Healing the soul using Dunkul’s poetry

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 2 Jun 2024

Sahar Abdallah talks about her contribution to help children heal and connect with who they are and learn about issues that matter for the nation.



Illustrator Sahar Abdallah is currently in the midst of drawing for children some of the poetry of Amal Dunkul, one of Egypt’s most iconic political poets of the 20th century. The project, for Tanmia Publications, is inspired by one of Dunkul’s “most beautiful and sensitive poems”: Al-Beit Al-Hady (The Quiet House).

“The lyrics are so soft in tone and the meanings are very easy to get and feel for a child,” Abdallah said. In the poem that she has been illustrating, Dunkul is asking: Would the joyful house remain with us; for us to fight and reconcile in.

“This poem is so timely in many ways, especially if we look at it from the point of view of children in Gaza who have been unable for months to keep their houses,” Abdallah said.

She added that this applies to so many children in so many parts of the world.

“There is something there in this poem that is so vulnerable, and almost breakable; children do relate to this kind of feelings; they easily connect to them,” said the illustrator who has been drawing for children for over a decade with remarkable success.

The project is the second in a row for Abdallah and Tanmia. In 2018, they jointly presented poems of celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, including Fakar Begheirk, (Think of Others) and the most famous Ahno ila Khobz Oumi (I Miss the Bread my Mother Made).

The illustrated poems received the Etisalat Award for best drawings the same year.

For Abdallah this was “very encouraging”. It was, she said, a clear indication that the book was well received and that the idea of giving a visual domain to the poem encourages children to read the poems. She added that the success of the collection was proof that children too could read and enjoy poetry.  

The collection’s success was also an indication that children could enjoy a literary text in Arabic.

“I am quite concerned about the declining connection between children and the aesthetics of Arabic,” she said. This, she added, is particularly the case with children who attend foreign languages and international schools where Arabic is unfortunately reduced to something of lesser importance.

“This is such a pity; it is a shame that we should see a new generation growing into alienation with its own native tongue,” she stated.

This, she added, is not just the case for children of upper socio-economic classes who speak French and English at home and in school. It is also, she argued, the case for children who study and speak in Arabic, but who have no taste for the literary side of the language, simply because they were never introduced to it – “not properly, at least.”

“I think that [the literature] should be introduced to children at an early age. The books we have been working on with Tanmia target children aged seven to eleven,” she said.

“The idea that children could only take or connect with simple things is such an outdated idea. Actually, children hate things that are oversimplified and they are attracted to interesting things,” she added.

“There are volumes of very interesting writings and drawings that were produced for children in the 1960s and 1970s, especially those published in the [children’s weekly] Samir Magazine,” she said.

“I think it is very commendable that the recently established Marah Publishing House, which is dedicated to children’s publishing, is digging out from the archives and looking for new talents that can present intelligent texts and smart drawings,” she added.


The question then becomes “an issue of accessibility,” Abadallah argued.

“It does not really make a big difference if the right kind of books are produced if they are sold for prices that the majority of families cannot at all afford,” she said. She added that there is no way to deny that the prices of children’s books for the most part have become very intimidating for most families.

“It sounds so cliché but children’s books should be made accessible in public libraries and in places where there are no public libraries then in school libraries,” she said. “There have been some successful initiatives in making children books accessible all across the country and in producing affordable books for children; so it is simply doable,” Abdallah added.

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