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[Saturday Reads] Infinite Otherworldly Possibilities of the Dressing Up Game – Arabic Version

"Let's Play Dress Up" by Dr. Reem El Mutwalli.


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

When we moved here to the Middle East, one of the things that I found deeply fascinating was the many variations in the women’s abaya. While I was pretty much accustomed to being in a Muslim-majority country, having worked in various parts of the Middle East for teaching consultancies (Istanbul, Oman, Bahrain, for example), it is a very different thing actually residing in “a whole new world” for a prolonged period of time, as Aladdin sings it.

Let’s Play Dress Up

Written and Illustrated by Dr. Reem El Mutwalli
Published by Universal Publisher & Distributor (2014)
ISBN: 9789953591988. Borrowed from Zayed Central Library. Book photos taken by me.

The book introduces the reader to three siblings named Sheema (the eldest), Shama (the youngest) and their brother Hazza. The endpapers indicate that this is actually part of a series of books that “tell fun stories about Arab culture.”

As the title suggests, the three siblings played “dress-up” as it was too hot to play outside. I can sympathize, having experienced the tail-end of summer when we arrived here around the first week of September last year.

It was sheer luck that I found this book, as I was really trying very hard to find picturebooks that will depict the diversity within the same culture in Muslim stories. I did find that in Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets by Hena Khan and Merdokht Amini (which I reviewed here). Yet, even that book did not capture the image above of Grandma Hissa with the unique facial covering that I have only seen here in UAE. Before I found this book, I was wondering if there was any picturebook that depicted that – and this book just serendipitously found me!

My husband asks me (in the predictably-oblivious manner of most men) how could there be a lot of variation in the black abaya worn by Muslim women. I tell him that there is such intricate distinct design in the fabric, such beautiful detail, and colourful finery that you can glimpse at when they move that apparently escapes his notice. This bilingual book captures all that, along with the terminologies for the clothing (the burgu, the ghahfiya, or the ghutra) that I am too embarrassed to ask my students or my local colleagues.

While I was not a fan of the typography and the blurred quality of some of the images, I did find the book fascinating and informative (the very clear gender segregation of the children’s interests was worth noting), particularly for those who wish to know more about the Arab culture.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: United Arab EmiratesFree Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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