Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Saudi Book Fair

The school where the Mister and I work also has a publishing house. It's really doing great things for education in the Arab world, if you think about it. They take education methodology and strategy books printed in English, translate them, and publish them in Arabic to be distributed to schools and universities in the region. Considering that none of my students had ever heard of anyone going to college to become a teacher, publishing teacher books in Arabic is a major step in the right direction. Almost all of the teachers that I work with majored in something other than education. They just teach because there are so few job options for women in Saudi Arabia. So giving them methodology books will hopefully improve the quality of instruction in the classroom.

To further the literacy efforts of the school, the publishing house hosts a book fair every year. It has a selection of books the school has published, as well as books ordered from distributors. It was set up in the boys side gymnasium and schools from the area brought their students because the selection is that much better than the bookstores. The whole gym was filled with books! 97% of them were in Arabic, but hey! That's alright! From what I've gathered, it's hard to find good story books in Arabic. My students tell me that most of the books published in Arabic are non-fiction. The young adult readers of Saudi Arabia are crying out for a good read. Unfortunately, they don't have many choices of Arab-written books, so they have to settle for the translated American books instead.

Like I said, it's a baby step, but it's a step in the right direction.

I went to the book fair to get some children's books in hopes of finally having something in Arabic that was on my reading level. The wonderful secretary from the English cluster (who doubles as my Arabic teacher on Sunday afternoons) was with me and helped me make my selections. I got a book about a girl named Kamellia who gets new shoes, and another book about a boy named Karim who goes grocery shopping.

These are 2 from a whole series of Kamellia and Karim books. Those kids lead some busy lives!!

(Because Arabic is read from the right to left, the books open the opposite direction of English books. AND I learned that the table of contents is always found at the back of Arabic books.)

I think these books are going to help me with my vocabulary and pronunciation. What I like about them is they include the harikat--the Arabic vowels. Those are the little dashes (called fethah and kessrah), the floating thing that looks like a bloated comma (called the doma), the flying "w" looking thing (called the shedha), and the thing that looks like a degree symbol (called the sukoon)*.

They don't usually appear in most of the printed Arabic we see like billboards, news tickers, and TV subtitles, but they are pronounced. And there are words that have the same letters, but the harikat (that is often not written) changes the meaning. This is incredibly frustrating for someone who is learning the language with very little background knowledge. The harikat are like training wheels, and I'm like the 13 year old kid who still hasn't taken them off her bike. "Don't take the harikat away! That's the only way I can know what I'm saying!"

As I was browsing the shelves at the book fair, I saw some familiar faces.

Recognize this blonde beauty?

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys have been translated into Arabic! I love the fact that the translated versions have the 1950s book covers. I recognized them right away. There were other English classics too:

This is the thickest version of Oliver Twist I have ever seen! It was at least 2.5 inches thick! I thought maybe it had both the Arabic and English translations, but no! It was all Arabic and could double as a weapon if launched at someone's head.

I hope the book fair was a success. While the English section consisted of maybe 75-100 titles, the Arabic section might have sparked the interest of some of the Saudi students that came to shop. Literacy is literacy, no matter the language, and I'm a big fan.

Vicariously yours,

*I'm sure I'm spelling the transliteration of these words all wrong. I'm just going with phonetics, and that's what they sound like!


  1. you recognized the Nancy Drew because I have that one! You probably read it a long time ago. (p.s.- 3 entries today- I'm impressed!)

  2. looks like kemilia got some rockin' yellow uggs.

  3. I read 3 to 5 novel a month in English. I find that about every 5th book that I read is superb the rest are just enjoyable. Anyone who does not read in one of the big languages must struggle to find a good book.