Board Book / Egypt / Pre-schoolers
October 18, 2022
"Author Aya Khalil and illustrator Magda Azab draw on their personal experience of life in Egypt to create this appealing board book for very young readers." Publisher
Our World books series published by Barefoot Books (www.barefootbooks.com) presents a new book in this collection titled: Egypt board book. There are two other books in this series, one about Japan and the other about France. Barefoot Books was established in England in 1992. According to the mission statement on their website, “since the beginning, we’ve wanted to create visually captivating books that celebrate diversity, spark curiosity and capture children’s imaginations.” And that is indeed what they have achieved from the array of books they publish including this series “Our World.”
Egypt written by Aya Khalil and illustrated by Magda Azab – both of Egyptian heritage – is a delightful, short board book that is accessible to children between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. It is colorful, whimsical and invites curiosity which is dealt with very well in a glossary of terms in the last two pages of the book. The book takes us on a journey of one day in the life of a little girl with her parents as well as interacting with her grandparents. It also introduces the reader to the city in which she lives. The glossary explains the Arabic words and provides an Arabic pronouncer – for example, the statement about how to say a popular Egyptian dish: “use the back of your throat to say kh in molokhiya.” I find that feature to be especially helpful and fun to read and practice with a young child. It can also be an opportunity to learn new words in Arabic!
One comment and not necessarily an issue is that in the glossary we do learn that this story takes place in Alexandria, Egypt. Unfortunately, when one gives the book the title of Egypt – there is an immediate assumption that we are talking about Cairo which is a bias that has forever existed. This book review writer laments this since Egypt is much more than just Cairo! However, Egyptians themselves in Arabic refer to going to Cairo as going to Egypt i.e., Masr in Arabic. Rarely does one hear an Egyptian refer to Cairo as Al-Qahira; the word in Arabic. This usage is slowly changing since Egypt’s second tier cities are hopefully being recognized more and more. This book takes place in Alexandria, Egypt and not in the capital city, Cairo – as many could or would assume. However, all the activities that take place in the day of the child’s life in the story can easily take place in Cairo; even the stroll along the corniche and seeing the colorful boats on the Nile River instead of in the Mediterranean Sea. The walkway along the banks of the Nile is also called the corniche; a French word meaning “road or walkway along a body of water.” Just to be a bit fastidious – in Egypt, the sale of prickly pears is generally done by a separate vendor who is equipped with the necessary knife to peel them for the buyers. I would have focused on watermelon with the mangoes, and figs.
All in all, Egypt is a delightful and fun book to read with a child who is eager to learn about another country’s rhythm and traditions. The learning takes place while reading about carrying on daily regular tasks that any child can relate to just like brushing teeth, visiting grandparents, and having a meal. Bravo! Thank you for bringing a glimpse of Egypt into children’s knowledge and imagination.
Heba F. El-Shazli, Ph.D.
George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government
Published in Africa Access Review (February 14, 2023)
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