Through the colorful pages of a new series of children’s books, young readers can embark on a cultural tour across 15 Arab nations from North Africa to the Levant and the Gulf.
The series comes from Joozoori Books (Joozoori means ‘my roots’ in Arabic), founded by Lebanese-Algerian siblings Sarah and Hicham Zaraket and Hicham’s wife, Tunisian-German illustrator Soufeina Zaraket. Sarah lives in Paris, while Hicham and Soufeina reside in Berlin. However, they haven’t forgotten their roots.
“We know what it’s like to live away from your home and family. We also know how important it is to be rooted in your heritage and culture,” The idea for Joozoori was as a result of the Zaraket family not finding genuine, fun children’s books for their own kids that demonstrated the Arab world’s varied cultures and offered a sense of connection to their heritage.
Each book can be customized with the reader’s name printed in Arabic on the front cover — “Arwa’s Trip to Iraq,” for example. According to the company website, “When a child sees their name on a book, it makes them feel like they are truly a part of its events and are more likely to retain its message.”
The books are also bilingual: the original text is in standard Arabic, and readers can select a second accompanying language: English, French, or an Arabic dialect. Readers should also specify their gender, as the story’s language will be adjusted accordingly.
The stories were written by Lebanese-born author Samar Mahfouz Barraj, and their detailed illustrations were created by various illustrators from around the region, shining a light on Arab talent. The team also collaborated with dozens of cultural advisors to get the tiniest of details of each country’s cultural life and historical background — from national clothing to local cuisine — as accurate as possible.
The books all follow a similar plot: A child living in the capital city of a country with their family loses their talking cat and, while searching for their pet on the streets – in the company of a local bird, the child discovers five different cities — perhaps at the seaside, or in the mountains, or among historical ruins — in their country. The books also offer a window into the everyday moments in friendly neighborhoods and old markets.
It’s a cultural platform that can reunite Arabs. We want all Arabs to love their countries and develop a bond with their kids,” says Sarah. “We’re lucky that our Arabic language unites us, why can’t we bond over other things?”