How appropriate that in the July 4th online edition of the LA Times, an article was posted about reprinting several American classic stories for children in Arabic. Really? I mean, what in the world about an blond orphan girl in the Swiss Alps could a little Lebanese boy in the desert relate to? I don’t get it. Apparently, Scholastic thinks it’s a great idea. Maybe it is.
Carol Sakoian, a vice president of Scholastic Inc., spearheaded a project to get many titles translated and published in Arabic countries around the world. Through her efforts, the State Department agreed to fund half the printing costs of the project in order to get the ball rolling. After countless hours of meeting with Arabic dignitaries and examining in minute detail several children’s classics, a list with thousands of titles was whittled down to 80 books. Some of the books thrown into the reject pile?
- The I-Spy series because a tiny dreidel appeared in one of the pictures.
- Clifford was axed. Clifford?? How could that lovable big red dog be offensive? In the Muslim world, dogs are unclean. Sorry Clifford. No syndication on Al-Jazeera TV I guess.
- Anything with overtly independent or religious children was also chopped off the rapidly diminishing list.
However, some titles did make the cut. The Arabic group liked books that talked about honesty, respect and cooperation among children. But if a US flag or a pig was involved…whoosh! Here comes the axe. Talk about censorship. As I read through this article, I began to wonder, “Is there anything redeeming about this project?” My conclusion? Yes, I believe there are several factors.
First, books in the Arabic world used to be reserved for the wealthy elite. The lower classes didn’t have the leisure time required to sit and read a book, much less the funds to purchase one. Books were (and still are) pricey treasures. Through this project, free books were given to schools where children in lower-class neighborhoods are now learning about other cultures, learning how to think critically and experiencing things in true “Magic School Bus” fashion that has opened their eyes to a world previously hidden from them.
The next thing I love about this is that parents are getting involved. One Jordanian father read every single title given to his child’s school before allowing his son to read the books. Not only are kids learning, but the parents are suddenly getting a new perspective on education as well.
Finally, I would hope that through this exposure to children’s books, an entire generation of Arabic writers will rise up in the future and develop their OWN classic children’s literature which can be read and enjoyed by the masses, thereby creating another generation of writers, and another, and another.
So in spite of my initial misgivings, I say kudos to Ms. Sakoian for making this project a reality. Because of her commitment and vision, who knows how many lives will be positively impacted?
Forget Heidi…let’s hear about “Asima” or “Salma!”