Author: 
Liza Kaaki
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2003-10-23 03:00

In the last decade, children's literature has witnessed a real boom, especially in Western countries, but children in Arab countries continue to read little. This is mainly due to a dearth of interesting books for children, and it is precisely to fill this gap that Dar Noon Publishing came into being. The brainchild of Maha Muhammad Al-Faisal, Dar Noon publishes both in Arabic and English.

"Sarah's Mirror: A Young Girl's Journey Through Time with a Talking Mirror", which has recently been released on the market, is written by Maha Al-Faisal and Maryam A. Sharief.

"Maha wrote the basic skeleton, picked up the characters, set their tone, and I expanded the themes adding details and color to it," explains Maryam Sharief.

It is no secret that Maha Al-Faisal imagined this story for her own daughter.

The story begins when Sarah, the young heroine, finds in her garden an old mirror with the amazing power to talk. In a lively and humorous dialogue with the mirror Sarah learns the different meanings of the words "time" and "age".

"'What period of Time am I in now, my sweet girl?' 'It's the middle of the night,' answered Sarah, trying to get used to talking to a mirror.

"'No, no I don't mean what time is it! I mean what age is it?'

"'It? You mean me? I'm ten years old.'

"'NO, NO, NO, I don't mean you, I mean it: the period, the dynasty, the ruling house, the something so I can know what time I am in!'"

The first chapter ends with Sarah still questioning the meaning of Time. In the following chapters, the talking mirror will take Sarah on an eventful journey through the past as she tells Sarah about the story of its life with Princess Buran at the time of Harun Al-Rashid. After the sack of Baghdad, the mirror is taken to Samarkand, then to Istanbul and finally to the Hijaz.

These travels also symbolize the eternal quest for knowledge.

For many centuries when only a minority could read and write, stories as well as news were told orally. Stories were narrated around Bedouin

camps, in coffee shops, teahouses and homes. They were mostly folk tales, but exceptional events also made their way into stories which have been transmitted from generation to generation.

Historical stories were meant to boost the morale and edify the souls of the listeners. This is particularly true of the Arabian oral poetry transmitted by "rawis" - tradition bearers who possess the unique ability to recite thousands of verses commemorating in an exceptionally vivid manner famous events in the lives of the bedouin tribes. Rawis combine poetic and acting talents, delighting their audience with a real taste of their glorious past and unique way of life.

It is, however, unfortunate that the rawis who played a vital role in the "jalsa" (the traditional social gatherings of men in the evening) are being replaced by television.

The inevitable disappearance of the rawis and the traditional Arabian oral poetry as well as the dearth of a literature for Muslim children underlines the magnitude of the challenge Noon has taken on.

"Children are alienated. They are fed an international culture with no face: Personalities and heroes that do not belong to the Islamic tradition. Writing for Muslim children requires a lot of creative work. It's a new art which requires pioneers. Nowadays, we need to make the traditional stories more palatable to children. We need to forge a new art of story telling," Maryam Sharief concludes.

"The idea of the mirror is to try and explain the concept of history. Is history real or an illusion? History, in fact, exists now, in its time. Any historical reality if it is relevant exists in the eternal present. The past and the future are a reflection of the present," says Maha.

— Arab News Review 23 October 2003

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