format for that audience?

The audience consists of various groups. Some are native English speakers who want to learn Arabic and explore Arabic cultural themes, like the desert guards and camels. There are also native Arabic speakers who would like to teach their kids English. The story is international; it appeals to people worldwide. 

I made the story bilingual because I want as many readers as possible to enjoy reading it. There are very few publishing houses that publish bilingual children’s books in the Middle East, even though this idea is relatively popular nowadays. 

WKL: Some parents won’t be familiar with reading a book that contains two languages, in this case Arabic and English side by side. How might parents and children approach reading the book with their children? How can picture books be part of a bilingual household? 

The style of my book unfolds as a way for both parents (or teachers) and children to enjoy the story together as well as being used as a learning tool. The book’s beautiful illustrations walk hand in hand with the words. Encouraging children to naturally tell the story in whatever language they choose.

Parents can also use the illustrations to question their child about the story. Each illustration is related to the words on the page. This builds language learning and is also a fun way to make sure children have a comprehensive understanding of the story.

The words within ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ are carefully chosen for language learners. I used simple emotions and descriptions to appeal to young minds. The English text is always to the left of the book, whilst the Arabic is on the right. This allows parents of either language to teach their child without having to change books or turn to the back like some other bilingual stories.

WKL: Where there any particular challenges in translating the text into Arabic or with editing the English? 

There were no challenges in translating the text into Arabic, as it’s my native language. However, when the first edition was printed, some typos were unnoticed previously. Unfortunately, because I don’t live in the UAE, where the story was published, I couldn’t travel there. There were travel restrictions at the time, so I couldn’t see the book’s sample before it was officially published! But these typos are corrected in the second edition, which will be released in June 2021.

WKL: How did you come to work with the illustrator? 

The publisher sent me illustration samples drawn by different illustrators. I chose the style of the illustration that was creative and went best with my story. Then, the publisher set up a WhatsApp group and introduced us. The illustrator, Nour Altouba, lives in Germany, so this was the easiest way to communicate clearly and effectively. He sent a sketch of all the book’s illustrations, then I provided some details. For example, we discussed types of desert plants and how I imagined Hammam and Tammam would look. The final illustrations were vibrant and joyful.

WKL: Do you have plans for any more children’s books, as author or translator? 

Of course! Writing and translating children’s books is my passion, and I look forward to many future projects.

Thank you for sharing Sabir’s Paradise with us!

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Where you can buy Sabir’s Paradise

(and other Arabic children’s books!)

More about Nour Publishing

Nour Publishing is a specialist children’s publisher based in Sharjah, UAE. The founder and owner is Nour Arab, a Palestinian Canadian writer. Arab is an author of more than 20 bilingual children books in both Arabic and English. The press has published books by Emirati authors Fatima Al-aleeli, Hiba Al-tuniji, Fatima Al-Mazrouie, Safia Al-Shehi, Kuwaiti author Ghofran Al-Jaber, Dr. Fadia Daas and Faeda Sabha from Jordan, Saudi author Dr. Amal Alaboud, Dubai-based American author-illustrator, Ellie Szymanska, Lebanese author Maya Taher, Nour Arab, and a cookery book by Emirati chef Badya Khairedeen

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Dr. Amal Alaboud

Dr. Amal Alaboud is an assistant professor of Translation Studies at Taif University. She’s a children’s stories writer and translator. Her works have been translated into Spanish, French and Chinese. 

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