Contemporary Arabic story telling for children is based on a rich and ancient literary tradition. Here Kalimat Publishing look at their place in the new Arabic publishing reality.
Throughout the world and across different continents, storytelling has long existed among various communities, and in a multitude of languages. Verbal communication came long before the written word, and with it began a primitive culture of sharing tales – to forewarn of dangers, help children to fall asleep, or simply serve as entertainment.
The Arab world has a strong culture of storytelling that stems from a variety of subjects (namely religious, informational and educational) and these stories are often based on local culture, heritage and history – all of which remain ingrained in the Arab conscious.
With roots dating back to more than 1,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, Arab storytelling has inspired some of the world’s most famous collections of Arabic literature, such as the 9th century epic fictional tale, One Thousand and One Nights, which has had a major literary influence on the Arab and Western world alike.
More expansively, the Quran is the first book written in the Arabic language of notable length and intricate structure, consisting of 114 suras (chapters) that comprise 6,236 ayat (verses). The holy book, which contains narratives delivered directly from God, has been revered by Muslim societies for centuries, but is also admired by people from different religions and backgrounds for its eloquent and beautifully written stories, and these tales have had a significant impact on the themes of Arabic literature over time.
Whilst religious Islamic principles have been taught to children since the early 7th century, in recent decades it has become widely agreed upon that educating younger generations is the key to spreading an appreciation of literature, reading and the arts. The Emirates Publishers Association, the Arab Publishers Association, the International Publishers Association and individual publishing associations from a number of Arab nations, frequently coordinate with one another and with prominent literary figures from around the world, to discuss the latest innovations in publishing and the effects of the digital realm, school curriculums, and specific content on readership and education.
The regional Arab publishing scene is also expanding at a remarkable rate, and it continues to find ways with which to revolutionise the way Arab society perceives literature, whilst also encouraging youths to embrace reading, whether electronically or traditionally.
The United Arab Emirates publishing group, Kalimat Group (which now comprises of three imprints) started with Kalimat – a children’s publishing house that has produced over 160 titles. It is a prime example of an organisation within the Arab world that fully dedicates itself to publishing unique Arabic children’s books with the purpose of sparking an interest in learning and reading. Kalimat was established by Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi in 2007, with the aim of encouraging a love of books among Arab children, who, not long ago, found it nearly impossible to find literature that applied both to their lives within an increasingly modern world, and to their cultural surroundings.
The award-winning organisation goes to great lengths to make reading a priority amongst youths in the Arab region. It welcomes Arabic authors and illustrators from all walks of life to contribute to its wide range of publications, which are aimed at children up to the age of eleven. It also participates in regional and international book fairs in order to promote its books, as well as sharing industry knowledge and expertise with members of the global publishing community.
Kalimat Group has also launched two other imprints over the years, with each of which focusing on a different age bracket. Horouf, established in 2013, supports the teaching of Arabic in a fresh, new way to preschool and primary school students, by helping them develop their physical and intellectual skills, and by creating a successful learning relationship between their peers, their teachers and society as a whole. The aim of this imprint is to help students cope with the requirements of their future growth, and provide them with unique learning solutions when being taught Arabic at school.
Horouf has published eighteen books under ‘The Big Book project’ – a scheme which provides clear, colourful books for teachers to read and share with their young students – as well as publishing twenty titles in its Imrah Series, which encourages a love of reading in children via a range of fun, exciting and diverse topics.
Its third project, ‘Concepts’, focuses on matters that children experience at home and at school, based on their surroundings, daily activities and family life. It aims to teach children using simple and interesting techniques, such as 3D animation and songs. Horouf’s fourth concept, ‘Family Letters’, helps young children learn the alphabet in an easy manner, also with the use of music and 3D animation, and its products consist of CDs, flash-cards and workbooks.
Meanwhile, Kalimat’s latest imprint, Rewayat, publishes contemporary young adult fiction and short stories written by award-winning Arab and international authors.
Kalimat continues to grow, innovate and succeed, and it has received numerous international awards (such as the Kitabi 21 award from the Arabic Thoughts Foundation, both in 2012 and 2015) as well as being shortlisted for Best Publisher of the Year for the Asia region at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
It goes beyond typical subjects of children’s books, and brings Arab children storylines that are culturally relevant, fun and useful in their day-to-day lives. With continuously evolving imprints, Kalimat Group is creating an impactful culture of reading among children in the region. The Arab children’s publishing sector is noticeably paving the way for fresh talent to produce rich content for young people so that they can find joy in books. A combination of Arab tradition and modern innovation makes this publishing house a unique, powerful force in the Middle Eastern as well as global literary spheres.
Kalimat, Horouf and Rewayat allow the art of storytelling to reach a variety of young audiences, and they keep them captivated and absorbed in reading and learning. The result: the children’s imaginations have space to grow, and they are provided with the inspiration to pursue their dreams and mould a positive, exciting future for themselves and their peers. Storytelling is a vital component of Arab culture, and the books Kalimat publish ensure that it will remain so for new generations of Arab children in an increasingly globalised Arab world.
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