The Zayed Book Award is a shot in the arm for Arabic kids' books

The Zayed Book Award is a shot in the arm for Arabic kids books

Kalimat, publishes books out of Sharjah, only in Arabic and only for children

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 Jasmine Al Kuttab

Published: Fri 5 May 2017, 8:19 PM

Last updated: Fri 5 May 2017, 10:24 PM

It's a figure sure to incite envy. Eight winners of the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which took place last week in Abu Dhabi, received prize money of Dh750,000 each totalling a whopping Dh7 million.
Among the winners was a publishing house Kalimat that publishes only children's books in Arabic. They bagged an award for Publishing and Technology. We caught up with Tamer Said, 38, the general manager of Kalimat Group. Said, who moved to UAE from Egypt, said, "We started 10 years ago. When the company began, we had one aim - providing the Arabic book market with the best and most nurturing children's books." Said has been with the organisation for more than six years.
Founded by Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi in 2007, Kalimat is the first publishing house in UAE for publishing Arabic children's books. And they're doing well, too. In 2014, at the London Book Fair, Kalimat won 'Best Publisher in Asia' and 'International Excellence Award'. The group has produced over 175 books in three years, ranging from picture books for younger age groups with a portfolio of traditional topics; these include tales from UAE's unique culture and heritage.
Kalimat says the aim is to protect the Arabic language, which is diminishing among children in the Arab world. The reasons, predictably enough, are social media and technology. "There is enough fantastic English material out there, but in terms of the Arabic language, it is slowly fading away. This is exactly the reason why we entered the market, to grow the number of Arabic books for youth."
Soon after its success across the UAE, Kalimat opened a second company 'Hurouf,' which means letters. "The educational consumers and entities informed us that they love our books, but cannot use them in their schools, so we took it as a challenge and created books for classrooms," offers Said, who says his books aren't pedantic - no preachy tones and 'do-this,' or 'don't-do-that'.
The themes include moral aspects of life, family, friendship, traditions of the UAE, as well as the country's rich heritage, and last, but certainly not the least, stories that tell the tale about the Father of the Nation, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. "Baba Zayed is one of our most popular books for children." All of which played an immense part in the publications' success.
The publishing house developed a third entity, 'Rewayat,' which deals in fiction books for young adults, as well as Maktaba - the bookshop, prior to teaming-up with international publishers from the UK and France  - all to help enhance the Arabic language among UAE's children.
The majority of writers are from the Arab world, and around 95 per cent of the books are in Arabic in the original. Five per cent are translated from English.
So what are the plans after winning Dh750,000? For one, it will help the team develop even better books that educate children. Said says, "We are already in talks for expanding and forging more partnerships and publishing more books. We were beyond happy when we received the award, it's a great recognition and we feel it's the result of hard work."
What is the publishing scene like though, in the UAE? It's grown and it's continuing to grow. "In the last five years, the UAE has become a hub for publishing businesses". He says, although everything here is promising and people are encouraged to start businesses, "We cannot deny that Arabic books are facing many challenges. That is why such a special award encourages us to keep going - we must keep the Arabic language alive." That is of utmost importance.
First: The 'Literature' Award
'Khareef al Bara'a' (The Autumn of Innocence) by Lebanese author Abbas Beydoun, published by Dar Al Saqi (2016)
Second: The 'Contribution to the Development of Nations' Award
'Al Islam wal Insan' (Islam and the Human Being) by Mohammad Chahrour from Syria, published by Dar Al Saqi (2016)
Third: The 'Children's Literature' Award
'Bila qubba'a' (Hatless) by Lateefa Buti from Kuwait, published by Seedan Media - Kuwait (2015)
Fourth: The 'Translation' Award
'Averroés: Le Philosophe Et La Loi - Ibn Rushd' translated from Arabic to French by Lebanese/French Ziad Bou Akel, published by De Gruyter, Berlin (2015)
Fifth: The 'Literary and Art Criticism' Award
'Fa'iliyyat al-Khayal al-Adabi' (The Validity of Literary Fiction) by the Iraqi/Australian scholar Said Al Ghanimi, published by Al Kamel Verlag (2015)
Sixth: The 'Arabic Culture in
Other Languages' Award
'Vom Denken der Natur zur Natur des Denkens' by David Wirmer
Seventh: The 'Publishing and
Technology' Award
'Kalimat Group', Sharjah, UAE
Jasmine is a flower child and reports on all things Abu Dhabi

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