First German-Arabic Children’s Reading in Berlin’s Tucholsky Bookshop

I’d hardly exchanged the gummy bears for the cookies and dates before she came sweeping into the bookshop with a crowd of 4-to-12-year-olds.

Foto: Patrick Hutsch
First German-Arabic Children’s Reading in Berlin’s Tucholsky Bookshop. Berlin 2016. Photo: Patrick Hutsch

We didn’t know who and how many would come. We didn’t know whether parents had seen our Arabic posters in the nearby homes. We didn’t know whether the Syrian and Iraqi parents would come along with their children – to a bookshop they don’t know. We knew that a few customers were planning to bring their kids. That was all. So we set only out twenty chairs for the event. Half an hour before the beginning, the projector for the picture-book cinema wasn’t working and we remembered that gummy bears contain pork-based gelatine. It was a Sunday afternoon and the shops were shut.

So I went home, raided our stock of treats, and came back with cookies and dates. By the time I got back to the shop the Palestinian cameraman set to translate for us had got the projector up and running and the Syrian teacher had arrived to read one of the stories aloud. In fact he was a little surprised that he’d be reading right away because he thought he’d come to another preparatory meeting, but he laughed, flicked through the book and said: no problem.

A customer had told me on the phone that morning that she’d go round to the local emergency home where she plays with the children once a week and put all the kids who wanted to come to the reading in a taxi. That was the best way to get things done, she said – spontaneously, and a lot of children get bored in the homes anyway. I’d hardly exchanged the gummy bears for the cookies and dates before she came sweeping into the bookshop with a crowd of 4-to-12-year-olds.

Esra Al Heale, a pregnant young maths teacher from Mossul, was wearing a red flowery dress, looked gorgeous and had a very appealing humorous look on her face. Her husband Radwan began carrying more and more chairs out of the back room with the bookseller Jörg Braunsdorf. The bookshop filled up so quickly that we had to roll out a carpet in front of the screen and hand out cushions. The cookies were all gone before the last of the guests arrived. Three times as many people had come as we had expected.

Katja Schreiber, a deep-voiced screenplay writer, took turns reading with the Syrian teacher from the book Sonne und Mond: Wie aus Feinden Freunde wurden, a bilingual storybook published by Edition Orient, by the famous Egyptian illustrator Ihab Shakir. The original version won Egypt’s highest state prize for children’s literature. The children didn’t care about that – they gazed at the pictures and listened spellbound because there was plenty going on in the story.

After a short break with only dates and juice and with even more families turning up, the reading went on with Rania Zaghir and Racelle Ishak’s very funny book Wer hat mein Eis gegessen?

Stefan Trudewind, the publisher at Edition Orient, asked the children what the Arabic word is for ice cream. Then he asked the children who didn’t speak Arabic to raise their hands when they heard the word busa and those who didn’t speak German to do the same with Eis. That was fun for everyone – I want to do something like that with all the stories next time.

Tanja Székessy, an illustrator and children’s book writer, read the German version in different voices, and Esra smiled and laughed as she read the Arabic.

After the last line of the ice cream story my husband dashed to the café next door and came back with chocolate croissants, which disappeared again a minute and a half later.

It’s hard to imagine a better afternoon. And it was so simple. I’ll never forget the Arabic word for ice cream – busa – and I’m planning to do it all the same way next time, only with five times as many cookies.

The Bookshop as a Space for Encounter: Not talking about each other, talking to each other. Readings and conversations with refugees in your local bookshop.
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