In 2005 she collaborated with renowned painter, Adly Rezkallah, to produce her first book The Silver Fish, which was given an honorable mention in the New Horizon's category of the Ragazzi Award, and received the Egypt's Award for Children's Literature (then called the Suzanne Mubarak prize). Since then she has published over a dozen books for different age groups. A number of her books were selected for distribution to primary and middle school libraries on the national level and her first novel, The House and the Palm Tree, was included in the Arabic Language curriculum at a number of high schools.
EBBY’s Dina Elabd interviewed Tobbala and asked her about her journey to becoming an author of children’s books.
Dina Elabd: What is your opinion on children’s books in Egypt?
Affaf Tobbala: There has been a lot of growth in the past few years, and yet there is a great deal of potential for further growth. I appreciate literature more than the didactic side of books. If you have good intentions, then they will come out in story. Language, story, characters, dialogue, etc is all important. How to make the emotional connection etc… Many people don’t pay attention to it and don’t think children can understand this. So they usually put non-literature-like topics.
Elabd: Which of your books is your favorite, or are you most proud of?
Tobbala: Similar to the saying “Who is your favorite child? The one who get’s sick until he is better, or the one who is traveling until he is back?” I love my books that were not fully appreciated, though I felt they deserved an award. Such as Awrak adeema (Old Papers) and Enshudat el awda (Homecoming Song).
Elabd: Why did you start writing for children, when it wasn’t your background?
Tobbala: I married young at 18, so I didn’t have time to tell stories to my kids. But when my daughter had children, I would tell them stories and they seemed to like it. So when they got older, they told me to write these stories.
Elabd: Who is your favorite children’s writer or what is your favorite children’s book?
Tobbala: I hadn’t read any of these when I started writing. I read Le Petit Prince with my daughter, and very few other things. I would read adult literature. I felt it was important to write for children, as the didactic stories would make me angry. I liked funny things. All the stories are repetitive, basically the same story… like based on princes, judges, khalifas, and men with three children.
Elabd: What do you think is the most important thing in books for children? What do children like?
Tobbala: I believe good children’s books are also loved by adults. The child is a human at the end of the day—he will like mystery, he wants to feel emotions, and care for the characters. Like El beit w el nakhla (The House and the Palm Tree), which is read even in the German School and Hayah International Academy, although it’s a story about an old woman. So you don’t have to write about children for children. I don’t write what kids like, but I will make them like it through my story-telling techniques.