With camps canceled and other activities for children limited this summer, many work-at-home parents are eagerly seeking ways to occupy the kids and maybe inject a little learning into the long hot days.
There are thousands of English-language options in reading, science, math, and history available for young people. Unfortunately, there is far less available in Arabic or about Arab culture. The options have been growing, though, particularly in the past few months since the coronavirus shutdowns began.
Below are a few resources for busy parents, sorted by approximate age group.
Ages 3 to 6
Short videos: Reading, singing, and crafts
In the past few months, a number of short videos targeted at the youngest readers have appeared online.
First, the United Arab Emirates’ Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) has been hosting wonderful five- to six-minute readings from acclaimed children’s book authors on Instagram. The program features readings from award-winning authors such as Abeer Al Taher, Rania Zbib Daher, Samar Mahfouz Barraj, and Taghreed Najjar. The videos are short and fun: Abeer Al Taher, for instance, reads from her award-winning A Very Naughty Cat alongside her own naughty cat. The readings can be found at instagram.com/uaebby. All of them are in Arabic.
Since she arrived in London at the end of 2012, the Syrian picture-book author and illustrator Nadine Kaadan has done frequent events in English and Arabic. She is the author of several award-winning picture books, including Answer Me, Leila; Tomorrow; and The Jasmine Sneeze. Recently, the Mosaic Rooms e-hosted Kaadan for activities around her book Answer Me, Leila, which she translated to English. Kaadan also included an art activity for young readers.
Small children will also enjoy Kaadan’s online readings of her English-language picture book The Jasmine Sneeze and the English translation of her book Tomorrow, about a boy named Yazan who can’t leave his home because of the war in Syria, and how he comes to terms with a life indoors. Kaadan’s publisher also has helped create a free guided-reading resource filled with activities to accompany the book.
Another great resource for little readers is the Jordanian publishing house Al Salwa Books. It has posted on YouTube a number of short readings, crafts and nursery rhymes as companions to its picture books. These include videos to go with the publisher’s popular Arabic Nursery Rhymes series.
Online reading games
For the youngest emerging readers, Sesame World has a handful of videos, activities and reading games available free online.
Book-subscription services are an excellent option for parents who don’t have access to an Arabic-language library and don’t know where to begin with creating an Arabic picture-book collection.
The “ArabiKids” service delivers curated Arabic books each month along with bookmarks, activity sheets, and other small surprises. It offers two services: a “Little Kids Box” for ages 3+, and a “Big Kids Box” for readers 6+.
The “Arabic Book a Month” club also delivers books monthly. Parents have the option of choosing books for readers ages 0-3, 4-8, 9-12, or “mixed ages.”
Free books online
Although not as satisfying as holding a picture book, the International Children’s Digital Library posts online children’s books in dozens of languages. The Arabic collection includes books inspired by the Egyptian TV show Bakkar as well as a few contemporary classics, such as Fatima Sharafeddine’s I’m Not Afraid, illustrated by Lena Merhej.
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Ages 6 to 11
Apps and online reading games
“Antura and the Letters” is a free smartphone and computer app that helps children ages 5 and up learn the basics of reading Arabic with Antura, a funny-looking dog. Children solve puzzles, throw Antura a bone, and earn prizes as they learn their letters and basic words.
In “Feed the Monster,” children ages 5 and up collect and raise pet monsters while learning fundamental Arabic reading and writing skills.
Although most of the International Children’s Digital Library reads are for younger children, it also has a history of Egypt in the Arab conquest era, and a collection of folktales for children ages 6 to 11.
Podcasts and performances
The wonderfully talented storyteller Sally Shalabi takes young readers on wild adventures in the Shalabiyat Storytelling Podcast. Shalabi has taken popular folktales, reworking them into forms that suit her vibrant style. Shalabiyat offers storytelling adventures for folktale-lovers with medium attention spans.
Also for elementary-age folktale-lovers, Hadil Ghoneim performs several of the stories from her charming Shehrazizi Nights: A Story Inside a Story Inside a Story, published by Dar Al Balsam in 2019.
Ages 12 and Up
Melanie Magidow, a teacher and translator, has put together a rolling list online Arabic-learning resources for children and teens. It includes online Arabic summer camps and lessons based in Morocco, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It’s a useful page to keep bookmarked, as Magidow regularly updates it with new offerings.
Books and comics online
Hindawi has more than a hundred free, downloadable books for older children online. They include folktales and other fun classics written in or translated into Arabic.
Rusumat comics platform has comics, graphic novels, and children’s books, including Habka, a new Libyan manga magazine for ages 9+. There are also a number of free comics. However, parents should note that many of the comics on this platform are aimed at adults.
Podcasts and educational videos
In a recent episode of the Story Seeds Podcast, the Palestinian-American children’s book author Susan Muaddi Darraj talked with host Betsy Bird about why representing Arab-American girls matters in children’s books, writing tips, and more. In English.
Also for teens, the Mosaic Rooms commissioned the artist Jordan Nassar to design a cross-stitch pattern inspired by the rich history of Palestinian embroidery. In the program, called Let’s Tatreez!, people from around the world are invited to download the tatreez patterns and instructions and to share their designs using #LetsTatreez. The video and instructions are in English.
Poetry and translation
Aspiring poets should glance through the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation. Late this summer, Barjeel will be launching an “ekphrastic” poetry prize—that is, a prize for poems inspired by art—for teens, in Arabic and in English.
Children and adults of all ages are invited to translate poetry into English from Arabic or any other language for the 2020 Stephen Spender Prize. There are categories for young people (14-and-under, 16-and-under, and 18-and-under) as well as an open category for adults. Note, however, that entrants must be citizens or residents of the United Kingdom or Ireland, or pupils of a British School overseas.
However, even for those who can’t enter, the Stephen Spender Trust has tips and resources for teens who would like to try out “plurilingual” writing or literary translation.
Looking for more resources?
The children’s book author and activist Miranda Beshara has pinned two hundred resources to a board online, including books, games, crafts, and coloring sheets.