Affaf Tobbala The Cinderella of
Arab Children's Literature
Toson, Ahmad. "Affaf Tobbala: The Cinderella of Arab Children's Literature," Middle East on Line, 13/1/2015.
Below is a link to the original Arabic article:
The Egyptian writer represents the Arab children's book in the new millennium ; and is a model for a new generation that does not abide by rigid established age group divisions.
At the age of sixty five in a life full of love, adventure and hard work, she decided to start weaving her stories, and to dust all what's around her, awaiting her own fairy godmother to come and turn around both her life and Arab children's literature.
Arab children's literature, which was first founded on grandmothers' stories, saw its biggest leap at the hands of Kamel Al-Kilani, who is considered by many, deservedly, the pioneer with the many writings, translations and adaptations he made from the Arab (cultural) heritage, with which he enriched the Arab library. Despite the important beginnings at the hands of Refaa Al-Tahtawi and his translation of Children's Stories and the Little Poucet, and of Mohamad Othman Galal in Open Eyes on Proverbs and Sermons and his writings published in Rawdat Al-Madares (Engl. The Schools Garden), and the writing of Ali Fikri in Musamarat Al-Banat (Engl. Girl's Chats) and the writing of Ahmad Shawqi and Mohamad Al-Harawi and others, Al-Kilani is considered by critics as the founder of Arab children's literature, as he dedicated all his attention to writing for children since he wrote his first story for children Sinbad the Sailor in 1927 and until he died in October 9, 1959.
In the second half of the twentieth century Arab children's literature was tied closely to the names of the two great pioneers Abdel-Tawwab Youssef and Yacoub Al-Sharuni, who enriched, and continue to enrich, the Arab Children's Library with their large number of writings and the total dedication to children. This dedication to write for children only, for more that half a century, contributed to making their names synonymous to Egyptian and Arab children's literature. No ungrateful man can deny, and no researcher can overlook the technical qualitative and quantitative leap forward both writers contributed to the Arab library. They liberated Arab children's literature both from the rigidity of (traditional) form and from falling captive to western writings directed to children in the second half of the twentieth century.
Also we cannot ignore the Arab and Egyptian names that appeared beside the two great writers and that played a big role in developing Arab writing for children, such as Sulyiman Al-Eissa, Zakaria Tamer, Shafik Mahdi, Ahmad
Naguib, Mahmud Qasem, Fatma Al-Maadul, Al-Mesiri, and Shawqi Hijab and many others, whose writings emerged as attractive examples and phenomena in the journey of writing to children. However, (with those writers), we will always focus on the name of the writer more than the title he produced due to the huge quantity of works produced by those writers and from others in the same era.
And so Arab children's literature continued to alternate between being a pedagogic means that allows children to find answers to their questions, and a means that helps them emancipate themselves from traditional ways of thinking and stimulate their imagination and innovativeness.
With the advent of the new millennium, Arab interest in writing for children increased. New big awards were dedicated to writing for children. Most important among them is the Sheikh Zayed Award in the category of children's literature. The award is to be thanked for putting the Cinderella of writing for Arab children: Dr. Affaf Tobbala, in the limelight after her novel The House and the Palm Tree received that award in its fifth session.
The House and the Palm Tree was not the writer's first work. It was preceded by other outstanding works that made the writer collect a number of important awards, including that of the Bologna International Book Fair for children for her first book The Silver Fish, and the prize of the Ana Lindh Foundation for her book The Eye. However, The House and the Palm Tree, was like the wand that carried Cinderella from the shadow to fame. And set the readers and all concerned on a journey to excavate and search for that fairy godmother that brought them from no where one of the most beautiful Arab novels for children and young adults.
Most young adult novels tended either to focus on pedagogic aspects, such as the writings of the great pioneering pedagogue Ali Maher Eid, or to depend on adventures or detective stories to achieve the thriller effect. Affaf Tobbala's bet was on art. She created for her hereon, Bahana, her own mythology as she went on a journey to educate her grand son. She used exuberant and smooth language that she counted on for its inspirational significance and superior techniques, removing from it all excesses or unnecessary digressions. She showed keenness on displaying methodical and rational thinking in the way she built the structure of her novel and the way she conveyed its main idea to her readers.
Affaf Tobbala represents the Arab children's book of the new millennium; she is a model for a new generation that does not abide by rigid established age group divisions. It looks at children's literature mainly as Art, without disregard to the pedagogical and behavioral aspects related to the different age groups that are addressed by a work.
The work of Tobbala, who started writing for children at the age of 65 after retiring as an executive director of the Nile drama television channel, cannot be compared quantitatively with what many other presented to children's literature. However, what distinguishes her writing is her seriousness and keenness to present high and distinguished quality, that becomes engraved in the imagination of her readership, whether children or adults, and her wagering first and foremost on art; her solidification of reason, methodical thinking and human values. This applies to her distinguished works,
including Old Papers, Hola..Tata..Hola, Sika and Mokka, Ud El-Sanabel, Homecoming Hymn and others.
If women are the first founder of the art of writing for children through pram hymns and grandmother stories, there comes a woman, in the third phase of the development of that form, that recaptures the leadership of a form of literature that women established. Such leadership takes place at the hands of a generation that perceives writing for children in a distinctive manner and seeks to catch up with the developments that the different literary and art forms went through; after shedding rigid straightjackets and pedagogical and educational restrictions. Affaf Tobbala and her writings are the best representative of this new writing for children.
Affaf Tobbala is the beautiful Cinderella of children's literature, who provokes the imagination of our children with her magical pen and who mixes imagination and reality to hover with our children in a world of beautiful and distinctive innovation.