Tomorrow, December 18th, is World Arabic Language Day. Established in 2010 by the United Nations, this holiday is intended to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity.
Living in a world where people are ridiculed for their differences, and more specifically a country where languages other than English are often dismissed, I feel it is incredibly important to embrace and celebrate languages other than English. This is especially true for those who, like me, only speak one language.
Though I am not bilingual, I have always been thrilled to pick up words from other languages throughout my life. From my “adopted” babushka and dedushka who tried to teach me Russian in my 20’s, to members of my childhood church who gave me Vietnamese lessons, I have always been amazed at the joy of being able to speak to someone in their native tongue. Even if it’s a simple “xin chào” or “spasiba”, I could let the people I loved know they were seen and appreciated by using these words.
I want to encourage my son to have this same respect for all languages, even if he is only ever fluent in English. Because of this, I am always on the lookout for picture books that introduce young readers to new languages. Some of my favorites highlight the Arabic language, and I thought they would be the perfect books to share today!
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Deep In The Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, Illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
In Deep In The Sahara we meet a young Arabic girl named Lalla who wants to wear a malafa (the colorful cloth worn by Muslim women in Mauritania) just like all the other women in her family. She talks to the women around her about how their malafa makes them beautiful, mysterious, traditional, or royal, but eventually learns the true reason they wear the malafa. This is a beautiful story of a young girl embracing the faith and traditions of her family. This book has a few Hassaniya (an Arabic dialect) words peppered throughout, which are a great way to teach young readers a new word or two!
Like The Moon Loves The Sky by Hena Khan, Illustrated by Saffa Khan
This beautifully illustrated book is a tender celebration of the unconditional love parents have for their children. Like The Moon Loves The Sky is inspired by the Quran, making it a great book for teaching religious acceptance while celebrating Arabic. The only Arabic word found in the book is “Inshallah” (translated to “if Allah wills” or “God willing”), but it is a beautiful introduction to the Arabic language none-the-less. This heartwarming book makes the perfect bedtime read, and a great gift for new parents.
The Arabic Quilt by Aya Khalil, Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan
In The Arabic Quilt we meet Kanzi, who’s family has immigrated from Egypt. When Kanzi’s mom shows up at school one day to bring her kofta sandwich, Kanzi’s classmates don’t understand why her mother calls her habibti, and begin to tease Kanzi. That night she wraps up in her quilt from her teita (grandma) in Cairo and writes a poem. Her teacher finds the poem and allows Kanzi to bring the quilt in, inspiring the classroom to make an Arabic quilt of their own. This is a great story to encourage young readers to be curious about languages they don’t speak, and respectful of those who speak those languages.
Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford
Silent Music is the story of a young boy named Ali who lives in Baghdad. Ali loves calligraphy and looks up to Yaqut al-Musta’simi, a famous calligrapher who is also from Baghdad. With illustrations depicting Ali’s beautiful Arabic calligraphy strung together like musical notes, this book is a stunning celebration of the written Arabic language.
I hope you enjoyed this list! If you would like to learn more about World Arabic Language Day, be sure to visit the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s website for more information!
What are your some of you favorite children’s books highlighting Arabic or other languages foreign to you? Be sure to share them in the comments below!