Children's leisure reading in the nahdah

Ami Ayalon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children made up a substantial segment of the literate public that emerged during the Arab nahah period. Of these, an apparent minority applied skills they acquired in school to reading for pleasure or satisfying juvenile curiosity. This study explores the novel practice of Arab youth leisure-time reading as reported in retrospective memories and autobiographies. It reveals that during the nahah's early decades, the inventory of Arabic readings fit for children was strikingly limited-unlike the multitude of books that were available to adults-a reality that forced curious boys and girls from different classes to make do with adult books for their after-school reading. This article examines cultural factors for that scarcity (primarily the status of children in society) and economic ones (e.g., publishers' business concerns) and considers its implications. Probing a seemingly marginal section of a wider scene, it sheds light on hitherto neglected facets of the Arab transition from widespread illiteracy to extensive literacy at this point in history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-393
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Arabic Literature
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Arab nahah
  • Arab printing and publishing
  • Children
  • Children's books
  • Kutub al-afal
  • Leisure
  • Literacy
  • Reading
  • Youth


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