This beautiful book is a playful retelling of the fairy tale Rapunzel, but with a twist. Leila and Sami keep missing each other: she sits up in her high tower waiting for him, but no matter how many times he comes and calls for her, she doesn’t answer. He wonders why, until he realizes that he needs to learn her language, sign language, in order to win her heart.
With its swirling illustrations, bright colors, and cheeky sideways glances, it’s a refreshing story about overcoming hearing difficulties. Leila’s lovely, ornate flowing hair, looping and curling like the Arabic letters it conceals, suggests the beautiful physicality of her language. And the book ends with Leila giving the readers a beginners’ lesson in sign language.
“Answer me, Leila!” won the 2011 Anna Lindh Foundation prize for the best fiction book for children with special needs, and was cited by The Guardian as a ‘badly needed story for young people’ in its feature on disability inclusive books which should be available in English. (Interested publishers, please note – the English rights are still available!)
Meanwhile, the book is an excellent addition to any library aiming to cater fornative Arabic speakers as well as those studying Arabic as a foreign language: the vocabulary is perfectly accessible to beginner learners and according to Nadine’s profile at Lantana Publishing, the book is used to teach Arabic at Harvard and Tufts Universities.
The British charity Outside in World has produced these excellent resources for using “Answer Me, Leila!” in the classroom to explore issues of inclusivity and accessibility. OIW’s Reading the Way project is aimed at promoting international children’s books featuring inclusive storylines. See the OIW website for this helpful report on how “Answer Me, Leila!” was used as a case study with deaf and hearing primary school pupils, demonstrating how stories such as this can empower deaf pupils, encourage mutual understanding and inspire children to improve their storytelling skills.
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.