A few weeks ago, we released a trio of wordless Arabic books published by Hikayati, unlike any others we carry at Maktabatee. My Alphabet (plus coloring book), My Grandmother’s House, and Where? give kids the opportunity to control the narrative of the book by allowing their imagination to determine the plot of each story! The wordless books are beautifully illustrated and have look-and-find and lift-the-flap features that engage readers of all ages. As this is a new concept in the Arabic children’s book space, we asked the founder of Hikayati, Rania El Turk, to help us and other parents better understand how to use wordless Arabic children's books.
How did you come up with the idea of wordless Arabic books?
Before founding Hikayati, I started a project called "Tell Me a Story" in Lebanon, where we set out to encourage families to read aloud to their kids starting at six months of age. We focused our efforts on children at risk due to poverty or displacement, some of whom had parents that were at best functionally literate. We wanted to make sure that every mother is able to share a book with her young child, regardless of her literacy level. I started looking around for books to include in the packages families would receive, and I specifically looked for wordless books. I knew they existed, my own favorite growing up was "The Snowman," but unfortunately, we didn't find any in Arabic and the project went ahead without them. When the next opportunity came along, we decided to make our own, and that's how Hikayati was born.
What are the benefits of a wordless book?
I genuinely believe wordless books should be a part of any body of children's literature, but even more so for Arabic speakers. They are a wonderful way to use our various spoken dialects to engage in storytelling and books. Every family gets to tell the story in its very own style, to bring to the books the things and words that matter to them. Little children get to develop a relationship with a book in the same language they hear day in and day out, especially as they transition between the spoken dialects of early childhood and the formal Arabic of the educational system. As they get older, children also have complete agency to engage in storytelling before they even begin to read. This opens up a new dimension of engagement with books that doesn't exist if our libraries are devoid of wordless books.
How should parents use the books? How can they best facilitate a discussion around the books with their children?
One of the best ways to read aloud with kids is to engage in dialogic reading. It is simply a way of establishing a back and forth dialogue around the story, pausing briefly to give your child a chance to comprehend and participate. For example, you pause to look at the pictures, you point to something, and ask your child to name it. When they do, you reaffirm the answer and then find a way to expand on it.
It might look something like this with a young child just building up their vocabulary reserve:
You (pointing to ladybug): What is this?
Child: a ladybug.
You: That's right, it's a ladybug. A little red ladybug.
With an older child, you can build on the extension by asking questions such as "Where do we usually find ladybugs? Do you remember where we last caught a ladybug?" and so on.
Another wonderful way to use our books would be to simply invite your verbal child to tell you the story. You'll be surprised with what they will come up with!
What are the ideas behind each of the books in your collection?
"Where?" is a lift-the-flap book. We wanted a book with a clear progression of events that would allow preschoolers to tell a story, but at the same time would involve them in the action. The flaps mean that they can be part of the search for the missing ladybug.
"My Grandmother's House" is a look-and-find book that is designed to help children build vocabulary by learning to label a familiar environment. As they locate items in each room, parents can help them point out items in relation to each other (on the couch, next to the stove, etc...). They can also talk about items commonly found in specific rooms (bed, pillow, covers, clothes, etc).
With "My Alphabet," we wanted to give children a chance to use their own vocabulary reserve to learn letter recognition. We included the letters on each page but not words that correspond with the letter. Those have to be figured out, game style. Some pages have multiple possibilities, so each child's personal dictionary for the book will be slightly different. The coloring book allows for reinforcement of what they learned from the board book. Children will love coloring in the large letters and making the connection between reading and writing/coloring.
Thanks so much Rania for answering our questions and for Hikayati for filling the void in wordless Arabic books. We’re so excited to be carrying them! If you’ve purchased one of these one-of-a-kind Arabic books, let us know how you’re using them in the comments below.