On Aladdin’s Magic Carpet
In the Arab literary world, children’s literature is a fairly recent development. Differences in language in the various countries created problems in communication. Each Arab country has its own spoken dialect, although a written, classical language is common to all. Whether to write in the less prestigious colloquial language or in the classical language was a dilemma. Moreover, very young children listening to stories written in classical Arabic would require explanations in their colloquial language. The limited market for colloquial texts discouraged some writers from devoting their talent and knowledge to literature in this form of the language. Over time, a compromise was reached; now, the majority of Arab writers for children use a simple classical language.
Since the 1960s foreign books invading our markets have resulted in a flood of translated books, a phenomenon that persists today. Nevertheless, there are individual attempts, in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Iraq, and Tunisia, to write original stories with local color. These are relatively few compared to the needs of the Arab market. Selected for review are books of quality that were accessible to me in Lebanon. Nasrallah, Emily. Ala Bisat el Thalj (On the ice carpet). Illus. Maha Nasrallah. Beirut: Dar el Ibdaa, 2000. Ages 10-14.
Nasrallah, whose books have been translated into several languages, is one of the leading novelists in the Arab world. Following the tradition of flying carpets in stories from the East, the writer borrows this magic vehicle, transforming it into a carpet of ice. A young boy, living in war-torn Beirut, takes a trip on a magic ice carpet to the land of the Inuit at the North Pole. In a detailed, vivid descriptive style, the writer, as eyewitness, weaves the events of the story between fantasy and reality to introduce the traditions and lifestyle, the eating, sleeping, and clothing habits, of these people. The author shows the importance of rituals associated with occasions like births, marriages, and deaths to a hard life lived in harsh weather conditions in six months of uninterrupted darkness. The Inuits’ pride in their culture and their remarkable love of freedom are evident in this well-documented account that successfully merges fantasy and reality. Abu-Nasr, Julinda, and Antoine Jabbour. Ashaar lil Atfal (Poems for children). Illus. Sandra Helou and Mark Baroud. Beirut: Techno Press, 1998. Ages 3-7.
This privately published book, a collection of ten poems and rhymes inspired by the local climate and written in colloquial language, could not find a commercial publisher because of the limited market. Elements of nature and seasonal changes are introduced through children’s pastimes. Flying kites, racing the wind, visiting a magic land while perched on the branch of a tree on an imaginary horse sailing the rings formed by a pebble thrown into a pond, and building castles on the beach for the waves to wash away are among the activities children engage in. Feelings of fear and anxiety caused by the sound of thunder and the sudden flashing of lightning are recognized along with happy feelings children experience as they splash in the mud in the rain, squirt water from a hose on a hot summer day, play in the garden, and share the bread crumbs from their sandwiches with birds and insects. The rhymes are accompanied by simple colorful illustrations on a beige background, which highlights interesting details in the composition.
Copyright Bookbird, Inc. 2002
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