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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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Picture Books

Answer Me, Leila

ArabKidLitNow recommends Nadine Kaadan’s Answer Me, Leila

answer me leila

Author’s awards: 2011 Anna Lindh Foundation prize for the best fiction book for children with special needs

Author: Nadine Kaadan

Illustrator: Nadine Kaadan

Publisher: Box of Tales Publishing

For English translation contact: Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

For teaching resources contact: info@OutsideInWorld.org.uk

Buy in Arabic: Box of Tales Publishing

This beautifully illustrated picture book is a playful retelling of the fairy tale Rapunzel, but with a twist: Leila is deaf, so she can’t hear her suitor calling to her.

Leila and Sami keep missing each other: she sits up in her high tower waiting for him, but no matter how many times he comes and calls for her, she doesn’t answer. Things look better for them both once Sami realises that he needs to learn her language, sign language, in order to win her heart.

With its swirling illustrations, bright colours, and cheeky sideways glances, it’s a refreshing story about overcoming hearing difficulties. Leila’s lovely, ornate flowing hair, looping and curling like the Arabic letters it conceals, suggests the beautiful physicality of her language. And the book ends with Leila giving the readers a beginners’ lesson in sign language.

Answer me, Leila! was cited by The Guardian as a ‘badly needed story for young people’ in its feature on disability inclusive books which should be available in English.

The British charity Outside in World has produced some excellent classroom resources for Answer Me, Leila! to encourage teachers to explore issues of inclusivity and accessibility with their pupils. See the OIW website for a helpful report on how Answer Me, Leila! was used as a case study with deaf and hearing primary school pupils, demonstrating how stories such as this can empower deaf pupils, encourage mutual understanding and inspire children to improve their storytelling skills.

Nadine Kaadan is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator from Damascus, Syria, now living in London where she completed her MA in Art and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, and MA Illustration at Kingston University.

Two of her picture books are published in English by Lantana Publishing: The Jasmine Sneeze and Tomorrow.

Nadine in the media: