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:

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


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:





“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.


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.

Middle Grade

Hadil Ghoneim’s ‘A Year in Qena’: An Enjoyable, Kid-friendly Look at Moving from Relative Privilege to Rural Egypt

Alia Shalaby recommends Hadil Ghoneim’s Etisalat-shortlisted middle grade novel, A Year in Qena (سنة في قنا), by Hadil Ghoneim, which she calls “a masterpiece” that “all audiences will enjoy reading”:

Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2014

Author: Hadil Ghoneim

Publisher: Dar al-Balsam

Buy in Arabic: سنة في قنا


By Alia Shalaby, Special to ArabKidLitNow!

A Year in Qena tells the story of a middle-school boy who must move from Cairo to Qena, a city located in Egypt’s rural south. There, he’ll live with his family for a whole year. The story, which is relayed through the protagonist’s journal reflections, addresses a number of big issues through a young adult’s eye, paying attention to the small details that concern young people but might go unnoticed by adults.

Among the issues addressed are major life changes and how a young person struggles to handle and adapt to them; feeling alienated when moving to a new place where everyone shares the same background but has nothing in common with them; and the conflicts and mixed feelings that come with leaving home and adapting to a new culture. It also describes the challenges faced by a  privileged boy who just moved from the city to a rural place where most of the facilities he’d been accustomed to aren’t there. Throughout this, the novel gives a glimpse of the Saedi (southern) culture, represented in the grandmother’s character, in a very interesting and simple way. The story also touches on some social issues in the Egyptian south, such as tribalism.

But A Year in Qena’s biggest strengthlies in the fact that it presents the Saediculture in a way that defies the common “Saiedi” stereotypes, as viewed in popular culture and internalized by many people (including children) in Egypt, as a result of media presentation. All this is relayed in a simple, interesting, kid-friendly language that can also appeal to adults.

Sana Fe Qena is a beautiful book that all audiences will enjoy reading.


Cairo, August 7th

A whole year in Qena?! No way!

Why should I leave my room, my friends and my school and go live in the rural deep south? How would I survive in my grandmother’s old house? Ewwww! I still remember how much I hated the smell of that place last time we visited Teta.  And I don’t even want to imagine what the school there would be like and the kind of kids who will be in my class.

What a nightmare!

I do love Teta Rouka and I totally want her to get better. Mama says Teta needs her there because my uncle’s wife is busy with a new baby. If I were only a couple of years older, I could have convinced her to leave me behind in Cairo where I belong. I would have been perfectly fine living without an annoying little sister, and with one parent who travels all the time like Baba. But I’m not old enough, so they get to turn my life upside down just like that.

Of course if it were any other grandmother in the world but my headstrong Teta, she would have made everybody’s life easier and just come stay with us here. It’s nicer and better and all the doctors are here anyway. But no. Not Teta Rouka. She would never leave her precious smelly farm and her crowded crumbling home for anywhere else.

Anyway. This is useless. There’s no escape and I just have to deal with my destiny. God help me! Maybe I won’t notice the difference if I isolate myself from everyone and everything. I’ll bring along my boredom-shattering weapons: electronic games, books, art supplies and this diary. I’ll probably be busy studying and doing homework all the time. Everybody says the second year in middle school is the hardest. Which means I was up for a miserable year anyway. I just wish I had a computer. Baba promised to buy me one at the end of the year.

Honestly, that would be a fair reward for being tortured a whole year!


Qena, September 10th

We arrived in Qena a couple of days ago. Mama saw how shocked Dina and I were, so she told us that it might be easier if we take it in one day at a time, and not think too much about the fact that we’re spending the rest of the year here. Dina is still in fifth grade, so maybe she can forget facts and get used to anything quickly, but I can’t stop thinking. I already miss my friends, and I’m really worried about the new school, about sharing a bedroom with my cousins, and about toilets! Yes, toilets here make me nervous! I’m not used to squatting!

But I must say that after the great soccer ball game we played today, and the even greater lunch we had after, I felt better.

Teta is so sick that she hardly moves, but she still holds the power around here. Everyone listens to her, even my fearsome Uncle Omar. She watches everyone and comments on everything. Sometimes, her comments are funny. Today she heard Mama mention that the weather is nice and not as hot as we expected. She then said; “Thoth orders the heat to die.” Then she looked at my uncle and yelled “Thoth, water thy land, don’t laze around”!

I didn’t really understand what she meant by Thoth. At first, I thought she was talking about berries, which are called toot, and I had never seen a berry tree here. But Mama explained that tomorrow is the New Year according to the Coptic calendar and that Thoth is the name of the first month and the name of the ancient Egyptian god of math and science. My silly sister asked her what does Teta have to do with all that, since we’re not ancient anymore and we’re not even Copts.   

From what Mama said, it turned out that Egyptian farmers still use their ancient calendar because it’s very good at describing the farming seasons and the climate. I was kind of impressed that Mama and Teta knew these things. Maybe it was a good sign that we came here right at the beginning of the new agricultural year. I decided that in my case “Thoth orders my fears to die”! 

Translation by Hadil Ghoneim. More upon request.

Middle Grade

Sonia Nimr’s ‘Thunderbird’: First in a Time-Traveling Palestinian Fantasy Trilogy

ArabKidLitNow recommends Sonia Nimr’s award-winning middle grade novel, Thunderbird (طائر الرعد).

Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2017

Author: Sonia Nimr

Publisher: Tamer Institute


Buy in Arabic: طائر الرعد

Thunderbird begins as the local fortuneteller (a reader of coffee grounds), Umm Arab, has a strange and mysterious prediction for the orphaned Noor’s future. For the last two years, since the untimely deaths of her scientist/archaeologist parents’ in a plane crash, Noor has been living in the old family home with her Uncle Ziad, Aunt Widad, her cousin Wafaa, and her grandmother. Noor’s aunt and cousin do not make her feel welcome. Indeed, they deeply resent her. To make things worse, when Noor gets upset, mysterious fires flare up around her. The only person who believes in her is her beloved and sympathetic grandmother. Her grandmother gives Noor a gift–a strange ring–from her father before she dies.

This fantastic, Harry Potter-esque time traveling novel follows Noor as she hooks up with a cat (who’s really a djinn), discovers that the King of the Djinn needs her help to save the world, and travels back 500 years — although not before she has a harrowing trip through checkpoints to get to contemporary Jerusalem.

We learn about history and folklore as Noor and a girl from 500 years ago — Andaleeb — team up to find the first of the Phoenix feathers that will help them keep the world together.

Extended samples, plot summary, and more available upon request.