Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature Holds Introductory Session for Egyptian Publishers in Cairo

One of the region’s most celebrated literary awards for Arabic children’s literature, the UAE-based Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature (Etisalat Award) was recently in Cairo, Egypt, to share its cultural vision with Egyptian and Arab publishers and media on the sidelines of its participation at the 49th annual Cairo International Book Fair.
The Etisalat Award is organised by the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) and sponsored by the Etisalat Group. Moderated by media figure, Mohammed Abdo Badawi, the session touched upon various aspects of Arabic children’s literature, the role of the Etisalat Award in recognising regional literary excellence, and general trends in the global children’s book market.
Welcoming all of the session’s attendees, the UAEBBY President, Marwa Al Aqroubi, said: “Being here in Cairo, one of the region’s cultural giants, makes us nostalgic about an exciting childhood smitten by the great authors of this country. Our generation has grown up reading Kamel Al Kilani and Abdel Wahab El Messiri, and comprehended the aesthetics of Arabic language and literature through Hafez Ibrahim’s and Ahmed Shawqi’s poems, and Naguib Mahfouz’s prose.”

“The Etisalat Award was launched in 2009 by Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Founder and Patron of the UAEBBY, with the key theme ‘Nurture their Imagination… Encourage their Dreams’. The award’s ongoing objective is to support and encourage children’s books authors, illustrators and publishers to offer high quality books with quality content and illustrations. The award also aims to foster an environment that ignites and supports children’s imaginations and instill in them a love of reading.”
Eman Mohammed, Programs and Award Executive at the UAEBBY, listed the Award’s details, highlighting the many developments it has experienced since inception. First valued at AED 1,000,000, and given to a single book in the first four editions, the Etisalat Award grew to feature five categories starting its fifth edition, which helped recognise all contributors to children’s literature – authors, illustrators and publishers. In 2017, it introduced the ‘Digital Book App of the Year’ category, taking the cumulative value of the Awards up to AED 1,200,000.
Eman underscored that from 88 competing books in 2010, the number shot up to 145 entries last year – indicating an over 60% increase in the number of submitted titles. With 21 digital book applications competing in the recently introduced Digital Book App category, the total number of submissions at 166 last year, reflected an over 88.5% increase in the quantity of competing entities in eight years.
Since its inception, a total of 99 books were shortlisted to win over the years, out of which 27 books have won the award, with Egypt coming in the second place after Lebanon in terms of number of submissions.
Among those who attended the session were Dr. Yasmine Motawy, Etisalat Award jury member and member of the Directors Board of the ‘Egyptian Board on Books for Young People; and Tamer Said, Etisalat Award jury member and Managing Director of Kalimat Group – the UAE’s first publisher dedicated solely to Arabic language publishing.
Also participating were Balsam Saad, MD, Balsam Publishing House, whose book Getting Out of the Bubble won the 2015 edition of the Award; Amira Abu Al Majd, MD, Dar El Shorouk publishing house, who won the 2010 edition’s award for her work, The Black Dot; Dalia Ibrahim, CEO of Nahdet Misr Publishing House, and winner of the Etisalat Award 2017 for her book Screaming Behind Doors, and the Children’s Book Award 2014 for another work of hers titled, Sticks of Racemes. They have all been part of the Etisalat Award jury in different editions.
Elaborating on the qualities the jury seeks in entries submitted, Dr. Yasmine Motawy, remarked: “We lay special emphasis on quality of editing, as children’s literature must display a high degree of honesty, creativity, veracity and relevance. Good literature is timeless, like a piece of music that can be enjoyed for centuries.”
She pointed out that the jury pays a great deal of attention to the aesthetic aspects of literature with a focus on the visual element, and looks for harmony among text, layout and illustration.
Tamer Said noted that books dealing with the refugee crisis in the region, which have been crafted to appeal to the sensibilities of young readers, captured his attention most. These books constituted 10% of the total submissions in 2017.
The Award has offered much-needed patronage to several up and coming publishers and authors, which is something Said underlined, highlighting the importance such awards in offering financial and moral support to literary works. He has predicted that the Etisalat Award is working to achieve international status in the coming years, and is taking steady and prompt steps towards the same.
Amira Abu Al Majd underscored that the awards aim to shed light on Arabic children’s literature, saying: “Until recently, there were no publishing houses in the region dedicated to children’s literature, and now we see a significant increase in the number of publishers dedicated to children’s books, thanks to the support the Etisalat Award has offered them since 2009.”
Abu Al Majd attributed the lack of children’s literature to the high cost of producing children’s books, rationalising the importance of children’s literary awards like the Etisalat Award – an incentive for authors, illustrators and publishers to further their creative projects.
For her part, Balsam Saad recalled the moment when she received the award in 2015, saying: “That moment when I was announced the winner was amazing, especially as a debutant. I was overjoyed as I was surrounded by book experts and specialists in the field, making it an important moment in my professional career.”
“Financially, the award has motivated me and other winners to focus on producing more quality books. However, distribution still needs more efforts and the media’s emphasis on publicising children’s literature furthered,” Saad emphasised.
For her part, Dalia Ibrahim, said: “I managed to win the prize despite difficult political conditions that dominated Egypt in 2012 following the January 25 revolution, as well as tough competition by four works from Lebanon. When I was invited to attend the awards ceremony, I did not expect to win at all, and was surprised to hear my name being announced among the winners.”
Ibrahim expressed her profound gratitude to His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, for their support to children’s literature through the Etisalat Award and their fundamental role in elevating all creative fields.
The jurors underscored that award goes beyond providing a platform for authors, illustrators and publishers; it plays the role of a cultural institution that offers patronage to literary talents and contributes to building a generation of talented authors who nurture the Arabic children’s book industry in the Arab world. They pointed out that the Etisalat Award has dedicated a special programme titled ‘Warsha’, tailor-made for participants who did not win, and other talented authors, illustrators and publishers. It aims to train them on the techniques of building narrative works creatively and further elevate their talents and hone their skills to enrich the Arabic children’s books industry.


About the UAEBBY:
The UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) is the local branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) that was founded in 2010 upon an initiative by Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi to encourage publishing and distributing high quality Arabic children’s books. UAEBBY aims to provide publishers, authors and illustrators as well as publishing houses, with opportunities to network and share expertise with other professionals in the book industry and help them build their capacity.

About Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature:
The Etisalat Award comprises six categories; ‘Children’s Book of the Year,’ valued at AED300,000 distributed equally between the publisher, author and illustrator; ‘Young Adult Book of the Year’ worth AED200,000 distributed equally between the author and publisher and the ‘Best Text,’ ‘Best Illustration,’ ‘Best Production’ and ‘Digital Book App of the Year,’ worth AED100,000 each. Etisalat Award has allocated AED 300,000 to organise workshops and international conferences to help develop the talent of promising Arab writers, illustrators and publishers through its ‘Warsha’ programme.