Children’s books in Arabic are a sad tale
A lack of good quality children’s books in Arabic means that parents are reading to their children from English books, said a publisher. Isobel Abul Houl, publisher for Jeroboam books that publishes children’s books in both English and Arabic, said: “There’s a lack of good children’s books in terms of illustration, quality and imagination, so the majority of children’s books in Arabic are often translated or they’re poor quality.” Isobel felt that there’s “a belief that books should be cheap but parents will happily pay Dh42 for a children’s book in English, but won’t pay this for the Arabic equivalent, because it’s perceived as too expensive. Why should it cost less money because it’s in Arabic?”
Isobel is also the Director of the first Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature, which will take place in Dubai from February 25 to March 1, 2009, and director of regional book store Magrudy’s.
She said: “There’s not a lack of Arabic writers, but I think that authors and writing are not valued in Arabic. It’s not that there are no good writers in Arabic, it’s just that there’s no industry and no one’s going to buy the book if it’s written in the language.”
The festival has currently confirmed participation of 28 international authors, including Paolo Coelho, and will be running a series of workshops around the literature framework. It will be focusing on the themes of literacy and education through reading.
“The best way to be a good writer is to read. Reading translated books is not the same thing as reading something written in the mother tongue,” she said.
Isobel continued to cite the establishment of the Tarjem programme, launched under the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.
The programme has been designed to inspire translation – a high quality translation of the world’s bestsellers from a number of languages into Arabic. The programme, established in February, will facilitate the translation of 365 books into Arabic this year, and aims to double the number of translated works in the Arab world.
Isobel said: “I think there’s a lack of importance given to literacy and to children’s books in particular. It all starts when you’re a child – it’s too late when you’re 20 to suddenly start reading, or even when you’re five or six.
“You won’t have that lovely warm and cosy experience of reading that you can get if you’re exposed to children’s books. This is an area I really feel we need to work on.” .