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).

Uncategorized

Four Arabic Books for Young Readers Named As 2020 ‘White Ravens’ Selections

From the White Ravens 2020 booklet.

The International Youth Library today published its 2020 White Ravens list: an annual selection of recommended children’s and youth literature from around the world.

Each year, a multilingual team at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, selects recently published books that they consider especially noteworthy: in art, theme, literary style, or design. This year’s 114-page White Ravens catalogue contains a selection of 200 notable children’s and young adult books from 56 countries published in 36 languages.

Four of the selected titles were written in Arabic: three are picture books and one is a coming-of-age YA novel recommended for readers 14+.

The four books are:

Hikaya tarwiha al-khyut (A Story Told by Threads), by Nabiha Mheidly, ill. Hassan Zahreddine. A picture book published by Dar al-Hadaek in 2018. From the booklet:

Nabiha Mheidly’s original, poetic story about threads and the art of telling a story by interweav- ing narratives is a masterpiece both in terms of its form as well as its language. 

Hala (Aura), by Moemen Helmy, ill. Matze Döbele. A picture book published by Yanbow al-Kitab in 2019. From the booklet:

The perceptive story, written in beautiful language, is accompanied by restrained black-and-white pictures in which only the colour- ful halos of individual people shine forth intensely.

Sirr A’sad (Asad’s Secret), by Najla’ Atallah. A Young Adult novel published by Tamer Institute in 2018. From the booklet:

Author Najla Atallah (b. 1987), who hails from Gaza, sensitively and genuinely captures the young man’s life as well as the hard reality of the largest Palestinian city. 

Al-himar w al-bulbul (The Donkey and the Nightingale), by Jekar Khourchid, ill. Ghazaleh Bigdelou. A picture book published by Dar Al-Aalam Al-Arabi in 2019. From the booklet:

Jekar Khourchid tells the story in a lively, humorous and fast-paced way. The text lends itself well to being read aloud and is accompanied by Ghazaleh Bigdelou’s double-page colour illustra- tions, which caricature the animals in comical ways. 

This year’s Arabic specialist was Dr. Azad Hamoto. The list is always published in the lead-up to Frankfurt Book Fair, set to open on October 14. While the catalog is usually available as a print edition, since Frankfurt Book Fair will take place mostly online this year, the IJB has produced a digital-only version which can be downloaded as as a PDF.

Young Adult

The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye: Action Packed Adventure Tale of a Palestinian Teen Against All Odds

ArabKidLitNow recommends Taghreed Najjar’s Etisalat Prize-shortlisted novel, The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye (لغز عين الصقر):

Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2014

Author: Taghreed Najjar

Illustrations: Ammar Khattab

Publisher: Al Salwa Publishing

Target age: 12+

Goodreads ratings: average 4.24 stars (out of 5)

Buy in Arabic: لغز عين الصقر

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.

After his father is arrested as a political prisoner, Ziad is forced to leave school and begin working to support his family. Toiling away each day from dawn ‘til dusk at the infamous Qalandia checkpoint, selling tea and tissues to the endless lines of traffic, Ziad must reluctantly say goodbye to his dream of graduating from high school and going on to university, family is just too important to him, and his mother is struggling to support him and his younger sister Najwa and little brother Selim. Things go from bad to worse when Selim falls gravely ill and requires an operation in an Israeli hospital which the family simply can’t afford. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, locked up in his great-grandmother Sitti’s cloudy memories of the days before the Nakba…

Ziad must take a huge risk and leave everything he’s ever known to look for the ancient clues left for him by Sitti, taking him across the separation wall into occupied Palestine in search of his family’s ancestral village and the gold and jewellery that was buried there long ago. He must find the key to unlock his past and ensure his family’s 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 one of the leading writers of children’s and YA’s fiction in Arabic. It is a story to shine 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.

From: The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye

Below, an excerpt from early in the book, as Ziad begins to think there might really be something to his great grandmother’s story.

By Taghreed Najjar

Translated by Joseph Devine

At Qalandia checkpoint, Ziad waited on tenterhooks for their return from the hospital. As soon as they arrived, he hugged Salim and gave him a kiss. He gave Najwa an urgent look, his eyes asking her about the outcome of the appointment, but his mother’s expression and Najwa’s averted glance were all the answer he needed. He got in a taxi with them and, sensing they were all exhausted, asked the driver to take them straight home.

After Salim had gone to sleep, Ziad’s mother had to excuse herself as she broke down in tears. “The doctor said Salim’s condition is serious, and he needs an operation that’s too expensive.”

Najwa rubbed her mother’s back, gave her a tissue to dry her eyes, and tried to calm her down.

“Don’t worry, Mama, I’m sure there’s a way for us to help Salim. The doctor has our phone number and he said he’ll try his best.”

Their great grandmother Sitti suddenly cried out, “Oh my! Mahmoud’s in prison and his son’s dying!”

“Don’t speak like that, Sitti!” Um Ziad shouted. “Salim is not going to die. There’s an operation that can save him, and he’ll lead a normal life.” She paused for a moment and then went on in a hushed voice. “But where will we get the money for it? What a nightmare.” She started weeping again.

“Remember, Mama, didn’t the doctor say that if we can pay for the tests, he’ll try and find a way to pay for the operation?”

“Tell me, Najwa, how will we even pay for the tests? They’re expensive, too.”

“Simple!” shouted Sitti. “How about we sell my gold? There’s ten gold bracelets, twenty-five gold liras, six rings, four gold chains, and…”

“For heaven’s sake Sitti!” snapped Um Ziad. “When will we have enough of this story about the gold? You’ve been going on about it for years. If we had such treasures, then we wouldn’t be living this miserable life. We’d have had the best lawyer for Mahmoud, Ziad would be on his way to university by now, and we’d have paid for the tests already. No, please, Sitti. Enough of this gold nonsense, it hurts my head.”

Sitti drifted off, and a confused look came over her face, as if she were summoning a memory from the distant past. There was gold… she thought. Then, like a skipping record, she repeated, “Ten gold bracelets, twenty-five gold liras, six rings, four gold chains, and…”

She perked up after a few moments and continued, “I was a new bride, and Ismail was head of the household. Everyone in town respected him and valued his word. One day, he came home and called a meeting. He told us they’d received word that, two days earlier, Zionist militias had attacked the village of Deir Yassin, that they’d killed dozens of people and robbed their homes, and that they were heading our way. He said we’d all have to leave our village for a few days and then come back when the situation got better. Some of the women began wailing and hitting themselves, but Ismail shouted, in a voice that shook the house and made everyone as quiet as mice, and said…”

Suddenly, she went quiet. Then she turned to Ziad and said, “Ismail, tell them what you said!”

Everyone laughed as Ziad grabbed her hand and said, “Sitti, I’m Ziad, your great grandson.”

“Oh goodness me, of course!” cried Sitti. “By the way, have I ever mentioned you’re his spitting image?”

Um Ziad clapped her hands. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Sitti. What will become of us?”

That night, Ziad couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about everything Sitti had said. He’d heard the story of the gold dozens of times before, but he’d never paid it much attention, since Sitti was always confusing events and forgetting things. But today, it had made him stop and wonder. Why did Sitti still insist on this story? Why did she repeat such exact amounts of gold? “Ten gold bracelets, twenty-five gold liras, six rings, four gold chains, and…”

No one ever took her story seriously, but…what if it was true? What if all that gold really existed someplace, and Sitti was the only one who knew where? If he could find out where it was and get it back, then they’d be able to pay for Salim’s operation, and he could finish school and go to university, and who knows what else…

“You’re really clutching at straws here, Ziad,” he told himself mockingly. “And even if the gold did exist, how would you find it? Is it even possible? They took over the whole country decades ago, so wherever it was left, surely someone would’ve found it by now? But then again, what if…?”

He stayed awake, tossing and turning in bed until the light of dawn crept in. That’s when he made his decision to talk to Sitti in private, in the hope that she could tell him more.

#

The next evening, after dinner, Ziad was able to talk to Sitti alone.

“Sitti, tell me about the gold. What’s the story? Did it really exist or not?”

She replied with excitement. “Of course it did! Who says it didn’t?”

“But whose gold was it? Tell me.”

“It was mine of course,” she said. “And it’s my will and testament before God and his prophet that this gold should be given to the family of my grandson Mahmoud, oh how he weighs on my mind!” She began to pray, “May God, most capable and generous, accept him and grant him success, relieve him of his worries, and release him from prison.”

“Inshallah, Sitti. Can you tell me more?”

Sitti looked around hesitantly, then said, “Okay, I’ll tell you. But listen carefully, and don’t tell anyone else. This is a secret between you, me, and your Jiddu Ismail.”

“Don’t worry Sitti, I won’t tell.”

“So, where was I?” she asked. “Oh, yes. Ismail had just told us about the slaughter at Deir Yassin. We were so scared, we were crying and wailing, because you know, Ziad, Deir Yassin was very close to our village of Lifta. But Ismail—God rest his soul—he was a tough man, and he quickly stopped all the fuss and came up with a plan. ‘Enough tears! We must leave our homes and go to a safe place, far from these Zionist gangs. It won’t be more than ten days or so before we’ll be able to return. We’ve heard that the Arab armies are on their way to defend us. So don’t take anything heavy or unnecessary. It’s only for a few days. Do you understand?’

“I understood, and so did my sisters-in-law: Safiya, Fatima, and Bahiya. We nodded and told him ‘Yes!’… See, Ziad, back in those days, we all lived together in a big house for the extended family, and… Where was I?”

Ziad was afraid that she’d get distracted and drift off-topic. “Then what happened, what was Jiddu’s plan?”

“Ah, yes!” she continued. “He looked at us, gave us an empty box, and said in a thunderous voice:

“‘Listen to me, all of you, and listen well. We’ve heard that these gangs have been looting all the abandoned homes and taking everything of value. So I need all of you to give me your gold. Put it in a bag, I’ll write everyone’s names on each bag, and we’ll put them in this box, which I’ll bury somewhere safe. Don’t worry, not even the Blue Djinn will find it! Everyone will get their gold back when we return after all this violence. I promise you all, and you know I always keep my word.’

“Your Jiddu, may he rest in peace, was famous in the town for being trustworthy, all the merchants said his word was better than any legal document, that he was always kept a promise and gave everyone what they were due. Everyone used to say, ‘This free man keeps his word’…”

Ziad began to feel that there might be some truth in Sitti’s story after all. He pressed her to keep going. “And what happened next, Sitti?”

“What happened?” she asked. “They stole Palestine and made us all refugees, that’s what happened! Enough, Ziad. I’m tired and need to sleep for a while. Get me my blanket.”

Joseph Devine holds a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic & Persian at SOAS University of London, and is currently studying a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature (Arabic-Western) at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar, where he also works as a research assistant, translator, and editor.

Taghreed Najjar is a pioneer of modern children’s literature in Jordan. A graduate of the American University of Beirut,Taghreed started her career as a teacher before becoming a full time writer of picture books and young adult novels. Her YA novels have been celebrated widely by her readers and various schools in the region have adopted them as part of their curriculum. A number of her books have won awards while others have been translated into English, Swedish, Turkish, French, and Chinese.  

Awards

Ibtisam Barakat Wins SZBA’s Children’s Literature Prize for ‘The Lilac Girl’

Organizers of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award (SZBA) today announced the winners — in seven categories — of their 14th annual prize:

This year’s Children’s Literature prize went to Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat for her picture book الفتاة الليلكية (The Lilac Girl, 2019) published by Palestine’s Tamer Institute for Community Education. The book is part of a series focused around Palestinian artists, this one inspired by the painter Tamam al-Akhal. “Instead of telling a story with words, she tells her pain to the watercolors and her happiness to the oil pastels.”

Barakat publishes in both Arabic and English; several of her previous books have met with awards and acclaim. Her التاء المربوطة تطير (The Ta’ That Flies) won an Anna Lindh Foundation prize in 2011, while her English-language awards include an  International Reading Association’s Best Non Fiction for YA in 2008, the Middle East Council Best Literature Book Award in 2007, and an Arab American Book Award in the Children/ Young Adult Category in 2008. In addition to several books in Arabic, Barakat has two works in English: Tasting the Skya memoir, and Balcony on the Moona YA memoir.

According to organizers, a record-breaking total of 1900 entries were submitted this year, including 205 in children’s literature.

In lieu of a ceremony — set to be held during the now-cancelled Abu Dhabi International Book Fair — the seven winners will be presented via a livestream video on April 16, through the SZBA website.

Each winner is set to receive 750,000 UAE dirhams (approximately $204,000 USD).

More:

On the Palestinian artist Tamam al-Akhal

On Ibtisam Barakat

Middle Grade · Young Adult

RECOMMENDED: Fearless Upper MG Fantasy ‘Dragon of Bethlehem’

Huda El Shuwa’s popular and acclaimed 2017 novella Dragon of Bethlehem is about looking up at the sky, seeing things from a new vantage point, and how—even when things seem hopeless—it’s possible to change the small things around you.

Adaptations: 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:

Author: Huda El Shuwa

Publisher: Tamer Institute

Contact: info@arablit.org, tamer@palnet.com

Buy in Arabic: تنين بيت لحم 

This short work— just 76 pages in Arabic and perhaps 20,000 words in English—is built around a boy named Khidr who’s just turned 16, and who lives in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp south of Bethlehem. Khidr has recently lost his only friend, isn’t a good student, and his father is in a psychiatric hospital. The other kids at school bully him, and the teachers aren’t much kinder. Khidr meets a sarcastic dragon (or rather, the dragon barges into his tiny camp house during the rain, because dragons do not like rain) who takes him up into the skies above Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the surrounding areas to show him his world afresh. Although at first his teachers just punish him even more for his new creativity, Khidr is not deterred, and eventually even goes to visit his father at the psychiatric hospital.

In 2018, Dragon of Bethlehem was turned into a musical narrative by Faraj Sulaiman, and presented by narrator Fida’ Zaidan and The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. It is exciting, gives a brief brush of Palestinian history landscapes, and also manages to be uplifting, with a smile-through-your-tears ending.

An excerpt from the beginning appears on ArabLit and another, from near the end of the novel, is forthcoming on Words Without Borders.

It opens:

TO SCHOOL

Khidr…

Khidr…

Khidr…

“It’s six o’clock… Come on, get up…”

Khidr wriggled in his bed, drifting between sleep and wakefulness as he drew his woolen Tom and Jerry blanket up over his head. He couldn’t sleep outside this haven—it had sheltered him from his first year to his sixteenth, which had just begun last Wednesday.

He hated waking up early so much. And he hated school…and oh, he hated first period…

He wished he could sleep a little longer in this warm bed, under the ancient woolen blanket that was like a cave full of beautiful, safe dreams. To go to the high school near his house meant he had a morning walk down cold, dark lanes, before the sun dared spread its wings firmly across the sky above Dheisheh Refugee Camp.

“Mmmmsleeeepy.”

The smell of sage tea, hard-boiled eggs, hot bread with zaatar… That’s what his mother fed him every morning, and it sent a little warmth his way, pulling him out of bed.

“Zaatar kickstarts the brain,” his mom would tell him every morning, as he sipped his tea. Khidr wasn’t sure about this saying; his brain felt completely shut off.

“Did you forget I’m seeing your dad today? Won’t you come with me? It’s so long since you’ve seen him.”

Khidr looked over at the picture hanging on the wall; the two people in it looked like wax statues. His dad was smiling in a black suit, while his mom was beside him in a white dress, wearing a lot of makeup… His mom didn’t wear makeup like that anymore, and she didn’t put on bright-colored clothes, either.

“No, Ma, I don’t want to see him. What am I going to say? I mean, I feel like I don’t know him.”

“How is that your father’s fault?” She lowered her head. He knew that look—the look where the light in her eyes flickered out. He felt a prick of conscience, as he did whenever he saw tears shining in her eyes.

Keep reading on ArabLit.