The speakers were: Dr. Yasmine Motawy, faculty member at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and children’s literature scholar, Dr. Shahira Khalil, Editor-in-Chief of Samir Magazine for children, and Rania Hussein Amin, well-known children's author and illustrator.
Amin began the talk by sharing her experience in writing children’s literature in Egypt, providing insights into the converging and diverging expectations of writers and publishers. Two age groups were identified as missing from the Egyptian/Arabic children’s literature market: very young children and teen books. Young adults cited books such as Essam Youssef’s ¼ Gram, and Ahmed Mourad’s Blue Elephant, both rife with social taboos, as their selected reading material. A likely reason is their appetite for more adult topics, albeit through inappropriate sources, in the absence of young-adult niched fictional fare about the more mature topics that appeal to their age bracket. The inevitable discussion of “which Arabic to use when writing for children” came up as well and the differences between what children want to read, what parents want to teach, and what the Ministry of Education propagates were explored.
Khalil spoke about the importance of children’s magazines to their readers and their function as an organic communal space for children–mostly those who attend the open Samir workshops in Dar Al-Helal in Sayeda Zeinab–to contribute comic strips, illustrations and even storylines, and the trust fostered between the material and the child reader.
Motawy introduced the newly reborn EBBY and opened the floor to questions about how EBBY can serve as a hub for Egyptian children’s literature. EBBY, founded in 1987, today boasts a dedicated set of professionals who are quickly making this a reality.
- Organizing workshops for both new and seasoned authors and illustrators to improve book quality
- Creating a database of authors, illustrators, publishers and critics on the EBBY website
- Creating recommended and reviewed books by EBBY with an “EBBY recommends gold sticker”
- Helping connect people to grant opportunities and competitions in the field
- Nominating Egyptian writers for the the Hans Christian Anderson award and books under the IBBY Honor List
- Encouraging members from different governorates in Egypt to join and support EBBY