A few years ago, it was hard to find any contemporary children’s literature translated to English from Arabic. Now, several new titles are being published each year. At the start of #WorldKidLitMonth, M. Lynx Qualey published a list of ten children’s books translated from Arabic for young readers, reposted here with permission and with Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp squeezing in a few to bring it up to 17…
Alya and the Three Cats, by Amina Hachimi Alaoui, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, translated by Mehdi Retnani (Crackboom Canada, 2020)
In this book, Maryam and Sami have three cats: Pasha the black Angora, Minouche the grey tabby, and Amir the playful Siamese.
One day, Maryam’s belly starts to get bigger and something starts to stir in it. Maryam disappears for a few days and comes back home with something that screams and demands a lot of attention. The three cats are very confused. A wonderful book for a child who’s expecting a young sibling.
My Brother and Me, by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, translated by Michelle and Tameem Hartman (Crackboom, 2019)
In this brotherly love story, Aloush — the youngest in the family — adores his big brother Ramez. But then suddenly Ramez is absent, as he’s fallen in love and — ugh — about the get engaged. Fortunately, Aloush’s new sister-in-law-to-be knows how to deal with this situation. A lovely look at a Jordanian family system in a moment of flux, and how they deal with it.
The Ghoul, by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated Hassan Manasrah, translated by the author (Interlink, 2019)
An Arabic folktale-inspired story about facing your fears and accepting differences. Villagers are afraid of the “Ghoul,” who Hassan finally meets living on top of a mountain (and who is just as terrified of people as they are of him). Hassan and the Ghoul realize that they can still be friends, despite their differences.
As in Kirkus Reviews, it’s: “A stimulating and funny fantasy about acceptance.”
Tomorrow, by Nadine Kaadan, illustrated and translated by the author (Lantana UK, 2018)
This is the second book from Lantana by accomplished Syrian author-illustrator Nadine Kaadan, following her The Jasmine Sneeze in 2016. In Tomorrow, Nadine’s brilliantly imaginative drawings tread a careful line: they help children imagine how war might affect a little boy like Yazan without overwhelming them. Best of all, the book manages to give Yazan an honest happy ending. Even in the most terrible of times, the book tells us, art still creates joy.
A Blue Pool of Questions, by Maya Abu-Alhayyat, illus. by Hassan Manasrah, translated by Hanan Awad (Penny Candy Books, 2017)
This book, which won a 2016 Etisalat Prize and made ArabLit’s list of 8 New Must-translate Palestinian Books for Children, came out from the Oklahoma City-based Penny Candy Books and comes with its own website (www.bluepoolofquestions.com) and an activity guide for schools.
In the words of children’s-book author and poet Naomi Shihab Nye: “Maya Abu-Alhayyat’s haunting, evocative text and Hassan Manasrah’s exquisitely gorgeous art combine to make a book worth holding very close. Give it to all your friends, big and little.”
Nour’s Escape, by Abir Ali, illustrated by Gulnar Hajo, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Darf UK, 2018)
This is the story of Nour, a little girl who didn’t have a family or a home. She lived on the street somewhere far away and long ago. Sadly, when you’re the main character in a book, you can’t escape from your story and go off and find a happier life. Or can you?
A unique perspective on the braveness needed to escape from an unbearable situation, whether it’s as an asylum seeker or refugee, or more broadly in life.
Watermelon Madness, by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, translated by Michelle and Tameem Hartman (Crackboom, 2018)
A book for the smallest of watermelon lovers, Watermelon Madness follows Noura, who is crazy about watermelon. She wants to eat nothing else: morning, noon, and night. Indeed, Noura is pretty sure there’s no such thing as too much watermelon.
Then, one night, the watermelon she has hidden in her room to eat all by herself begins to grow, and Noura gets taken on a wild watermelon adventure.
The Dot, written and illustrated by Gulnar Hajo, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Darf UK, 2019)
The story of a dot that got bored of sitting in the same place for ages without anything to do. So, it got up and started moving around. And that was when the fun started…
‘A celebration of creativity and collaboration, inviting readers to take a fresh look at the shapes that make up our world. I think it would make a great read-aloud, particularly in a preschool setting,’ says Laura Taylor at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative
I Love My Dad’s Long Beard by Maitha Al-Khayat (Zodiac Publishing, 2009)
A story about dads which come in all shapes and sizes. Sadly it looks like this one is out of print and not easy to get hold of.
The Little Green Drum, by Taghreed Najjar, illustrated by Hassan Manasrah, translated by the author and Lucy Coats (Orion Children’s Books, 2012)
Samia’s dad is very important. Every Ramadan he wakes the whole village up in time for breakfast. But this year, things are different and Samia needs to show everyone how strong and brave she can be.
A charming and empowering story about Ramadan, fasting and the ability of girls to do any job they put their mind to.
My Own Special Way by Mithaa Al-Khayyat, translated by Fatima Sharafeddine and Vivian French (Orion Children’s Books, 2012)
Hamda is fed up. Her sisters say she’s too little to play with them. How can she prove she’s a big girl like them? Cute and hilarious story of Hamda who’s determined that she can wear her veil in her own special way.
Ghady and Rawan, by Samar Mahfouz Barraj and Fatima Sharafeddine, translated by Sawad Hussain and M. Lynx Qualey (University of Texas Press, 2019)
According to Kirkus Reviews, Ghady and Rawan is “a heartfelt and beautifully written page-turner.”
It follows the friendship of two young Lebanese teens. Ghady lives with his family in Belgium while Rawan lives in Beirut. Ghady’s family travels every summer to Beirut, where Ghady gets to spend all his time with his friend Rawan. During the rest of the year, they keep in touch by email. Through this epistolary format, we watch their struggles unfold: Ghady’s homesickness and his trouble with racism at school, and Rawan’s conflicts with her friends and family.” From a review in Al Jadid, “Ghady & Rawan explores the daily conflicts of adolescents in mature yet refreshing letters between the two characters. The perspective shifts every chapter, giving readers a very personal glimpse while showing just how different each character’s experiences are. Through it all, Sharafeddine and Barraj do not depict life in one city as better than the other; rather, the novel focuses on human struggles that unite them both: fear, loss, and change.”
Code Name Butterfly, by Ahlam Bsharat, translated from Arabic by Nancy Roberts, cover deisgn by Mariam Abbas (Neem Tree Press, 2016)
As a young teen growing up in Palestine, Butterfly is compelled to question everything around her – personal questions above all but the political can’t help but make its presence felt. “A beautiful, astounding book that daringly, yet seamlessly blends the dreamy world of adolescence with the tough questions it brings. Code Name: Butterfly speaks with intelligence, wit and irony about the injustices and implications of occupation,” says the Chairman of the International Board on Books for Young People, Palestine Chapter.
The Servant, by Fatima Sharafeddine, translated by the author (Groundwood Books, 2013)
Faten — the first YA novel by award-winning author Fatima Sharafeddine — was translated into English by the author, with some help from her daughter, as The Servant.
Faten’s life and schooling in her Lebanese village comes to an abrupt end when her father arranges for her to work as a servant for a wealthy Beirut couple and their two daughters. But this bright, ambitious teen finds a way to navigate this new world, and also discovers a way out.
Through it all, the book asks: What is agency, what is servitude, who is visible and invisible?
As in the New York Times: “[Faten’s story] will draw in young readers preoccupied with society, challenging parents and their own fears.”
Trees for the Absentees, by Ahlam Bsharat, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Neem Tree Press, 2019)
Philistia’s world is that of an ordinary first-year university student, except that in Palestine, and when your father is in indefinite detention, nothing is straightforward. On the brink of adulthood, Philistia embarks on a journey through her country’s history – a magical journey, and one of loss and centuries of occupation. As trees are uprooted around her, Philistia searches for a place of refuge, a place where she can plant a memory for the ones she’s lost.
“A small and simple book, but its story has greater complexities if we wish to find them, and is a thought-provoking read for adults and children alike,” says Helen Vassallo at Translating Women blog.
Reem: Into the Unknown, by Ahmed al-Mahdi, translated by the author (April 2019, Knotted Road Press)
A tale of a cat that is more than just a cat, and a girl named Reem trapped by her family’s history. As reviewer Layla Azmi Goushey has written, this is, “A suspenseful coming-of-age novel that readers of all ages will enjoy!”
Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands, by Sonia Nimr, translated by M. Lynx Qualey (October 2020, Interlink Books)
This novel won the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the Young Adult category, it’s a thrilling historical fantasy for adults and children alike. It follows the adventures of the medieval Palestinian girl, Qamr, who sets off from her small village life in Palestine and finds herself kidnapped, enslaved, escaped, joining pirates, opening a bookshop, finding love, and having a hundred other adventures before finally, in the end, finding (we hope) what she was searching for.
A fun read for teens and, for adults, an escapist guilty-pleasure novel for our times.
The following 4 picture books are forthcoming in English translation, bringing our total up to 21!
The Dinoraf by Hessa Al Muhairi, illustrated by Sura Ghazwan, translated by Khaled al Masri (Marcos y Marcos, Italy)
Hatless by Lateefah Buti, translated by Nancy Roberts (Darf Publishers UK)
I Dream of Being a Concrete Mixer by Hussain al-Mutawaa, translated by Sophia Vasalou (Bookland Press, Canada)
What Can I See? by Amina Hashimi Alawi, illustrated by Gulnar Hajo, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Editora Trinte Zero Nove, Mozambique)
More on Arabic writing for young people in translation:
Recommendations for publishers of as yet untranslated Arabic books for young readers: ArabKidLitNow!
Young poets (14-18) who win the Barjeel Poetry Prize will have their work translated to Arabic
The Sheikh Zayed Book Award longlisted titles 2020 (winning titles receive full translation funding – announced April 2021)
Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature 2019 winners (rights available for all 6 winners as far as we know)