Book Review: 'Once Upon A Time' by Riham Shendy

Amira El-Noshokaty,Sunday 15 Mar 2020

book cover

“International stories in Egyptian slang” is how Riham Shendy defines her first compilation of children's stories titled “Once Upon a Time.” But it is much more than that.

In a day and age where technology has enabled humans to connect and surpass physical boundaries between countries, there seems to be a language void that has not been filled. An Egyptian mother of twins living abroad, economic analyst Riham Shendy discovered that there are no colloquial Arabic children's stories to read to her children.

"Classical Arabic for the three to seven age group could be challenging," she argued, explaining that having books in the Egyptian dialect is not a novel idea. “Take the children's magazine Mickey and the vernacular poetry for example," she said, arguing that the fear of classical Arabic being neglected is unjustified.

Being an economic analyst, her research reflected that despite the popular belief that Egyptians buy books to educate rather than entertain their kids, most of those who read to their kids translate books into the local dialect so the kids can relate.

Shendy started with herself and established Tutua-Tuta an online platform where she translated fair-use classic children's stories into a rhymed colloquial Egyptian dialect. The translation is free to download and the successful results encouraged her to take a bigger step.

Shendy decided to test her idea and self-publish her first colloquial Arabic compilation of stories titled Kan Yama Kan.

Kan Yama Kan is a compilation of eight international folk stories that are set in an Egyptian background and written in colloquial Arabic. Shendy opens up with 'The Enormous Turnip,' a classic children story from Russia, but she sets it in Nubia.

“Like the Nile flow, I started from Upper Egypt, other than with Cairo, because I want the children to learn about the rich culture of Egypt,” Shendy explained.

The book is indeed a treat, from the colourful illustration to the rhymed stories and the vivid multicultural layers the book reveals. We can easily imagine the turnip planted in Nubia against the colourful Nubian houses and how the whole village managed to pull it out in their collaborative effort. It is not hard to picture the houses of the three little pigs in the oasis where one of them chooses to build a house out of palm leaves and how it made it easier for the wolf to blow. As for the ugly duckling, well sailing in the beautiful Nile of Sohag was a real treat.

The book also serves as an activity book, in each story a blue eye is hidden for the young readers to find.

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