Illustrating Egypt's Wildlife
The four sides of putting together an illustrated wildlife guide in both English and Arabic.
by Dominique Navarro, Richard Hoath and Yasmine Motawy
This month, I’m delighted to share The Biblio File with three other contributors to talk about the challenges associated with developing a recently published illustrated book —Egypt’s Wildlife: Past and Present.
The Publisher: Nigel
The idea of publishing a short book on Egyptian wildlife came out of a conversation with Dominique Navarro, whom we had previously published. The project was not an immediately obvious fit for AUC Press as a university press (we tend to produce books with a lot of words!), but the illustrations from Dominique — who has a longstanding connection with Egypt — were so good, that we felt that the book could fit easily into our general educational mission. This was a project that we could see selling worldwide, especially through museum shops. Yet, even more, we saw this as a project that should be available in all schools in Egypt. Hence, when the possibility of also producing the book in Arabic presented itself, we went ahead with that too. That approach was vindicated recently, when an Egyptian visitor saw Egypt’s Wildlife, and said, “If only I had had this in school, it would have changed my life!”
The Artist: Dominique
My awe-filled travels through Egypt’s gorgeous environments, observing and learning about its variety of animals and its natural history, led to the most enriching experience I’ve had as an artist: illustrating and producing a series of nature foldouts for the American University in Cairo Press. The process has been a collaborative journey with so many people contributing their support, advice and most importantly their enthusiasm. Nature brings out the best in people, as it has for me, inspiring my artwork and providing me with passionate work that it has been a great honor to share with people in Egypt and around the world through our publications.
The opportunity to produce Egypt’s Wildlife in Arabic has seemed like a challenging and unlikely goal these last few years when nature and conservation have been overshadowed by politics, but Richard Hoath’s commitment to environmental education and to this project kept the wheels in motion. We are so thrilled that the AUC Press feels the same as we do: Egypt’s Wildlife, in both English and Arabic, celebrates the extraordinary beauty and crucial value of Egypt’s animals, birds, plants, and habitats, to enlighten people, awaken tourists, and inspire the next generations of nature lovers.
The Scientific Advisor: Richard
My role as scientific advisor, along with fellow advisors John Wyatt, Sherif Baha El Din, Salima Ikram, and Matthew Lamanna, was to ensure that everything in the book was scientifically accurate. Just because a book is aimed at a younger audience — though anyone with any interest in natural history will enjoy this — does not mean you can be lazy with accuracy. Indeed the opposite; in educational publications the importance of accuracy is paramount. Scientific names morph as the taxonomists do their stuff. English names are contentious and the ranges of species within Egypt change over time. Our aim as scientific advisors was to make this wonderful educational publication as up to date and accurate as its young, and not so young, readers deserve.
I had a second role. The prospect of an English edition of this book was exciting enough. But there is a dearth of engaging, informative and well-illustrated books on wildlife in Egypt in Arabic. I was approached by the US Forest Service in 2012 who were looking at ways to support environmental education and conservation awareness as part of their International Programs. Dominique’s foldouts on topics from Egypt’s Flora and Fauna to Ancient Egypt’s Wildlife seemed perfect for translation and I received a grant. We also had the perfect translator in Yasmine El Motawy. The end result is not just a great educational book in English but a groundbreaking great educational book in Arabic.
The Translator: Yasmine
“That’s a blackbird! A mangrove! A dugong!”
“What is that in Arabic?”
“Hmmmm. Good question.”
It is a rare and delightful moment when one receives the opportunity to fill a need one has perceived time and again; a contextualized catalog of Egyptian wildlife in Arabic. But which Arabic? An animal indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine and Egypt will oftentimes be referred to differently in each place. The research this city dweller did for this translation project transformed her relationship with the nature around her in a way that I hope it will for the readers of this collaborative labor of love. This book is a treasure for readers of all ages, a perfect companion on travels within Egypt and I would be thrilled to work on companion activity books and ideas for integrating it into the mainstream school curriculum.
(Oh, and which Arabic? We decided on Modern Standard Arabic, favoring Egyptian naming when a choice was necessary.)