Le Centre national de la littérature pour la jeunesse (National Centre for Children’s Literature (CNLJ))/IBBY France1, a service of the National Library of France (BnF), has a particular mission to promote quality children’s literature. The Centre’s team therefore carries out critical work through its reading committees and reports on it in La Revue des livres pour enfants2.
The international component of this critical work concerns more particularly children’s literature from Africa, the Arab World, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Reading committees who are specialists in each region produce selective bibliographies and publish them in Takam Tikou: La Revue des livres pour enfants – International. The three online editions of Tikam Tikou are published in March, June and October. A thematic dossier is published online in March. Each edition also offers articles in the ‘Life of the book’ and ‘Life of libraries’ columns. The bibliographies deal with work in French or bilingual books, except in the case of the Arab World bibliography, which also offers selections of work in Arabic.
Choosing Arabic language books
Arabic is the second most spoken language in France, after French3; it is therefore only natural to offer books in this language in French libraries. Moreover, the demand for selections of work in Arabic grew in France and in Europe with the arrival of Arabic-speaking refugees. The role of the CNLJ, in this context, consists in supporting librarians and other book professionals in choosing the best titles for young people in Arabic, to enable Arabic-speaking children to access quality works in this language, in accordance with their rights4.
A monitoring and referencing work
To create a corpus of new titles in Arabic and select the best, work is carried out monitoring the websites of youth publishers in Arab countries, prizes for publications in Arabic for young people and online sales sites. Books are requested from the publishers, via their press office and editors or are bought.
All the works received are included in the catalogue of the BnF, which can be accessed online. The bibliographic records of these titles can be imported by libraries worldwide into their own catalogue. Upon their arrival at the BnF, the books are displayed in the ‘Latest International Titles’ section of the CNLJ’s reading room5, with open access, which gives them great visibility.
Review and promotion component
In addition to this work of referencing and reporting titles in Arabic in the BnF’s catalogue, there is a review component, carried out by the Arab World reading committee. This reading committee, established in partnership with the Institut du monde arabe (IMA) (Arab World Institute) in Paris, is made up of Arabic-speaking book and reading professionals6. It meets three times a year to create a selective bibliography for each edition of Takam Tikou.
At first, the committee studies the books received since the latest edition of Takam Tikou and makes its selection. Committee members share their reviews to create the records. After rereading and correction, the bibliographie Monde arabe (Arab World bibliography) is published online on Takam Tikou’s website in two formats: an easily downloadable pdf, which includes all the records, and HTML entries for each title. Each entry includes the essential bibliographical information, as well as an indication of reading age, the category to which the work belongs (novel, picture book, etc.), and the signed critical review as well as the cover of the work. This ‘flat file’ entry on the journal’s website allows a good indexing by Google and therefore offers the selected works increased visibility on the Internet.
The most popular titles receive the mention ‘coup de coeur’ (favourite), visually represented by a heart placed in front of the title in the bibliographies and repeated on the online records. The new ‘coups de coeur’ of each different area is displayed on the Takam Tikou website, in the right-hand sidebar, which gives them additional exposure. It is worth noting that these works also feature on the CNLJ home page after each edition of Takam Tikou. Thus, a wide audience can discover these new works from elsewhere.
The story of the two sisters Hana and Chifa.
The CNLJ international workshop is a good opportunity to present the best titles from the Arab World to an international audience. This workshop, open to all, takes place online via Zoom once a year in spring. The best international titles are presented by the Takam Tikou team and by some guests. The list of selected works is widely circulated. This event leads to an article published in the June edition of Takam Tikou.
La Revue des livres pour enfants opens the pages of its annual selection to works in French or bilingual from Africa, the Arab World, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Outstanding books in Arabic are sometimes presented in this selection, notably when they have received international awards. The annual selection of the Review reaches a large readership, different from that of Takam Tikou, thus widening the reach of the critical work carried out on the publications of the Arab World.
The critical work of the CNLJ enriches the catalogue of the BnF with reviews, indications of reading age and category to which the book belongs and the mention of the source in which the review was published. It is then possible to establish selections of works in Arabic in the ‘children’s universe’ of the BnF catalogue according to one’s personal criteria; for example, by selecting the picture books that have received a ‘coup de coeur’, for children aged six and over, and published in the last three years.
Promoting Arabic books in English
The book reviews of the CNLJ are written in French. However, the demand for quality children’s books in Arabic also exists in the English-speaking world.
To answer this need, a bibliography of 100 books for children and young people in Arabic7, created in 2017 by the Arab World reading committee, was translated into English in partnership with IBBY UK and IBBY Ireland, and shared widely via the IBBY network, through the CNLJ and IMA websites, and in Takam Tikou. A new edition of this bibliography is planned for 2023.
The IBBY Europe website offers regularly updated selections of titles for children and young people in 31 languages spoken in Europe. The CNLJ is responsible for the selection of titles in French and in Arabic. The reviews of the selected books are translated into English and included in the website. Thus, the selection work of the Arab World Committee becomes accessible to a large English-speaking audience.
World languages in youth libraries
As part of the ‘World Languages in Youth Libraries’ training course, organised by the CNLJ, books in Arabic are also discussed. In this context, it is about opening doors to the literature for children and young people but also to the Arabic language, to allow participants to understand how Arabic is spoken. Thus, learning about the importance of the reading aloud of the books for small children allows one to pay attention to this when acquiring books for example.
Literature for children and young people in the Arab world has experienced a tremendous growth in the last 20 years. Bold, innovative books of great aesthetic and literary quality are published in this region of the world; many of which have been awarded international prizes. Books to put in the hands of all children, whether they speak Arabic or not, as beautiful discoveries.
This article first appeared in the proceedings of the Mamma Lingua seminar organised by IBBY Italy in 2021. Reproduced with permission IBBY Italy.
- La section française de International Board on Books for Young People, the French section of IBBY, the international organisation for the promotion of books and reading.
- La Revue des livres pour enfants is a bimonthly journal for people wishing to keep abreast of the editorial production of children’s literature, and in particular professionals of children’s literature.
- It is dialectal Arabic, particularly from the Maghreb. Les langues de France. Références 2016. Délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France, Ministère de la Culture, 2016, 2ème édition, p.3. (References 2016: The Languages of France, Ministry of Culture 2016, 2nd edn. 7pp. https://liseo.france-education-international.fr/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=39408.)
- Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, specifies: ‘States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to […] the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilisations different from his or her own’.
- The CNLJ’s reading room is room I, located in Haut-de-Jardin at the National Library of France.
- The committee consists of Sabrina Alilouche (Librarian at the Arab World Institute), Sarah Rolfo (Translator), Nathalie Sfeir (Librarian at the Arab World Institute), Laurence Veyssier (Librarian), Marianne Weiss (Youth Librarian at the Arab World Institute) and Hasmig Chahinian (BnF/CNLJ-IBBY France).
- Bibliography of 100 books for children and young people in Arabic, https://www.ibby-europe.org/sites/default/files/100%20Books%20for%20Children%20and%20Young%20People%20in%20Arabic.pdf
Hasmig Chahinian (France) holds a PhD in children’s literature from University Paris 13. She works in the International Division of the National Centre for Children’s Literature, a service of the French National Library. She is the liaison officer for IBBY France and has been a member of the IBBY Executive Committee and liaison officer for Europe for many years (2010–2014 and 2016–2020). She collaborates with the National Centre for Children’s Literature’s various publications, works on promoting reading and children’s literature and holds training sessions in France and abroad. Because of her background – she is Armenian, Lebanese and French – she is interested in questions related to multicultural identity and languages.