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Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Prominent children's book writer Abdel-Tawwab Youssef passes away this week - Obituary

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 1 Oct 2015
Abdel-Tawwab Youssef
Abdel-Tawwab Youssef (Photo: Al-Ahram)
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He wrote and told his stories, he travelled around to learn and teach, and then he decided that the story was over.

On Monday 27 September, only a few days from what would have been his 87th birthday, one of the most prominent children's book writers, Abdel-Tawwab Youssef, passed away.

Starting in the 1960s, Youssef created hundreds of stories for children in the form of books, magazines and radio recordings.

Hayat Mohamed (the life of Mohamed), the Muslim Prophet, was perhaps Youssef’s most awarded and celebrated book. First published in Arabic in 2005 by Dar Al-Shorouk, it was later translated into several languages.

In the book, Youssef did what he knew how to do best; tell a familiar story in an original and creative way. He introduced to children the traditional tale of the orphan prophet in a remarkable fashion; by having the trees, buildings, animals and people tell the story of the prophet.

Challenging the norm and offering an alternative perspective was perhaps the hallmark of Youssef's works, which were also informative and easy to read.

"I don’t wish to impose any particular narrative on a child’s mind. In fact, I think it is impossible to do so and I find it damaging," Youssef had said at a cultural event to celebrate Hayat Mohamed. "All I try to do is share with my readers my thoughts and experiences; this is something I have learned from having three children and having worked with children directly."

He believed that this approach was also necessary for school curricula.

“It is unfortunate that we keep treating our children as if nothing had happened in the world around us, and as if children are not now privy to the diverse world of the information revolution; it is absurd,” he had said at a later event.

Youssef, who had offered his young readers selections by prominent poets such as Ahmed Chawki, learned fast how to bow to changes, which is perhaps what kept him going and innovating.

“I used to challenge my children, but then came my grandchildren and they challenged me. I saw a world changing with my first grandson, Ahmed, and I knew I had to cope with the second, Youssef,” he had explained.

This may be why Youssef’s stories always had something old and something new in them – they were about historical accounts as well as current affairs.

To people of all ages, Youssef spoke as elaborately and effortlessly as he wrote.

His life-time companion, another prominent name in the world of children’s writing, Mama Loubna (Noutaillah Rached), who died in 2012, once remarked that her spouse was “a natural storyteller; you cannot resist this about him”.

People who knew and worked with Youssef would immediately agree that there was nothing about him that was not spontaneous and real; his stories, his affection, his anger and his dedication.

A very unassuming and certainly uninhibited man, Youssef was never that self-conscious about his endless awards, never letting them dissuade him from exploring new avenues or trying to tell more stories.

Those who knew Youssef well say he wanted to keep working and telling his stories until the very end. They knew that when a few weeks ago he chose to be confined to growing silence, his own story was coming to a peaceful end.

Youssef was bid farewell in a family funeral service on Monday. The wake is scheduled for Saturday evening at the Omar Makram Mosque at Tahrir Square, the site of the January revolution, which Youssef had followed with the fascination of a child listening to a fairytale.

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