Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Otherworldly Realms - Fantasia Picture Books Reading Themes Saturday Reads

[Saturday Reads] A Low-Key Feminist Picturebook from Lebanon

... in Karim Al-Dahdah's "Sitt Sobhiye And The Quest For The White Horse."


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.

I honestly did not know what to expect when I borrowed this picturebook from the library. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the twist at the end of the story. Sitt Sobhiye also has mystical powers – making this a perfect fit for our #ReadIntl2020 and our Portals to Fantasia theme.

Sitt Sobhiye And The Quest For The White Horse (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written and Illustrated by Karim Al-Dahdah
Published by Turning Point (2013)
ISBN: 9953027897 (ISBN13: 9789953027890). Borrowed from Zayed Central Library. Book photos taken by me.

In this story, the reader is introduced to a woman imbued with supernatural powers, named Sitt Sobhiye, who has this uncanny ability of seeing into the future. The village folks refused to make any decision without consulting her first, given her magical abilities. Just like Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, certain symbols stand for specific predictions:

Sitt Sobhiye is also often visited by the unmarried women (young and old alike), in the hopes that they will find the white horse which would signify marriage. The first few parts of the book clearly indicate traditional gender roles. Women are expected to find husbands, and their lives seem to revolve around this; except for Farida, the schoolteacher’s daughter, who would much rather spend her time reading books.

When I reached this part of the book, I knew this was going to be a different sort of book. While the art seemed to be largely computer-generated, it is still very appealing, and I especially enjoyed seeing the books that Farida was reading. See image above as she goes through the story of Ibn Battuta (whose life I featured here).

The narrative plot shifts as Sitt Sobhiye announced that the white horse is nowhere to be found. This suggests that the young ladies of the town might remain unmarried forever, which the townsfolk regard as a catastrophe. Hence, Farida’s help was sought, as she knows so much, having read those stacks of books, to find the white horse and bring it back, so that the ladies can find a glimpse of a marriageable existence.

I will not reveal the ending, but suffice it to say, that the women’s eventual self-sufficiency from an initially gendered/stereotypic story disarmed me. While it appeared like a parable with nuggets of wisdom discovered as Farida travels to a city where people lived upside down, spoke backwards, and brown deers appeared like snow-white horses – there is the slightest of nudges towards the unexpected, the divergent, the unconventional.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: 14 of 30 (country): Lebanon (Karim Al-Dahdah lives in Beirut) | (language) book is bilingual (English and Arabic).

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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).

1 comment on “[Saturday Reads] A Low-Key Feminist Picturebook from Lebanon

  1. This sounds like a charming picture book, and I love the way the theme seems to sneak up on the reader, (from your review)

    Liked by 1 person

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