Libraries are at the heart of the community and they have the potential to bring people together while also offering individuals life-changing opportunities. One important way that libraries can encourage immigrant and refugee families to visit is to stock a range of picture books for younger readers in bilingual and monolingual editions in a range of community languages. All of the libraries in my region of the UK stock excellent bilingual books by Mantra Lingua, for example.
Here are is an exceptional book which I’d love to see in more libraries by award-winning Syrian children’s author and illustrator Nadine Kaadan.
(Arabic title: ‘Atsat al-yasmeen)
Haroun, a cheeky street cat with fabulously expressive eyes, likes nothing better than to laze around in the sun in the courtyards of Damascus. If only it wasn’t for the scented jasmine flowers which growthroughout the city, spoiling his sleep as the pollen sends him into fits of sneezes. Crafty Haroun thinks he has the solution, but his battle with the plants awakens the Jasmine Spirit who gets her own back on Haroun in her own inventive way.
This entertaining and beautifully illustrated celebration of the rich colors and heady scents of the ancient city of Damascus – known as the City of Jasmine – sheds a welcome light onto Syria’s long and proud cultural heritage. “Take a deep breath of The Jasmine Sneeze,” writes reviewer Marcia Lynx Qualey,“and you’ll be transported to one of the world’s most beautiful cities.”
In her review in Banipal 57: Syria in the Heart (a special edition focusing on Syrian literature in English), British primary school teacher Emma Branagan describes her pupils’ enjoyment of the book having just had a visit to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley Gardens: “everyone knew what jasmine smelt like, which made it a very animated reading.”It’s not the only message of the book, but personally I love the environmental-protection element of the story. Haroun seeks to destroy the jasmine trees because of his allergy, but theJasmine Spirit finds a way to solve his problem while protecting the jasmine for everyone to enjoy. How many books about plants have your kids read lately? How many tales of animals battling with magical spirits over control of the natural world? If you’re planning a shelf in your library or bookshop on kids’ books to encourage a love of nature – this is one not to miss!
Nadine Kaadan is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator from Damascus, Syria, now living in London where she completed her MA in Art and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, and MA Illustration at Kingston University. Her goal is to tell and illustrate stories which focus on Arab culture and Syria’s rich heritage, and to encourage a reading culture amongst Arab children. She has published over 15 books with various publishers. She travels to many countries to give interactive workshops at schools and literature festivals. She was selected in 2017 by the Bratislava Biennial of Illustration to represent Syria with her artwork from The Jasmine Sneeze. More on Nadine here:
Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a British literary translator working from German, Russian and Arabic into English, with a particular interest in children’s books. She has translations forthcoming of YA fiction by Kathrin Rohmann (Apple Cake and Baklava, about a Syrian girl in Germany) and Yulia Yakovleva (The Raven’s Children, about a boy in the USSR whose parents are arrested under Stalin’s terror). She is currently translating a short novel by Palestinian children’s author Ahlam Bsharat.