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  • Le Poussin n’est pas un chien: quarante ans de création arabe en littérature pour la jeunesse, reflet et projet de sociétés (Egypte, Syrie, Liban) by Mathilde Chèvre
  • Sibylle Weingart
    Translated by Nikola von Merveldt
Le Poussin n’est pas un chien: quarante ans de création arabe en littérature pour la jeunesse, reflet et projet de sociétés (Egypte, Syrie, Liban) (The chick is no dog : Fourty years of Arabic literature for children and young adults, reflecting and imagining society). Mathilde Chèvre. Aix-en-Provence, Marseille: Presses de l’Ifpo/Iremam et Mathilde Chèvre, 2015. 203pages. ISBN 9-780201379-62-4

The reading pleasure already begins with the title, Un Poussin n‘est pas un chien (A chick is no dog). The author of this lively literary history, Mathilde Chèvre, is a true multi-talent: She works as an author, illustrator, and publisher for the publishing house “Le port a jauni” (Marseille) and as an educator. She is also a scholar at the IRCAM in Marseille and teaches in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Aix-en-Provence. The present volume, her revised doctoral dissertation, not only meets the requirements of “open science” but also engages in cultural work by combining “instruction with delight.” With admirable lightness, Chèvre captures the essence of Arabic young adult and children’s literature from Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, making it accessible for a broader audience. Her style is vivid, elegant, and entirely lacking in the pretentiousness of deadening scholarship prose.

At the same time, attentive readers will appreciate that this pioneering achievement is the result of years of dedicated research. The author masterfully builds bridges to the Arab world, combines scholarship with personal encounters, and rightfully honors the Arab artists, their work, and their achievements. Chèvre met with the key writers, illustrators, and publishers of the children’s literature sector in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. These encounters come alive in the text, which resonates with the voices of the artists and personalities. The illustration and overall design of the book reveal loving attention to detail; the distinguished graphic design is a delight for the eyes.

Chèvre explores the children’s literature landscape of Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon with seven-league boots (i.e., in seven large chapters), describing their long publishing traditions and their dense and diverse production.

The journey begins with the first cultural awakening of the Arab children’s book scene in 1967, characterized by the memory of the Nakba of 1948 (the exodus of Palestinian Arabs from the former British Mandate of Palestine) and influenced by the critical transitional period in the Arab countries following the defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967. Following the 1970s, which had been rich in initiatives and publications, children’s literature in the Arab world experienced a long lean spell and lingered in a sort of “cultural ice age” for almost two decades.

Only the twenty-first century sparked a “cultural re-ignition”: individual publishing houses not controlled by the state were founded and major books were published—including the seminal Egyptian picture book which inspired the study’s title, Al-katkût laysa kalban (The chick is no dog), written by Jâr al-Nabî al Halû, illustrated by Hîlmî al-Tûnî, and published in 2003 in Cairo by the Dâr al-Churûq publishing house. Authors and illustrators were acting as trail-blazers and participants in the “Arab spring” by denouncing the existing social inequality, questioning established points of view, and criticizing the morals of adults in their respective countries.

The book traces the thematic shifts in Arabic children’s literature: From the focus on the Palestinian question (stories of escape, forced migration, exile, and resistance) in the 1970s to more local, national questions, more closely connected to [End Page 66] the specific political developments of the individual countries. This thematic shift in children’s literature was paralleled by new ways of thinking about “child” and “childhood,” both in the societies and literatures of the three countries: The child is no longer primarily portrayed as a being to be disciplined and easily...


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