‘Every Country, Every Culture Needs Its Own Children’s Literature’

Today, Gulf News quoted Shaikha Budoor Bint Sultan Al Qasimi as saying that local YA lit is fighting for its existence due to the lack of Emirati authors who are willing to write in this challenging field.

Budoor was involved in the workshops that resulted in the “New Books for Emirati Teens” event on Thursday at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

At the event, Emirati YA novelist Noura Noman (center right) and German children’s-book writer Kirsten Boie (center left) spoke about exciting developments in the world of Emirati children’s literature.

Although Boie read from her German-language book, Alhambra, and Noura Noman read from its Arabic translation, Boie mostly talked not about her own work, but about new work being written by Emirati children’s book authors. Boie had, for the past several days, been leading a workshop for emerging and established Emirati writers.

“I think every country, every culture needs its own children’s literature,” Boie said. She was very happy with the workshop, and said, “If the result is that there are more Emirati writers for Emirati kids, that will be great.”

Some of these works should probably be translated, Boie said, because, “Children are very open-minded, and they love to read about what’s going on in the world.”

Speaking to Gulf NewsShaykha Budoor said, “Young adults are a difficult age group to write for because of the constraints that exist in our community. Some of the things that interest them may not conform to our traditions or values so that limits the types of books that can be written by Emiratis for them.”

Noura Noman, who was working on a story where protagonists travel through the Emirates and there’s a task they need to fulfill in each Emirate, also spoke about how children’s book writers need to play with language. She noted how Dr. Latifa Al Najjar visited their workshop to talk about the Arabic language.

Dr. Al Najjar told the group that, in dialogue, that sometimes 3ameya will suit the story. Noman said, in brief, “Cheer up, rejoice, we can use 3ameya [colloquial Emirati Arabic] sometimes. And there was an ovation after this.”

Another issue was the idea that all children’s books need to be “educational” or “improving” in a heavy-handed way.

“The biggest criticism I always receive is that my books are not educational,” 17-year-old author Sarah Khalifa Al Gafli told Gulf News. “I believe that Arabic books made for young adults and children are very serious and too preachy, which is why they are not interested in reading them.”

Al Gafli added: “I want people to know that Emirati writers can write books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games if they get the proper support… there is an audience for those kinds of books in the Emirates because many of her friends and the people she knows are fans of books from this genre.”

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3 Responses to ‘Every Country, Every Culture Needs Its Own Children’s Literature’

  1. Ehim, just wanted to add to the Gulf News piece that the ovation was my comment and it was just an inside joke with the ladies at the workshop who were also present in the panel discussion. I wouldn’t want Dr. Al Najjar to think I misquoted her. She also said that narration should always been in MSA; but there will be times when characters will have a voice of their own which requires us to let go of the constraints of using MSA. A character who is a teen or is uneducated will not be realistic if they use MSA.

  2. It’s OK Marcia; I should not have used those words without thinking. But loved your post.

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