Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A magical homecoming

Egyptian children’s author Affaf Tobala’s new novel provides something for readers of all ages, says Rania Hussein Amin

A magical homecoming
A magical homecoming
Al-Ahram Weekly

I haven’t been as enchanted by a children’s story for a long time as I was with Unshudat al-Awdah (The Homecoming Song) by the award-winning Egyptian author Affaf Tobala. The imagery of the story is stunning, starting with a flock of ducks gathered around an icy lake in a European forest and then flying over changing scenery to reach the Egyptian countryside where they find a pond, a farm, and the house of a wide-eyed girl called Naglaa.

The story centres around the unusual bond that develops between a deaf and dumb girl and a duckling with an injured wing, two characters who feel imperfect but together manage to help each other grow, each in her own special way.

The duckling, called Tat, had injured her wing while trying to escape from a fox, which resulted in her inability to fly south with the other ducks and meant that she had to be carried on her parents’ backs. During the ducks’ rest near Naglaa’s house, Tat loses her way and is separated from the rest of the flock. Naglaa finds her and immediately the two manage to communicate without words, just by using eye contact and touch. For a deaf and dumb girl this kind of communication comes naturally and helps form an unusual bond with the duckling.

Naglaa has a problem communicating with her grandparents without her parents’ help and guidance. The feeling of frustration that ensues because of her inability to communicate her thoughts and desires to her grandparents will I’m sure be familiar to every child who finds it hard to express himself properly or communicate his feelings to adults.  

Naglaa hasn’t learnt the best way to do this yet, and she refuses to resort to writing out of a fear of being criticised for her bad handwriting. However, her desire to keep the duckling makes her finally resort to writing to her grandfather in order to make her wishes known and she is then rewarded by a complete acceptance of them. Naglaa understands the need to develop her handwriting skills in order to communicate better with others. She works hard to do so and enjoys learning calligraphy from her grandfather.

She also starts helping the duckling grow by teaching her how to fly, which she realises is necessary for the duckling to feel whole again. The story shows readers how to succeed in spite of a disability and to insist on developing skills and continue learning new ones. Just as Naglaa realises the value of writing and the duckling realises the value of flying, so readers will realise the value of learning and the need to build character and skills.

At the end of the book another strong message is sent to the reader: the importance of making one’s own decisions in life and trusting to one’s own feelings of what is right and wrong. This inner desire for doing the right thing finally overcomes the strong bonds between Tat and Naglaa, and Tat decides to join her flock again on its way back north and Naglaa lets her go to join her parents.

The duckling leaves a feather behind, which Naglaa treasures as a happy memory of a beautiful relationship between a human and a duckling and a lesson well learned. The farewell song at the beginning and the homecoming song at the end of the book provide the sound of enchanting music throughout, and this can almost be heard by the reader.

Readers of all ages will be inspired by the warm ending of this book, showing two characters who have finally learned to love each other and themselves.

Affaf Tobala, Unshudat al-Awdah (The Homecoming Song), illustrated by Reem Heiba, Nahdet Masr, 2014

About the author

Egyptian children’s author Affaf Tobala has received numerous awards and distinctions for her work.

The Silver Fish(2005)

- Honourable mention in the New Horizons category of the 2006 Ragazzi Awards of the Bologna International Book Fair for Children’s Literature

- Suzanne Mubarak Prize for Children’s Literature (Egypt Award for Children’s Literature) (2006)

- Chosen as one of the titles distributed to 15,000 primary school libraries in Egypt as part of the National Book Project supported by USAID

Sika and Mokka(2006)

- Suzanne Mubarak Prize for Children’s Literature (Egypt Award for Children’s Literature) (2007)

- International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) List of Honour (2010)

A New Dream(2007)

- Chosen as one of the titles distributed to 15,000 primary school libraries in Egypt as part of the National Book Project supported by USAID

Dom…Tata… Dom(2008)

Short listed for the Etisalat Prize for Arab Children’s Literature (2009)

Old Papers (2009)

- Chosen as one of the titles distributed to 6,000 middle school libraries in Egypt as part of the National Book Project supported by USAID

- Chosen for the Honour List of the Anna Lindh Foundation for Children’s Books in the Arab World (2010)

- “The Storage Room,” one of the stories in Old Papers, performed in a production sponsored by the Jordanian ministry of culture at the Children's Drama Festival in Amman (2012)

The House and the Palm Tree(2009)

- Awarded Sheikh Zayed Award for Children's Literature in the Arab World (2011)

- Book of the Month in the Readers Club of online Arab Book Forum (2012)

- Selected for a number of high schools in Egypt (2013)

The Eye(2010)

- Awarded the Anna Lindh Foundation's Arab Children's Literature Award (2011)

Ud Elsanabel(2013)

- Awarded the Etisalat Award for Arab Children's Literature


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