Picture Books

English Edition of Nadine Kaadan’s ‘Tomorrow’ Shortlisted for 2019 Little Rebels Award

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is a prize for “radical fiction aimed at children aged 0-12,” and Syrian children’s-book author and illustrator Nadine Kaadan made this year’s seven-book shortlist with her self-translated picture book Tomorrow, published by Lantana.

As Little Rebels organizers write of Tomorrow:

Yazan no longer goes to the park to play, and he no longer sees his friend who lives next door. Everything around him is changing. His parents sit in front of the television with the news turned up LOUD and Yazan’s little red bike leans forgotten against the wall. Will he ever be able to go outside and play? A beautiful picture-book full of heart, and not without hope, set against the backdrop of the Syrian war.

The year’s winner will be announced at a special ceremony on July 10.

Picture Books

‘Rising to the Top’ and ‘Eid’ from Nabeeha Mohaidly: Surprise and Heartbreak

ArabKidLitNow recommends Rising to the Top and Eid from Dar al-Hadaek:

By Nashwa Gowanlock

Nabeeha Mohaidly’s stories, published by Al Hadaek Group, are touching and thought-proving texts with attractive illustrations that are sure to be revisited and reflected on by child and grown-up alike.

Two of her books — Rising to the Top and Eid — are strong contenders for translation, both compelling tales coupled with lively illustrations guaranteed to appeal to readers from around the world, as well as being distinctly placed in the culture of the Middle East.

Rising to the Top is a charming story with a warm ending that delivers a positive message. A group of children living in the valley are bored. Bored of their village and bored of their games. Tug of war, throwing stones and timing their echoing cries is not enough to keep them entertained anymore. One day their ‘ideas guy’ comes up with a plan for them to brave the journey up the hill to where the young people who live there are surely having much more fun, what with all those reflective mirrors and bikes to play with. After an arduous climb, they discover a children’s paradise of new ‘toys’ to play but are oblivious to the fact that they have been tampering with reflective sheets that had been specifically placed to reflect the sunlight onto their own village, which has now been plunged into darkness.

Despite their greatest efforts, they are unable to return the equipment to the correct positions but are rescued by the young locals who know how to return everything to the way it was. Just before the valley kids begin their disappointed journey home, heads hanging in shame, the mountain children beg them to stay so they can show them how to use the equipment, in return for being able to go down to the valley themselves to play with their games that they have been coveting all the while from up above. Unable to believe their luck, the two groups of children agree and are soon swapping locations and games on a regular basis. The story ends with another group of children from another town further away looking up at the hill and wondering whether there is anything new for them to play.

Two more of Mohaidly’s books have strong points, but also flaws:

Eid is a surprising story about loss from the perspective of a pre-schooler who is struggling to comprehend the concept of the religious holiday. As everyone around her celebrates the “coming” of Eid, Maha wonders who this Eid character might be. He’s not any of the relatives who come to their house that day but, she is told, he has been amongst them since the morning. Later she would try to picture Eid as long, then short, then flying like a bird and another time a ghost laughing. One day a conflict raging in neighbouring towns edges closer towards their own and the traditions she has come to associate with Eid – the smell of the special Eid pastries from the bakery, the constant stream of visitors, the new clothes and the sequined shoes – are gone. It is only through this absence that Maha finally grasps what Eid is.

This heartbreaking yet unsentimental final twist concluding a delicately narrated story of wonder and gratitude is coupled with exquisitely detailed illustrations by Raouf Al Karaay. It would be an evergreen choice for a publisher wishing to diversify their children’s literature collection since it ties in well with religious education curriculums but also provides a deeper insight into this Muslim festival.

Two more of Mohaidly’s books have strong points, but also flaws:

The Writer opens with a sequence showing a writer processing a number of ideas for a new story he is writing. Though the content might initially seem targeted at a slightly older age group than the picture book would suggest, the plot then becomes a lot more playful as the writer concocts a lovable feline character as his protagonist. He imagines a brown and black cat with a stump for a tail and tiny ears who gets into a scrape as the writer looks on, recording everything he sees, until the cat eventually overcomes his challenge and the writer can conclude his story. But the story is not over for the cat, who returns to the writer to bid him farewell, causing the writer to then look for his beloved new friend wherever he goes. The story ends with an open question to leave readers wondering if they will ever meet again. This is a tender story although the grown-up narration of a professional writer is perhaps a little high-brow for younger children, especially since the reader is not given any actual details of the scrapes the cat in the story gets into, nor how he managed to overcome them. Walid Taher’s illustrations perfectly express the symbiotic relationship between the two characters and the various events that intercept them.

In My Roving Dreams, with Hassan Zahreddin’s illustrations, a little girl lists the various professions she used to aspire to, all of them roving in one way or another: the candy floss seller and seller of other delicious treats, the man who travels around on a mule to sell kerosene, the man on the lookout for valuable scrap and junk and a brass polisher. Each profession occupies a page of descriptive text and illustration that would appeal to the nostalgic reader who longs to record society’s ever-changing landscape. In an apparent lament, the girl notes how she never entered any of these idolized professions in the end. However, the reader then discovers that she became a painter, using her art to convey the others instead. Though the ending seems to slip slightly from its mark, it is nevertheless a poignant reflection on the role of art in recording elements of a fleeting heritage.

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

Contact: info@arablit.org, rights@alsalwabooks.com

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

Contact: info@arablit.org, info@saharabdallah.com

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!

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: