Discoveries at IYL: Poèmes Du Soir

Each of our international guests is asked for their personal treasure they find during their stay with us. This treasure found by Nicola Daly, University of Waikato, New Zealand, IYL-Fellow 2017.  wonderfully matches our current activities in Arabic children’s and youth literature.

Poemes du Soir (Evening Poems, Heredia & Dentan, 2016) is a collection of 9 poems presented in both French (in Latin script) and Arabic (in Arabic script). In fact, Sibylle Weingart the French Lecturen brought it to me as she knew I am interested in bilingual picturebooks. Poemes du Soir is part of the 2017 White Raven’s catalogue. The publisher La Port a Jauni , established in 2015, is based in Marseilles where there is a large Arabic-speaking population and it  describes itself as specialising in producing French-Arabic bilingual books. The publisher’s website explains that their books are designed “to play with the double meaning of reading in French and in Arabic” (La Port a Jauni, 2017).

When you hold this book of poetry in your hands, ready to read from left to right as is usually done with European language books, the cover facing you is all in French using Latin script. And you can read the whole book in this left to right manner. But if you hold the book as you would for an Arabic book, that front cover is all in Arabic using Arabic script, and you can read the book from right to left as well.

In the body of the book on each full page spread a poem is presented in two languages back-to-back (almost looking like a butterfly) with French on the right and Arabic on the left. This is an interesting decision. Given that the Latin script reads left to right and Arabic right to left, you may have expected the opposite order of presentation (i.e., French on left and Arabic on right). But when you consider that Latin script is justified to the left and Arabic to the right, the straight line between the two starting places makes the chosen order the perfect choice, and creates the visually pleasing butterfly shape of text.

I believe the message sent to children about the relative value of languages in bilingual book is subtle and lasting. In my opinion, this is a bilingual book which presents a perfectly balanced treatment of the two languages. Of all the bilingual and multingual picturebooks I have analysed, this is the only book I’ve found that doesn’t favour one language over another.  I think this is why it is such a treasure for me. I was starting to think that maybe my expectations of equality of languages in a bilingual book were either unachievable, or at least unrealised. However, this book has shown me wrong.

In addition to this achievement, the book is visually pleasing and tactile, using a three colour palate in the illustrations (black, white and yellow), using high quality paper with rounded corners, and it is stitch bound. All in all Poemes du Soir is a pleasing book to behold, and a treasure in my eyes.

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