Chapter Books

‘Mama, My Classmate’: A Charming, Funny Story About Embarrassment, Parents, and Learning New Things

ArabKidLitNow! recommends Lubna Taha and Maya Fidawi’s chapter book, Mama, My Classmate:

Awards: WINNER of the 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the “Best Text” category

Author: Lubna Taha

Illustrator: Maya Fidawi

Publisher: Salwa Books

Reading ages: 6-9


Buy in Arabic: From Al Salwa Books

This charmingly relatable eight-chapter book is told from the perspective of young Noora, who — spoiler alert — is also the book’s author. Noora has lots of nightmares, but the worst of all is one that comes true when her mom decides she wants to improve her English.

Noora’s intrepid, fearless mom isn’t just the sort to change her own tire at the side of the road, which is embarrassing enough. She also wants to learn English, and so she comes to sit in on Noora’s very own English class.

Noora is understandably mortified by this development, especially when one of the other girls — Rana — realizes the new grown-up student, Abeer, is Noora’s mom.

Big-mouth Rana tells everyone the new student is Noora’s mom….

Even worse, Noora’s mom is good at English class, and she makes friends with the other girls. Noor’s mom wants to work together on their homework, but ugh! Noora is having none of it. Anyhow, she has other subjects, too.

Then one day, when Noora’s mom is out sick, and the other girls genuinely miss their friend Abeer, Noora comes to appreciate her mom’s presence. In the end, her mom even helps her to write this book.

Mama, My Classmate is a wonderful story about a mother’s continuing education and the very relatable embarrassment this brings to a young girl, and how she (slowly) gets past this embarrassment. It’s relatable for any reader (since all our parents are embarrassing, at some time or another!), but especially for kids whose parents are language learners.

Sample from Chapter One:

Do you ever have nightmares about school?

There is one nightmare where you find yourself in the middle of the school playground. You’re wearing your pajamas, and all the other kids are gathered around, laughing meanly.

Or there’s one where you accidentally fart in the classroom. Everyone knows you’re the one who did it, and they’re all pointing at you and giggling.


Or there’s the nightmare where the other kids steal your shoes, and you have to walk all the way home barefoot.

Or the one where you suddenly fall asleep in science class. When you wake up, you’re surrounded by kids who are mimicking the sound of your snore:


Or… or… or… or… I mean…

Aaaahhh! I’ve had all these nightmares so many times. And honestly, they really scare me!


But the biggest and most dangerous nightmare is one that appeared to me all of a sudden. This nightmare was worse than you could possibly imagine.

Yes, this was the worst nightmare that can happen to any person. It’s a nightmare so scary I couldn’t even believe it.

The title of this nightmare is:

Mama Is My Classmate.


And yes, what I’m saying is true. My mom is now in class with me!


Additional material available upon request.


Congratulations to 5 Etisalat Award Winners

The winners of the 2018 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature were announced this morning, at the opening of the Sharjah International Book Fair:

Children’s Book of the Year

Homesick (الحنين), by Aisha al-Harthi, illustrated by Hassan Manasra, from Dar al-Alam al-Arabi.

Young Adult Book of the Year

The Secret of Oil (سر الزيت), by Walid Daqqa, from the Tamer Institute. (Review from Al Monitor!)

Best Text

Mama My Classmate (ماما بنت صفي), by Lubna Taha, illustrated by Maya Fadawi, from Al Salwa Books. (Recommended title!)

Best Illustrations

Think of Others, by Mahmoud Darwish, illustrated by Sahar Abdullah, from  Tanmia Publishing House. (Recommended title!)

Best Production

Koozy (كوزي) by Anastasia Qarawani, illustrated by Maja Kastelic, from Al Salwa Books. (Recommended title!)

Find the full shortlist here at ArabKidLitNow!

Picture Books

‘Koozy’: Etisalat-winner for ‘Best Production,’ A Story of Loss & Cats & Love

ArabKidLitNow recommends Koozy (كوزي), which was shortlisted for the 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in three categories (best book, best illustrations, best production) and won the “best production” prize:

Awards: 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, best production

Author:Anastasia Qarawani

Illustrator: Maja Kastelic

Publisher: Al Salwa Books


Buy in Arabic: Available at Al Salwa Books

This is a story of love and loss, friendship and honoring those who are gone, warmly and richly illustrated by Maja Kastelic. Since kids know better what they like, we enlisted two small people to give their impressions of the book.

The two reviewers, ages 10 and 7, asked for their names to be redacted:

R 10: It’s about a kid whose cat “disappears,” maybe dies–

R 7: Don’t say that.

R 10: –and so he’s really sad, and his cat doesn’t come back. And his mom tells him when cats go away, they go live in the stars at a certain time, and she tells him that his cat Koozy is up looking at him every night. And then there’s this girl that he sees, and her cat “went away” too, and he is friends with her and she likes cats, and he tells her about the star thing, and she tells him that if you write a letter, your cat will come and read it and know what you said.

R 10: I like how it feels real.

R 7: It was very emotional. I was crying.

R 10: I wasn’t crying. I was crying on the inside.

R 7: The drawing sort of reminded me of an actual child’s drawing, and that made me think that the child was writing this, and this was his life story.

R 10: I like how the art style is smooth. It feels like a movie.

R 10: I’d read it again.

R 7: I would re-read it because I love cats.

Picture Books

‘Think of Others’: Mahmoud Darwish’s Moving Poem Illustrated by Award-winning Sahar Abdallah

ArabKidLitNow recommends Think of Others (فكر بغيرك), the text of Mahmoud Darwish’s classic poem, illustrated by award-winning artist Sahar Abdallah:

Awards: WINNER of 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature, illustrations category

Author: Mahmoud Darwish

Illustrator: Sahar Abdallah

Publisher: Tanmia Books


Buy in Arabic: Available on Jamalon


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.

There are a number of adequate translations of Darwish’s poem floating around online. This one is by Mohammed Shaheen, from Almond Blossoms and Beyond, published by Interlink Books in 2009. Certainly a fresh translation could be done for the picture book:

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).

Tanmia also brought out another poem of Darwish’s with Abdallah’s illustrations, So Said the Neglected Tree:

Get rights in your language before they’re gone!

ArabKidLit News

Outreach Symposium: New Directions in Egyptian Children’s Literature

For the first time at the American University in Cairo, authors, publishers, illustrators, educators, critics, translators, academics and interested members of the general public meet under one roof to talk about Arabic children’s literature.

By Fatima Ahmed and Rawan Elnagar

Photo: courtesy Yasmine Motawy.

On the 20th of October, as part of its public outreach efforts, AUC’s HUSSLab  hosted a children’s literature symposium funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at AUC’s Tahrir campus. It was organized by HUSSLab’s first post-doctoral fellow, Yasmine Motawy, and it was clearly a gathering that was a long time coming, as by 9:30 a.m., there was already a rapt audience of just under 100 (yes, almost everyone was there!) waiting to hear Marcia Lynx Qualey’s keynote speech titled: “Taking Arabic Children’s Literature Abroad: Translators, Transformers, and Cultural Brokers.”

The first talk addressed a broad range of topics, from the growing Chinese market, to the qualities of books in demand for translation, to the challenges, channels and venues through which books travel till a translation appears on the shelf and stays there for several runs. Questions around authenticity, the role of the translator as potential agent, and the translatability of national aesthetics kept the conversation lively and the ideas bouncing about.

This was followed by a discussion panel on producing and promoting illustrated children’s books, moderated by AUC professor and artist/historian/activist Bahia Shehab. On the panel representing publishers was Balsam Saad, Managing Director of Dar Al-Balsam, and with the artist’s perspective was award-winning writer and illustrator Walid Taher.

Showcasing grassroots initiatives

This was followed by a showcase of new grassroots initiatives in the field of children’s literature, accompanied by brief videos of the initiatives. The seven initiatives were: Samia Jaheen’s colloquial Egyptian oral tales project DilHekaya; Randa el Sawi’s eponymous sleeper hit audiobook channel Randa El Sawi’s bedtime stories; Hadi Badi, a collective resource for educational and literary Arabic children’s resources;, a website that streams audio translations of popular foreign children books in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic by Riham Shendy; Ossass, the New York based publisher of Arabic colloquial stories by Reem Makhoul; and then Marcia was on stage again telling the audience about ArabKidLitNow! the a project dedicated to the discovery, translation, and promotion of great Arabic children’s books. Finally, Susanne Abou Ghaida presented about Mersal Magazine, a children’s literature blog with serious reviews and author/artist interviews.

Debate: Fusha vs. Ammiya

Sketch by Mohamed Wahba

As four of the initiatives were working in colloquial Arabic, predictably, the Fusha vs. Ammiya debate broke out, with writer and dubbing queen Zeinab Mobarak, award winning author Rania Amin, and Amira Aboul Magd of Dar el-Shorouk, weighing in with balanced and diverse perspectives. Samia Jaheen finally pointed out that as this circuitous discussion wore everyone down and reduced everyone’s productivity, the kids had probably gone out to buy an English book to read quietly, unaware of it all!

There were a number of questions about translations, and the competition the industry faces for children’s attention, both from foreign books and other media. Yasmine Motawy ended the day with a brief introduction to a manuscript she is currently working on with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon grant, on ideology in contemporary Egyptian children’s books.

At the networking lunch at 2 p.m., we saw Ahmed ElMahdy, the science fiction author, sharing some of his new books; and artist Mohamed Wahba sketching our keynote speaker; and Ranya Abdel Rahman from the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, who had flown in just to attend, and overheard a lot of students exclaiming how wonderful it was that Cairo had such a vibrant children’s literature scene.

With the start of so many connections and new possibilities, the challenge will be fostering them going forward.

Fatima Ahmed and Rawan Elnagar are students taking ARIC 1099: “Children’s Literature and Cultural Representations,” taught by Yasmine Motawy this Fall at AUC.