Yesterday I went to the launch of BUBBLE HERO, an Arabic children’s book published by Kalimat. The author (pictured) is Emirati children’s writer Abir Ballan.
It was so cute to see all the tiny kid’s chairs and then watch all the boys squeeze into the Kalimat stand to hear the reading. It helped that they were being given bubble blowers to play with!
The book is about a little boy who farts a lot. Bubble = fart = LOL.
Although in Australia we are used to fun books for little ones, this kind of book is highly innovative in the UAE, where books for young readers often carry moral messages and are often low on humour. Another issue is that they are published in classical Arabic, which causes a disconnect between the words on the page and the everyday language children use.
There was a fascinating article on this topic in The National today, A language tradition revised. In it, Kalimat publisher Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi said:
“Language affects children’s thought and emotions and there’s a rigid, formal language in books. The gap between the colloquial and classical plays a big part in why children are not picking up books,” Sheikha Bodour says.
While Kalimat publishes books in Modern Standard Arabic (formal Arabic), it includes words and expressions that are familiar to children, and tries to make the gap between formal and colloquial writing as small as possible, so that children will feel connected to the texts.
Bubble Hero is a Kalimat book that is pushing other boundaries also. According to Bodour, there is a dearth of humour-only books for children. At the launch yesterday, she was confident that children, especially boys, would love Bubble Hero, but worried that teachers and parents might find it too radical to enjoy. I’m hoping that she will be wrong, in the nicest possible way!
I have such fond memories of reading ‘nonsense books’ (like Paul Jennings!) when I was growing up, and it’s inspiring that Bodour and Kalimat are working to bring this kind of book to the children of the UAE also. At the Emirati YA panel it was discussed how making making reading fun at a young age leads to increased literacy and reading enjoyment as teens and adults. So a book like Bubble Hero is win-win really – fun for kids and good for books and learning.
Kalimat are launching an incredible 20 books at Sharjah Book Fair this year, and are a publisher to keep an eye on. In a region beset with problems with publishing and distribution, writing and reading, Kalimat are proving to be a smart, engaged and innovative publishing house. (Also, Bodour recently won the British Council’s Young Publishing Entreprenuer Award. Amazing.)
It was fun to be at the noisy and chaotic launch of Bubble Hero. Talk about a good vibe, the author did a great reading and the kids loved it. And of course I’m talking about the big kids there – I had a blast!