Zeyna Al Jabri, founder of Buzoor, has made it her mission to collect, promote and distribute Arabic books for children. She worked with The National to compile 50 suggested children's titles.  Reem Mohammed / The National
Zeyna Al Jabri, founder of Buzoor, has made it her mission to collect, promote and distribute Arabic books for children. She worked with The National to compile 50 suggested children's titles. Reem MShow more

Arab Reading Challenge – a novel way to encourage children to explore Arabic literature

“The first book a child reads opens the first door in that child’s brighter future.” So says Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

In keeping with that sentiment, the UAE is throwing open a door with the national and regional Arab Reading Challenge, a contest that aims to revive a love of the written Arabic word, engage with Arab children and encourage them to discover a literary world of stories, philosophies and a literary heritage that goes back hundreds of years.

Last month, Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, declared this year the “year of reading”. It followed the September launch, by Sheikh Mohammed, of the Arab Reading Challenge, which runs until April. The plan is to turn the competition into an annual event.

“We want the Arab child to love to read, to make reading a hobby, part of their fun routine, not something that is a chore or homework,” says Abdulla Al Nuaimi, the general coordinator of the challenge.

The ambitious goal is to get “a million children” in the region to read 50 Arabic books each, in addition to their normal reading for school.

There will be prizes totalling more than US$3 million (Dh11m) for teachers, pupils and their families – including $1m for the top school. The winning pupil will receive $100,000 to help pay university fees and $50,000 for their family.

In addition, more than $1m has been set aside for school supervisors, prizes for pupils and promotional incentives.

A list of recommended books for various age groups – grade one to high school – was published on the Arab Reading Challenge website when it launched, but was soon removed.

“We saw that parents were just printing them out and sticking to this list, when it was just a recommended list to expand on,” says Al Nuaimi. “So we decided to just keep it open and allow any 50 books for a particular age group, in any genre and style, as long as they are in Arabic.”

The only restrictions are that magazines, newspapers, comics and reference books are not allowed, and the books cannot already be part of the school curriculum. Books properly and “officially” translated from other languages into Arabic, but not online versions, are also allowed.

“This challenge is a chance for everyone in the family to explore what is out there in Arabic literature for children and youths,” says Al Nuaimi. “The parents have to be active and engaged as they look and help the child read and understand the books.

“If a child likes space, find him nice books about space, suitable for his age. It is about nurturing this love for reading and imagination.”

Parents who want a child to take part in the challenge should contact the supervisor at the school, who will register the pupil. Each participant gets up to five passports, each of which can be used to record summaries of 10 books the child has read. The first passport is red, the second is green, then blue, silver and gold.

“Each child will be tested to see if they really read the books and understood them, before they get to move on to the next passport and next 10 books, until he or she finishes all 50,” says Al Nuaimi. “The final stage will be assessed by an independent jury from the challenge centre and the best student will be announced as the winner, as well as the schools and all those involved. Everyone has a role in this, from the parents to the coordinator, to the supervisor, to the school and other students.”

Al Nuaimi encourages parents with questions about the initiative to contact the Arab Reading Challenge directly.

“Through reading and sharing, it is our hope that it will encourage more compassion and understanding of each other and of other cultures,” he says. “The future of the Arab world begins with its children, and so that is why this kind of challenge is very important.”

There are discussions about including university students in future editions of the challenge, but that depends on how the first one goes.

Studies and reports suggest that reading levels are very low in the Arab world. On average, an Arab child reads for six minutes per year, compared with 12,000 minutes in the West, according to a 2012 report by the Arab Thought Foundation.

That may be changing, as the range and quality of available books improves.

“Arabic children’s book publishing in the Arab world has come a long way in the last few years,” says Zeyna Al Jabri, the founder of Buzoor, a company founded six years ago with a mission to promote Arabic books for children by collecting and distributing the best titles in the region.

“I meet Arab authors and work with publishers to get the best of what they publish and make it accessible to the parents, teachers and schools,” says Al Jabri. “The Arab world, and specifically the UAE, suffers from a weak distribution network for Arabic children’s books.

“Parents and teachers complain about the lack of variety in the local market, and booksellers complain about the lack of sufficient demand for Arabic children’s books to justify offering a wider selection.”

As a mother of two – a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son – Al Jabri wanted to find and “promote” books written by Arabs for Arabs, so that “children can fall in love with our language and culture”.

But she is not opposed to reading translations of literary classics.

“While reading translated classics is an important part of growing up, it is also important to foster this sense of love for the different facets of the Arab culture around the Arab world,” says Al Jabri.

From her distribution centre in Dubai, which is packed with thousands of books from across the region, Al Jabri worked with The National in the mammoth task of compiling a list of 50 books for children of different ages to give parents a starting point to get their children involved in the reading challenge.

One of the challenges she faced was to include as much variety and popular appeal as possible, given that there are no best-seller charts in the Arab world to provide a regularly changing list of top books, and to keep the titles fresh in readers’ minds.

“A book gets popular, everyone wants it at the same time, and then after a month or so no one is asking about it,” says Al Jabri. “There are no real trends and no real measures like they have for English books. There is no Arabic children’s book that sells every week.”

Her list features authors from a range of Arab countries, a variety of publishers, covers many themes and topics for young readers of all ages and all the books were originally published in Arabic.

“It is a gift to the parents and the children,” she says. “The list is not exhaustive, but it offers some recommendations that will help Arab children meet new authors and new types of books and treasures they perhaps didn’t even know existed.

“There is something in this list for everyone.”

Check out the list of Arabic books for children, divided by age group – 5 to 8, 8 to 10, and tweens to teens


How to register as a donor

1) Organ donors can register on the Hayat app, run by the Ministry of Health and Prevention

2) There are about 11,000 patients in the country in need of organ transplants

3) People must be over 21. Emiratis and residents can register. 

4) The campaign uses the hashtag  #donate_hope

The Beach Bum

Director: Harmony Korine

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg

Two stars


The flights
Emirates, Etihad and Malaysia Airlines all fly direct from the UAE to Kuala Lumpur and on to Penang from about Dh2,300 return, including taxes. 

Where to stay
In Kuala Lumpur, Element is a recently opened, futuristic hotel high up in a Norman Foster-designed skyscraper. Rooms cost from Dh400 per night, including taxes. Hotel Stripes, also in KL, is a great value design hotel, with an infinity rooftop pool. Rooms cost from Dh310, including taxes. 

In Penang, Ren i Tang is a boutique b&b in what was once an ancient Chinese Medicine Hall in the centre of Little India. Rooms cost from Dh220, including taxes.
23 Love Lane in Penang is a luxury boutique heritage hotel in a converted mansion, with private tropical gardens. Rooms cost from Dh400, including taxes. 
In Langkawi, Temple Tree is a unique architectural villa hotel consisting of antique houses from all across Malaysia. Rooms cost from Dh350, including taxes.

In the Land of Saints and Sinners

Director: Robert Lorenz

Starring: Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Jack Gleeson, Ciaran Hinds

Rating: 2/5


Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

The specs: 2018 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Price, base / as tested Dh99,000 / Dh132,000

Engine 3.6L V6

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Power 275hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque 350Nm @ 3,700rpm

Fuel economy combined 12.2L / 100km

The specs: 2018 Opel Mokka X

Price, as tested: Dh84,000

Engine: 1.4L, four-cylinder turbo

Transmission: Six-speed auto

Power: 142hp at 4,900rpm

Torque: 200Nm at 1,850rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 6.5L / 100km

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

India cancels school-leaving examinations

Director: Carla Gutierrez

Starring: Frida Kahlo

Rating: 4/5

The Mandalorian season 3 episode 1

Director: Rick Famuyiwa

Stars: Pedro Pascal and Katee Sackhoff

Rating: 4/5 

Where to buy art books in the UAE

There are a number of speciality art bookshops in the UAE.

In Dubai, The Lighthouse at Dubai Design District has a wonderfully curated selection of art and design books. Alserkal Avenue runs a pop-up shop at their A4 space, and host the art-book fair Fully Booked during Art Week in March. The Third Line, also in Alserkal Avenue, has a strong book-publishing arm and sells copies at its gallery. Kinokuniya, at Dubai Mall, has some good offerings within its broad selection, and you never know what you will find at the House of Prose in Jumeirah. Finally, all of Gulf Photo Plus’s photo books are available for sale at their show. 

In Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi has a beautiful selection of catalogues and art books, and Magrudy’s – across the Emirates, but particularly at their NYU Abu Dhabi site – has a great selection in art, fiction and cultural theory.

In Sharjah, the Sharjah Art Museum sells catalogues and art books at its museum shop, and the Sharjah Art Foundation has a bookshop that offers reads on art, theory and cultural history.

Leap of Faith

Michael J Mazarr

Public Affairs


The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).


Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE


Dubai works towards better air quality by 2021

Dubai is on a mission to record good air quality for 90 per cent of the year – up from 86 per cent annually today – by 2021.

The municipality plans to have seven mobile air-monitoring stations by 2020 to capture more accurate data in hourly and daily trends of pollution.

These will be on the Palm Jumeirah, Al Qusais, Muhaisnah, Rashidiyah, Al Wasl, Al Quoz and Dubai Investment Park.

“It will allow real-time responding for emergency cases,” said Khaldoon Al Daraji, first environment safety officer at the municipality.

“We’re in a good position except for the cases that are out of our hands, such as sandstorms.

“Sandstorms are our main concern because the UAE is just a receiver.

“The hotspots are Iran, Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq, but we’re working hard with the region to reduce the cycle of sandstorm generation.”

Mr Al Daraji said monitoring as it stood covered 47 per cent of Dubai.

There are 12 fixed stations in the emirate, but Dubai also receives information from monitors belonging to other entities.

“There are 25 stations in total,” Mr Al Daraji said.

“We added new technology and equipment used for the first time for the detection of heavy metals.

“A hundred parameters can be detected but we want to expand it to make sure that the data captured can allow a baseline study in some areas to ensure they are well positioned.”

Politics in the West

Western Clubs Champions League:

  • Friday, Sep 8 - Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Bahrain
  • Friday, Sep 15 – Kandy v Abu Dhabi Harlequins
  • Friday, Sep 22 – Kandy v Bahrain
The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

West Asia rugby, season 2017/18 - Roll of Honour

Western Clubs Champions League - Winners: Abu Dhabi Harlequins; Runners up: Bahrain

Dubai Rugby Sevens - Winners: Dubai Exiles; Runners up: Jebel Ali Dragons

West Asia Premiership - Winners: Jebel Ali Dragons; Runners up: Abu Dhabi Harlequins

UAE Premiership Cup - Winners: Abu Dhabi Harlequins; Runners up: Dubai Exiles

UAE Premiership - Winners: Dubai Exiles; Runners up: Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Our legal columnist

Name: Yousef Al Bahar

Advocate at Al Bahar & Associate Advocates and Legal Consultants, established in 1994

Education: Mr Al Bahar was born in 1979 and graduated in 2008 from the Judicial Institute. He took after his father, who was one of the first Emirati lawyers

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat