This year at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF), the Goethe-Institut’s new “Emirati authors write for Emirati children” project—supported by UAEBBY, Kalimat and the ADIBF—will be on display.
As part of the initiative, the institute will host an intensive session for aspiring and published Emirati children’s book authors. German children’s book author Ute Krause, Emirati author Maitha al Khayat, poet Ahmad Rashid Thani , Kalimat publisher Dareen Charafeddine, and others will present. After the sessions, authors meet will conduct readings and Q&As with school classes at Kalimat’s ADIBF stand.
For the public: Organizers and participants will discuss the workshop on Thursday, March 17 at 5:45 pm. The panel is set to be moderated by Dr Latifa al Najjar.
For aspiring children’s-book authors and illustrators: The project will have a “networking reception” that brings together children’s book authors, illustrators and publishers on Tuesday March 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the new “Illustrator’s Corner.” Also: If you’re an aspiring children’s book author and not one of the ADIBF participants, don’t despair. The Goethe-Institut’s Isabell Achterberg notes below that the project will continue to sponsor activities for the next two to three years.
For those in the UAE and beyond who are interested, I asked the Goethe-Institut’s Achterberg a few questions about the project. She was kind enough to reply.
Q: What are the origins of the “Emirati authors write for Emirati children – New children’s books for the UAE” project? How was the need identified? Does the project have a mission statement?
The new project is part of the Goethe-Institut Gulf-Region’s longstanding commitment to reading promotion in the UAE. During these projects we were made aware of the fact that most children’s books available in the UAE are either in English or translations from other languages. At the same time we noticed that there is a growing demand not only for children’s books in Arabic but also for books that deal with topics familiar to Emirati children.
Of course it is important that children read books from and about other cultures, but they should also have access to books that help them familiarize themselves with their own culture, their own everyday reality. They need to encounter characters they can identify with, who face the same problems and live in the same environment like them. Emirati authors like Maitha Al Khayat and Marwa Al Aqroubi have demonstrated how an Emirati perspective can successfully be incorporated into children’s books. But this is only the beginning: the UAE has such a rich storytelling tradition – why not make use of it? The country is so full of exciting stories just waiting to be told!
Germany is lucky to have a thriving children’s book scene – our workshop instructor Ute Krause is an experienced children’s book author and illustrator herself. With the workshop we hope to share our experience with the Emirati authors, encourage them to develop their own approach to children’s literature, but we also look forward to learning about Emirati culture ourselves and finding inspiration for new children’s books in dialogue with the Emirati colleagues.
Q: Can you tell me roughly how many participants are signed up for these workshops? Are participants all Emiratis, or are other Arabic-writing authors welcome to join?
We have now ten participants, but the demand for the workshop is much higher than we anticipated. Unfortunately, we had to limit the number of participants to make sure that intensive text work with the workshop instructor Ute Krause is still guaranteed. The group now includes both beginners and published authors. All workshop participants are Emiratis as we particularly wanted to encourage local talent this time.
Q: So writers will have a “focus group” of children at the fair? The students will be asked what they think of each book?
We have invited educational experts from the Zayed University to talk to our participants how to write books for children that are age-appropriate and child-centred, but it was important to us that the children themselves should get a say in the workshop at some point. But with ten writers all eager for the children’s opinion, it is difficult to organise a Q&A session with the authors which is fun for the kids and keeps them interested. Also some authors’ books are still works in progress and might not yet ready to be read in front of the kids. We therefore opted for a mixture of short book readings and Q&A sessions with a school class from a local Abu Dhabi school. Both sides can ask questions and the authors can find out directly what children really want in children’s books, what keeps them reading, what kind of characters, plots and illustrations they like and also – quite importantly – what they don’t like in books.
Q: Does the Emirati authors / Emirati children project have a specific start and end? Or will it continue after the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair? What are the next steps?
The Goethe-Institut hopes to continue with similar workshops in the next two years. UAEBBY has already registered their interest in continuing their support in the future and KITAB always has been an important cooperation partner for us. But we hope that other organisations and publishing houses in the country join us in our effort to promote reading and children’s literature in the whole of the UAE.
The current project is planned to span over three years – we would like to organise an annual workshop which will focus on a different age group each year: from the very young readers to young adult literature. Unfortunately there are not many young adult novels in Arabic. But if you want to turn kids into lifelong readers, it is not enough to give them lots of wonderful picture books and first reader books. It is important that books accompany them through their entire childhood and teenage years – otherwise they will lose interest in reading.
Q: Are there ways in which the project can offer ongoing support to aspiring authors and illustrators in the Emirates?
The Goethe-Institut always tries to run projects that have a long-term effect. We are thinking about publishing the information we have been gathering together with the workshop results either in three small handbooks or on a website for children’s book authors in the UAE – anything that an aspiring author might need to know when thinking about writing a children’s book. There are many worthy reading initiatives and organisations that deal with children’s book issues in the UAE or support Emirati talent, but the information is sometimes scattered or hard to come. We would like to gather this information, make it available online and offer aspiring authors an easily accessible point of reference to turn to for information about the UAE’s children’s literature.
Another important aspect of our workshop is the networking: we have chosen the time of the workshop carefully to coincide with the Abu Dhabi Book Fair. The workshop will bring together children’s book authors, illustrators and publishers in especially organised networking events which gives the emerging writers the opportunity to make contacts that hopefully will help them launch their own writing career. The workshop itself is supposed to encourage the participants to keep in touch and for a supportive network which develop children’s literature in the UAE: in Germany, many children’s book authors and illustrators come together on a regular basis to exchange ideas and give support to each other. We would like to encourage a similar network of children’s book authors here in the UAE.
We are still at the beginning – but it is the beginning of a very exciting and very promising journey and we hope that the Goethe-Institut Gulf Region can contribute to the success of this journey.