SOURCE: SCOOP EMPIRE
BY: NADINE ARAB
With the rise of technology and its evolution, children nowadays have bee missing out on a lot, most importantly, on their own childhood! More smartphones and tablets, less hide and seek, arts and crafts, or hitting the playground. That being said, it’s no surprise that reading is becoming a less popular habit in today’s world as well. Take a second and ask yourself, how often does your kid read? Now take another second and see how many Arabic books does he/she read?
Knowing that the answers to these questions might be disappointing, Egyptian children’s book Author, Dina El Abd, found the perfect solution; Arabic Book A Month! Lucky for us, we had the chance to have a chitchat with Dina about her startup, the industry, and more.
Tell us more about “Arabic Book A Month” and how you got the idea.
As a children’s books’ author and critic, I have been working in the field for over ten years. With my kind of expertise, my friends and family living in non-Arabic-speaking countries, and also in Egypt, have always asked me to recommend good books for their kids, and where to buy them. I recommended books, but I always felt that unless those books come straight to their front door, they wouldn’t buy them. And that’s how the idea of “Arabic Book A Month” was born, to precisely respond to this problem.
So, “Arabic Book A Month” is an Arabic children’s book subscription service and online bookstore. Parents should select their children’s age and how many books they want per month, and our team selects the best books and delivers them to their front door. It is a great tool to help build your child’s library and help them love learning Arabic.
Considering books V.S E-books, how do you feel the evolution of technology is affecting reading?
I have no problem with e-books; however, I do think they are more beneficial for an older age group, starting with teens. Younger children learn better by being more focused on a physical book. The physical act of reading a book with your finger on the page, flipping pages, and looking carefully at illustrations cannot happen digitally. Often, digital platforms can be very distracting to children who are still learning a language and need to be looking at the spelling of words, grammar, and sentence creation. Worldwide, the only physical books that are growing in print are children’s books.
How do you make Arabic books more appealing to nowadays’ kids?
Though Arabic children’s books have lagged behind English children’s books in quality for decades, this is actually the case in many languages worldwide. However, with awards and other incentives to Arabic publishers to produce higher quality books, we now see some really excellent work being produced in Arabic. My job is to highlight that. I personally select new and engaging high-quality children’s books and talk about them on my platform, “Arabic Book A Month”. I find that just by discussing books, reviewing them, and sharing photos; this really sparks interest in parents who simply did not know these quality books existed.
For children, on the other hand, I think it needs to be acknowledged that every child would love different books. Learning to love reading needs to be an ongoing effort. It starts with the parents continuously bringing new books into the home to be read together, and then the children growing up and selecting their own books regularly. The regularity is important, which is why I recommend receiving new books at least once a month. Children flourish when they have a library at home; research has shown this. It’s not enough to have a couple of books beneath a pile of clothes. Children need a library of books that they can pick from and refer to, read, and reread. This will build their language and love for Arabic, and their ability to learn and communicate in that language.
What do you think of the children’s book industry in Egypt?
The Egyptian children’s book industry has come a long way. Something surprising I’ve found is that Egypt is the Arab country producing the cheapest Arabic children’s books. The books I buy from Lebanon, Jordan, UAE, and so forth are often of better quality print and production, and of course, are sold at the same price as books you would buy in the USA. The Egyptian industry seems to have been conditioned to sell very cheap quality books for a long time, and only more recently am I finding books of higher quality that can really compete with these other markets.
Regarding talent, we have some really fantastic children’s books’ authors and illustrators, whose work is used in different countries across the Middle East and beyond. The industry could really use more authors though.
Tell us more about your own background.
I’m a children’s books’ author and critic. For over ten years, I have worked in children’s book publishing, presented at conferences, and contributed to the production of over 35 books and magazines. I have also completed a Masters of Education at the University of Cambridge specializing in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. In 2017, I’ve led a one-million-dollar project with Room to Read, to publish 20 quality Arabic children’s books in Jordan, which were printed into 600,000 copies and distributed for free to underprivileged and refugee children.
I’ve already published three children’s books, with my fourth coming out soon. Titles include “Melouq”, “The Lion That Dressed as a Sheep”, “The Magic Palm”, and “Mila, the Beautiful Cat”.
What advice would you like to give to parents?
Read with your children from a young age. I often feel that parents are so busy nowadays, stretched between trying to provide for their children and also introducing them to many experiences, from sports to family and so on. Reading is underestimated but can be very beneficial. Imagine it as a discovery. You and your child are meeting someone new in this book, seeing the world through their eyes, hearing their story. It can be funny, exciting, scary, or anything else. Together, you will discuss it and help your child learn how to put themselves in the shoes of another person they have never met, to empathize, and to reason. These are really critical thinking skills that will help children grow into reasonable and abled adults.