Chapter Books · Middle Grade · Picture Books · Young Adult

#TranslateThis: 10 Great Palestinian Books for Young Readers

By M Lynx Qualey

The twentieth-century renaissance in Arabic literature for young readers owes a lot to Palestine, starting with the pioneering children’s publishing house Dar El Fata El Arab, launched in Beirut in 1974 and animated, in part, by a politics of liberation that began with the youngest readers.

As Hassan Khan wrote in an essay-interview on the publishing house for Bidoun, the publishing house, which was “staffed by artists, designers, and writers devoted to bringing attention to the Palestinian cause,” “produced some of the most visually striking and progressive children’s books in the region.”

Prominent Palestinian novelists and short-story writer, such as Ghassan Kanafani and Mahmoud Shukair, also recognized the importance of writing radical books for children. Kanafani himself wrote two texts published by Dar El Fata El Arab: Atfal Ghassan Kanafani (Ghassan Kanafani’s Children) and al-Qindeel al-Sahir (The Watchful Lamp), both published posthumously.

Dar El Fata El Arab closed in 1993, before the current surge in creative attention to Arabic literature for young readers. Yet Palestinian artists, writers, publishers, and librarians continued to grow an innovative and loving literature for young people. The award-winning Tamer Institute, founded in 1989, has been an important hub for producing and distributing Palestinian literature for young readers.

As librarian Elisabet Risberg has noted on ArabLit, “the Tamer Institute’s efforts to promote reading have created a strong foundation for Palestinian children’s books.” She writes:

It was 2009 when Warshah Filastin lil-Kitab (The Palestine Writing Workshop) was founded. At first, it really was a single workshop. But from it arose the idea of founding a support organization for Palestinian writers and illustrators. Today’s Warshah is very much about creating possibilities for children’s-book creators to develop, and support the economic conditions for the creation of literature.

With such a wealth of Palestinian literature for young readers available in Arabic, it is disappointing to see so little in English translation. There are a few books that have become available in recent years: poet and children’s-book author Maya Abu Alhayyat’s The Blue Pool of Questions (ill. Hassan Manasrah) was translated by Hanan Awad and published by Penny Candy Books; a few of award-winning Palestinian-Jordanian author Taghreed Najjar’s picture books are in translation, although disappointingly none of her young-adult novels; Ahlam Bsharat’s YA novel Code Name: Butterfly was translated by Nancy Roberts and her Trees for the Absentees by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Sue Copeland; and Sonia Nimr’s thrilling Etisalat Prize-winning Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands is also available in translation.

But this barely scratches the surface of the fantastic works available in Arabic by Palestinian writers.

The books recommended below are not all books about Palestine, but they are all books by Palestinian authors. Any interested publishers can contact info@arablit.org. We will do our best to provide samples, put you in touch with rights-holders, and whatever else we can do to get these books into translation to English or other world languages.

PICTURE BOOKS

بولقش (Bulqash)

يارا بامية (Yara Bamieh)

This is a fabulous and fantastic story about Bulqash’s  visit to an island full of wild rabbits that takes place on a certain day each year — the day of the first spring flower. Since it happens each year, they all wait longingly for the day, just as a child might wait for Christmas. It’s a story about longing, about play, and about what a source of amazement life can be, in its aspects both mundane and unique. Yara Bamieh plays masterfully with words and pictures, and the fact that Bulqash won the Etisalat Award for Best Production is no surprise.

Recommender: Elisabet Risberg

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ذاكرة منصور (Mansour’s Memory)

محمد خالد و ديالا زادة (Mohamed Khaled and Diyala Zada)

Mansour has a unique ability to recall, but the memory police are after him, trying to confiscate his memories of the past. You can find a video from inside this book on the illustrator’s Facebook page and many enthusiastic reviews online.

Recommender: Miranda Beshara, Hadi Badi

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فكر بغيرك (Think of Others)

محمود درويش (Mahmoud Darwish)

WINNER of 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, illustrations category, this picture book brings together the moving and popular poem “Think of Others” by Mahmoud Darwish with charming illustrations by award-winning Egyptian-Canadian illustrator Sahar Abdallah.

Recommenders: ArabLidKitNow! collective and Miranda Beshara, Hadi Badi

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فلفول في بيت الغول (Filful in the Troll’s House )

مايا أبو الحيات واناستاسيا قرواني (Maya Abu Al-Hayyat and Anastasia Qarwani)

Falful is a little mouse who lives with al-Ghul — the troll — and his three troll siblings: Maltoub, who’s afraid of the dark, Banurah, who’s always chewing gum, and Sansur, who’s always roaring with anger, causing havoc, and terrifying poor Falful. Should he be quiet as a mouse, as Maltub suggests, or should he yell back, as Banurah says? In the end, Falful asks al-Ghul for help, and the story ends just as well as any magic story can.

Recommender: Elisabet Risberg

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نصائح غير مهمة للقارئ الصغير (Unnecessary Advice for the Young Reader )

أنس أبو رحمة ولبنى طه (Anas Aburahma and Lubna Taha)

Although unnecessary, this advice can be just as amazing! Consider the following:

Do not read when you are hungry.

Do not read when you smell freshly baked bread.

Invite your favorite character to dinner with your family.

Don’t ask to become friends with your favorite author on Facebook.

Choose any book, but especially the one that you find in your grandfather’s room, or out on the street.

Don’t tell anyone what book you’re reading until you’ve read it.

Read to your dog!

If I had to pick one piece of favorite advice from all this, it would be the advice to google a photo of one of my favorite writers, memorize the picture, and draw it. The book includes a drawing of Mohieddin El Labbad (1940-2010), a great Egyptian illustrator, of whose illustrations I am inordinately fond. 

Recommender: Elisabet Risberg

CHAPTER BOOKS

مغامرة عجيبة غريبة (A Strange Adventure)

تغريد النجار و شارلوت شما (By Taghreed Najjar and Charlotte Shama)

While Hind is examining the contents of a straw basket she got as a present from her Aunt, she is suddenly transported to a strange world where thread spools talk and a lobster plays a musical instrument. But all is not well in this beautiful place. There is an impending danger in the air. Will Hind and her friends be able to save the day? An exciting story that is full of fantasy and adventure, told through the lens of Palestinian tatreez embroidery.

Recommender: Susanne Abu Ghaida, PhD in Education from Glasgow University

MIDDLE GRADE

ثلاثية طائر الرعد (Thunderbird Trilogy)

سونيا نمر (Sonia Nimr)

The Thunderbird books are a time-travel fantasy led by a young teen girl, Noor, who was orphaned after her parents died in a plane crash. Only Noor’s grandmother continues to show her love as strange things happen around her, particularly the strange fires that burst out when she gets upset. When her grandmother dies, Noor is left with a ring and a few hints about her parents’ research. She’s joined by a djinn that’s taken the form of a cat, Sabeeka, from whom she learns about the danger facing both our world and the world of the djinn. She then must set out across space and time — and even travel past the wall to the world of the djinn and other creatures — in this hugely exciting fantasy adventure series that takes place between Ramallah and Jerusalem in different historical periods. A radical book series that will also thrill and delight.

Recommender: ArabKidLitNow! collective

YOUNG ADULT

ست الكل (Sitt al-Kol, or Against the Tide)

تغريد النجار (Taghreed Najjar)

Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2013, this book follows 15-year-old Yusra, who is faced with a choice. Either she accepts her new life as it is, or she defies society’s expectations to do something no woman in Gaza has ever done before. After the tragic death of her elder brother by an Israeli rocket, and an unfortunate accident that leaves her father paralyzed and bound to his wheelchair, Yusra’s family is forced to beg for handouts from their neighbors. Between her family’s struggles and the restrictions of life in occupied Palestine, Yusra feels like the walls are closing in on her. Then she has an idea: she decides to fix up her father’s fishing boat and take up his trade to become the first and only fisherwoman in Gaza. More, including a sample by Elisabeth Jaquette.

Recommender: ArabKidLitNow! collective

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تنين بيت لحم (The Dragon of Bethlehem)

هدى الشوا (Huda El Shuwa)

Huda El Shuwa’s 2017 YA novel Dragon of Bethlehem is built around a 16-year-old who lives in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp just south of Bethlehem. In 2018, it was turned into a musical narrative by Faraj Sulaiman, and presented by narrator Fida’ Zaidan and the The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. This wonderful, fantastical tale follows the bullied young Khidr who meets a dragon that changes his life. More, including a sample by M Lynx Qualey.

Recommender: Miranda Beshara, Hadi Badi

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لغز عين الصقر (Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye)

تغريد النجار (Taghreed Najjar)

Shortlisted for the Etisalat Award for Children’s Literature Award in 2014, this YA mystery follows Ziad and his family. When the discovery of an old family heirloom reveals a cryptic glimpse into his family’s past, 17-year-old 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. More, including a sample by Joseph Devine.

Recommender: ArabKidLitNow! collective

Uncategorized

How To Talk About Palestine With Kids: A Reading List from Hadi Badi

The team at Hadi Bad has put together a short list of resources — books, websites, and films — to help parents and educators as they talk with children about Palestine.

None of the Arabic children’s books on the list has yet been translated to English, although samples of several of them — including Hooda Shawa’s Dragon of Bethlehem and Taghreed Najjar’s Whose Doll is This?, Sitt al-Kol, and Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye — are available on this website.

Fatima Sharafeddine’s moving في مدينتي حرب (In My City, There’s War) has been translated to French and Dutch. The Hadi Badi team also suggests Sharafeddine’s العمة زيون وشجرة الزيتون (Auntie Zayoun and the Zaytoun Tree).

Hooda Shawa’s beautiful picture book سماء سامية الملونة (Samia’s Colored Sky) is part of a series that focuses on the work of Palestinian artists. The series also includes Ibtisam Barakat’s award-winning الفتاة الليلكية (The Lilac Girl, 2019).

To this list, we would also add Sonia Nimr’s brilliant طائر الرعد (Thunderbird) trilogy, which foregrounds a time-travel fantasy, but always has contemporary Palestine in its sights.

Publishers who want to know more about these titles can email info@arablit.org.

For those looking for English-language titles, children’s literature media and culture MA student Ala’ Qaraman also suggested Young Palestinians Speak: Living Under Occupation by Anne-Marie Young and Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood and Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine by Ibtisam Barakat.

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An Excerpt from Mahmoud Shukair’s ‘Me, My Friend, and the Donkey’

A humorous donkey detective novel for young adults, set in and around Jerusalem:

By Anam Zafar

For its 70th issue, Banipal magazine will honor the beloved Mahmoud Shukair, one of Palestine’s leading writers. His portrait will grace the cover, painted by Iraqi artist Sattar Kawoosh, and the magazine will include a special feature on his contribution to contemporary Arabic literature. Here at ArabLit, we celebrate the acclaimed, award-winning writer with a sample from his 2016 YA novel, Me, My Friend, and the Donkey. In 2018, the novel was selected by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) for its honor list of the top 100 children’s novels from around the world.

Me, My Friend, and the Donkey is a humorous detective adventure for teens. 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, as seen in the sample. They do—eventually—find the donkey. Years later, Muhammad has moved to the US, and the pair still reminisce about donkeys whenever they meet or speak on the phone. Muhammad invites Mahmoud to visit him in the US; however, Mahmoud’s visa application is rejected. The novel is inspired by the real-life story of one of Shukair’s childhood friends.

An excerpt, in my translation:

10

A few weeks later, me and my friend Muhammad had the plan well underway. We were working on the investigation as hard as we could, inspecting a whole bunch of donkeys, mules, and horses, questioning all kinds of men, and looking everywhere we could think of. But we still hadn’t found Muhammad’s donkey.

One day, the vegetable seller told us she couldn’t complete her mission. She looked sorry, and explained that her eyes were tired out from studying all the people and donkeys passing through the market. We respected her decision.

“Don’t worry, we can still count on Layla and the others,” we said, after thanking her for working with us. 

11

Just about two hours before sunset, Ocean Whale came running up to us. We noticed he was completely worn out from running so fast. If only we could have used a carrier pigeon instead! We’d really hoped to use one, to send news to each other. But when we realized nobody used birds to communicate anymore, we didn’t dwell on the idea for long.

Ocean Whale had come to tell us that he, Lightning Bolt, and Forest Lion had captured a man with a dark birthmark on his face, just like the thief’s. It wasn’t above his right eyebrow, but they’d decided the birthmark in itself was enough proof. As we listened, me and my friend Muhammad looked around the Friday market: there was no one around except a few cattle sellers.

We asked Ocean Whale how they’d managed to capture the man.

“We were following him, and he seemed suspicious of us. So we got closer and surrounded him, and Forest Lion said: ‘Would you like to introduce yourself?’ And the man scowled and said: ‘What do you want from me?’”

After seeing pure evil in the man’s eyes, Forest Lion decided to play a trick on him and said: “I, Forest Lion, mean you no harm. I am simply inviting you for a drink at the coffee shop.”

Ocean Whale went on: “Then the man followed us to the coffee shop, and when we got there, Forest Lion whispered in my ear to come and find you straightaway.”

The three of us sprinted along the pavement to the coffee shop. To my friend Muhammad’s surprise, that man was not the thief. Muhammad apologized and let him finish his drink. The man accepted the apology, thanked Forest Lion for the coffee, and left, seeming happy and a bit relieved.

We looked at each other awkwardly. Then we left the coffee house, too. Layla was standing at the market entrance, camera in hand—she wouldn’t let any donkey walk past without getting at least one shot of the animal and its owner. Glancing at her, Forest Lion said, “That was just our first try. Lots more will follow.” There was a proud swagger in his step, as if he was now a seasoned detective.

“Yeah, all you need now is to open your own prison, for all the people you’ll capture!” we said, jokingly. 

Forest Lion nodded with determination. It seemed Lightning Bolt and Ocean Whale believed in what he’d said, too. Me and my friend Muhammad exchanged a look—we weren’t as convinced as the others. Then we decided to split up and go home before sunset. And that is what we did. 

12

The next morning, on our way to school, Muhammad told me about the strange dream he’d had the night before.

“In the dream, we were going to Alhambra Cinema with Rahaf and Fadiya. We were excited because it was a Jeff Chandler movie. We’d already seen a few clips and couldn’t wait to watch the whole thing. So, one night, when it started playing, the four of us went to see it.

“Then, the surprise, the part that confused me the most: I saw my donkey coming toward me! He asked if he could come with us to the movie. I asked him, ‘How can you be here? Weren’t you stolen by a thief in broad daylight?’ He said, ‘Yes, I was. But, when night falls, I can go wherever I please. Near and far.’

“That really cheered me up, and I hugged him. But told him I was worried the ticket collector wouldn’t let him in. What he said next confused me even more. He told me he was a Jeff Chandler fan, too, and that he just had to watch him beating the bad guys. So I promised I’d make a deal with the ticket collector.

“The next strange thing is that the ticket collector was happy to see him. He even said it was no problem, the cinema had seats especially for donkeys. I was amazed. Then all of us—even the donkey—walked into the movie theater!”

I was amazed, too. “Your dream is a good omen,” I told my friend Muhammad. “We’ll find the donkey. I can feel it.”

“Let’s hope so,” my friend said. “God knows it’s all I want.”

13

Our sixth meeting was held one afternoon in Forest Lion’s house. As usual, his mother brought us cups of sweet, sugary tea. After thanking her, we waited for her to leave so we could continue the meeting. But she stayed standing there, quietly watching us. 

Eventually, she spoke. “You’re all going after this poor thief and forgetting who the real crooks are.”

Her words surprised us. We fired question after question at her: Who were the ‘real crooks’? How did we go after them? How would we know who they were?

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” she said. 

“How do you know the man who took the donkey is poor?” we asked.

“Oh, so you think he’s rich!?” she replied, sarcastically. “Maybe his children were hungry!” 

“So, because his children were hungry, that makes it okay?” Muhammad asked.

“No,” she said, “but a hungry man is an angry man. You need to understand that.”

She threw her words at us and left. They fluttered around the room like a flock of pigeons. We stared at each other. The way we felt, we couldn’t continue the meeting. 

“Don’t worry about her,” said Forest Lion, shaking us out of our thoughts. “She only said that because she’s mad at me.”

“Why’s she mad at you?”

“I got a bad grade on the math test.”

We told him how sorry we were, and then went back to the meeting. But we couldn’t shift the feeling that this mysterious world was full of paradoxes. 

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Mahmoud Shukair was born in Jerusalem in 1941. His novel Praise for the Women in the Family was shortlisted in 2016 for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. In 2011, he was awarded the Mahmoud Darwish Prize for Freedom of Expression. His book for young adults, al-Quds madinati al-ula (Jerusalem, My First City, 2014), was shortlisted for the 2015 Communication for Children’s Literature Award. Shukair has authored forty-five books, six television series, and four plays. His stories have been translated into several languages, including English, French, German, Chinese, Mongolian and Czech. After spending time in Beirut, Amman and Prague, he now lives in Jerusalem. 

Anam Zafar (anamzafar.comtranslates from Arabic and French. Most recently, she was a mentee on the National Centre for Writing’s 2020/21 Emerging Translators Mentorship programme. She is on The Linguist magazine’s Editorial Board, and volunteers for the World Kid Lit online initiative. 

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Seeking publisher. More information about the book available upon request. Contact Anam Zafar via info@arablit.org or through her website, anamzafar.com.

Awards · Illustrators · Middle Grade · Picture Books · Young Adult

The 6 Winners of the 2020 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature

Judges for this year’s Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature went from 221 submissions from 22 countries to a 13-book longlist, to the six winners announced at an online ceremony streamed online today:

The top category, “Children’s Book of the Year,” went to Egyptian author Hadil Ghoneim and illustrator Sahar Abdallah for Shahrazizi’s Nights: A Tale Within a Tale Within a Tale, published by Dar al-Balsam in Egypt. Ghoneim has previously been shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize, in the YA category, while Abdallah won the 2018 “Best Illustrations” category with her Think of Others.

This year’s “Best Illustrations” category went to The Monster and Me, illustrated by Baraa Al Awour and written by Aisha Abdullah Al Harithi, while “Best Text” went to Words by Syria’s Jikar Khorshid. The book was illustrated by Maha Daher.

“Best Silent Book” went to The Apple, by Asma Amara, illustrated by Atifa Abdullah, while “Best Production” went to I’ll Be Okay, co-authored by Essam Asmir and Lama Azmar, illustrated by Hanane al-Kai, and published by Jabal Amman in Jordan.

And although there was no shortlist announced for this year’s Young Adult category, judges did announce a winner: شقائق النعمان (The Poppy Anemone), by Haya Saleh, published by Al Yasmine for Publishing and Distribution in Jordan.

According to the publisher, the novel follows two brothers who find themselves in unjust circumstances, who set out on an adventure to search for one another.

Watch the full announcement:

Uncategorized

5 Arab Authors, Storytellers, and Illustrators Are Candidates for This Year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

For 2021, 263 candidates are in the running for Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which is worth around $500,000, the largest prize for literature for young readers. As prize organizers note, “The list includes some of the world’s foremost creators of literature for children and young people, as well as reading promoters.”

The new laureate will be announced on the April 13, 2021.

Previous winners have included the Tamer Institute in Palestine, Argentinian author-illustrator Isol, the Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan, and many others.

This year’s Arab candidates are:

Egyptian storyteller Randa El Sawi.

El Sawi (@elsawiranda) is an oral storyteller best-known for her YouTube channel, “Randa’s bedtime stories قصص أطفال راندا”. The stories on her channel are composed in a straightforward Egyptian Arabic and targeted at children ages four to 10. El Sawi writes the stories and records them as audio-only “to encourage kids to listen rather than watch.”

Jordanian author Taghreed Najjar.

Taghreed Najjar is an always-innovating author and publisher of Arabic children’s literature. A graduate of the American University of Beirut, Najjar started her career as a teacher, before shifting to writing and publishing. Her popular YA novels have won several awards (including two shortlistings for the Etisalat Prize and won win), and she has also pioneered chapter books for the transition from picture books to novels. Her books have been on the White Ravens’ list twice, and she has several books translated to English: The Ghoul (tr. Michelle and Tameem Hartman), Watermelon Madness (also tr. Michelle and Tameem), My Brother and Me (tr. Michelle and Tameem), and The Little Green Drum (adapted by Lucy Coats).

Lebanese author Fatima Sharafeddine.

Over the last 15 years, Fatima Sharafeddine has written and translated more than 130 books working with a number of publishers (Kalimat, Al-Saqi, Asala, Turning Point, Yuki Press, Al-Shourouk, and Mijade). Her works have earned her many awards, among then: Etisalat Award for the best YA book of the year for her excellent novel Cappuccino, and the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons Award for her book Lisanak Hisanak. Her books have been translated to various languages, among them: French, Italian, English, Spanish, Catalan, Dutch, Danish, German, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Turkish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Some of her English titles are the YA novel Faten, translated to English by the author as The Servant; the Middle Grade novel Ghady & Rawan, co-written with Samar Mahfouz Barraj and translated by Sawad Hussain and M Lynx Qualey; and picture books about Ibn Battuta and Ibn Sina.

Palestinian author and storyteller Sonia Nimr

Sonia Nimr is a star Palestinian author and storyteller who weaves together contemporary stories with folklore for readers of all ages. She won the prestigious 2014 Etisalat Award, for Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands, and was also shortlisted for the prize for Thunderbird, the first title in a fantasy trilogy. She is also the author of two books in English: Ghaddar the Ghoul and Other Palestinian Stories and A Little Piece of Ground (co-written with Elizabeth Laird). Her Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands is forthcoming next month from Interlink Books.

Sudanese illustrator Salah Elmur

Sarah Elmur is a contemporary Sudanese painter, graphic designer and filmmaker, living and working in Khartoum. Elmur also has illustrated a number of children’s books, published in Arabic, French, Italian, and Spanish. His titles include: Chacodile (Grandir, 2002), Jameil et Jamila: Conte Baggara du Soudan text by Patricia Musa (Grandir, 2003), Diakhere, la Cadette: Contes de Mauritanie, text by Mamadou Sall (Lirabelle, 2006), Sous Le Soleil, text by Badr Eddine Arodaky (Syros, 2007), Une Famille d’Artiste (Grandir, 2007), Le Soudan with Patricia Musa (Grandir, 2010), and A Qui est cet Oeuf? with Camille Pilet (Grandir, 2013).