Back to one of my favorite things to rant about. Arabic children books.

I’ve been helping out a little with teaching my 2nd grade kid with Arabic reading. Now don’t get me started about the official curriculum for Jordanian second graders. But I will say this much: the design is horrible. And I’ve been comparing how Arabic and English books teach reading and even I, as non-expert, can tell you that there is something wrong with the way Arabic is taught.

But let’s leave the Ministry curriculum in peace.

My kids’ school sends children books with them to read at home. They expect kids to read them with parents and there is a sheet I have to sign stating that the book was actually read. Good, commendable practice.

But this evening I was basically dealing with a piece of junk of a book.

When your kids’ mind wanders off the story and starts noticing typographic errors, missing pages and the low quality of illustrations, then something is definitely wrong.

This book had it all. Arabic words stretched to infinity and beyond to fill a line (dad, why did they stretch that word this long?)! Confusing name of the main character which sounded like the name of the animal he is, but not really (Sinjab, Sanjoob?)! Missing diacritics (harakat, which I started adding with a pencil)! Changing colors of the characters from page to page (dad, why is the squirrel now red?)


There is apparently an industry out there which produces books like these for schools. Schools buy them because they need “content” to fill the hours and schedules. And in the end, the same kids who are watching Pixar movies in 3D are expected to read such books.

Then we get some middle aged, balding guy in a grey suit in one of those Arabic Language and Heritage Conferences, moaning about the Western Cultural Invasion.

What a strange part of the world we’re living in. I think there are enough good writers out there. And there are good illustrators and artists. But who gets the job of producing my kids books? Some trashy publisher employing talentless morons as writers and illustrators.

Of course, some of those artists who could potentially change the landscape of Arabic children literature, are busy being angry about politics or doing abstract art or expressing their inner tormented souls or whatever.

It’s a disconnect that makes me angry.

There are some really good Arabic children books out there. In the 60’s and 70’s there were pioneers all over the Arab world who did great work.

But let me tell you this..

In my mind exists an imaginary country. Ruled, dictatorially, by one party: The Party of Children Progress. They have a brutal secret police that hunts down only one kind of traitors: people who have been involved in producing low quality children books. Publishers, writers, illustrators, printers. They get arrested in the middle of the night and thrown in jail for 10 years of hard labor or worse. TRAITORS!!

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9 responses to “Arabic children books (again): force feeding your kids trash”

  1. Nabil Avatar

    Hello Ahmad,
    I have been googling Jordanian blogs for over 2 hours trying to find something interesting to read about and I it might sound weird but I think I’m facing the same problem you have here. I have a feeling that the same authors and writers who come up with your kid’s books have found out about the internet and somehow found their way into blogging.
    We should have a Media Authority overlooking the CONTENT and SUBSTANCE being published and comparing it to others from around the world … Also I vote to set up a Juantanamo (J for Jordan) Bay Detention Camp for the trash writers … you never know keeping them locked up might improve their imagination and their publications.
    I mean It goes without saying—the quality and appeal of the illustrations and content should be the key factor in determining a picturebook, storybook or even a blog’s quality. I don’t have kids myself but even when I pick up a book the first thing I look to see if it has any nice pictures. I mean if I was going to sit down and read a kids book it would have to have the graphical works of (Avatar – The Movie), Story line of (the lion King) and witty characters like the (Penguins of Madagascar – probably my favorite characters of all time) to hold my simple minded attention for more than the first page.
    Anyway … I think you’re a gifted writer and I love what I’m reading … keep it up … and hope you don’t mind the comment.

  2. Zaiding Avatar

    Traitors indeed, this is really embarrassing and frustrating, something should be done, ranting is not enough my friend, we have to take action about this, the problem is to the core, I just check the ministry of education website, no offense to whom ever made it , but its looks as if it was designed and developed in kazakhstan at the year 1981. no wonder children books taught for our youngsters and kids are crappy.

    J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for children, and here we are talking about Sanjoob, nothing more to say but ma3a al Sanajeb.

  3. Emi Avatar

    I noticed in my 1st grade son’s Arabic textbook that there’s a problem. Hell, I can’t even read the book due to my Arabic illiteracy, but I can still see a problem; the last 25% of the book is of such poor quality it’s unreadable. (Looks like a bad photocopier job.) Apparently ALL of the books are like that and they will just “skip that part.”

  4. kinzi Avatar

    I love it when dads get mad over horrific childrens ‘books’ and curriculum.

    There is so much great talent in Jordan, in art, in writing, in philosophy of education. Why is it wasted?

  5. M. Lynx Qualey Avatar
    M. Lynx Qualey

    Well, consider yourself lucky! :-) We only have a workbook that comes home in Arabic, and “stories” to read from the workbook…if you can call them stories.

    My older one is also in Grade 2. It’s difficult, absolutely, when the English-language books are so much more fun…and the Arabic stories are dull land usually teaching some moral that’s difficult to digest.

    Time to go visit the school with a list of suggestions for the library as well as some gift books.

  6. مجهولٌ Avatar

    great post!

  7. mohammad Avatar

    Great one ahmad, i suggest you re-blog it in arabic!

  8. Hana Avatar

    Great article.. you were speaking my mind.. I felt like laughing and crying while reading it.. its not funny at all infact it is sad and ridiculous (loved the part about sanjoub) You just reminded me of something.. I was living in Canada, now I live in Amman, and one time I asked my mom to bring some books with her from Amman, Arabic books. They were closed in a plastic cover so she hadn’t read them when she picked them. (now I know why.. so that they actually get sold) The stories were too crappy to read to my kids, that I had to re-invent the story. One story was about a duck who is jealous from a goose because the farmer said “wow the goose is so brave she kicked out the bad guys who want to steel her eggs!” and the jealous duck steels the goose’s eggs or smth.. wow that’ll teach my kids wonders.. who’s the genius who wrote that one, I wonder!

  9. Deidre Avatar

    I stumbled on your blog while researching Arabic Children’s Literature for a college course. I laughed out loud as I read. It is what I have found true even from my American Christian perspective of looking around for quality Arabic picture books here in the states on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. I am saddened because there must be so much more talent and passionate messages for children out there in the world of Arabic authors and illustrators. I can see the barriers with publishing, but what do you propose be done to bring it up to speed? There seem to be some publishing houses run by Arab women who as mothers got flustered and decided to take on illiteracy in their own way. And there is the UAE prize now awarded.. but what more? The publishers of textbooks and curriculum here in the US are making big bucks and producing quality illustrations if not accurate content.. what is to be be done for Arabic children?