Inspirations for Children’s Books in Saudi Arabia: Part 1, Objects and Feelings

by Nojood ALsudairi, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The focus of this month’s blog is our work in writing and illustrating books for children in Saudi Arabia and on children’s books available from the Arab world. We want to share our process of developing picture books within a children’s literature course to be published for a wider audience. We believe that children’s literature courses and universities can play a role in helping countries develop books for children that reflect their language and culture.

The Childhood Studies Department at King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah, Saudi Arabia offers an undergraduate course in children’s literature as an alternative course for students. Throughout the semester, students learn the essentials of writing and illustrating picture books. The final project of the course was to write and illustrate a picture book. Sometimes all of the students work together on one book, and other times students work in groups of 3-5 on a book.

Some of the picture books produced by students were better than those available for children in bookstores, so we decided to publish the best final projects through the KAU publishing house. We initially published a big book by a small publishing house that was successful and so were able to persuade the KAU publishing house to take on this project. During the fall semester of 2011, five picture books were created, four of which were then edited, redesigned and will be published. Throughout the month of August, we will write about those five projects, particularly their ideas and the books that inspired students in developing their projects. The first book was written by Alshaimaa Almerwai, Mariam Kawkandi, Mona Alyahyawi and Maysa Andarqeeri, and was illustrated by Hiba Yamani.

The main idea of the first project; the picture-book Takhaiial lau kunt… bematha satashor? (Imagine that you were a… How would you feel?) emerged from a magazine. While studying Basem; a children’s magazine, Mona Alyahawi noticed a page in each issue that gives an imaginary situation for readers to respond to and to think about what would happen if the situation were true. For example, imagine that there was no electricity or imagine that sand was transformed to gold. The group was interested in children exploring their feelings and so they decided to adopt the same idea around feelings. Hiba Yamani, the artist, loves giving life to inanimate objects. Because the artist of the group was enthused, the group started working on the text immediately.

To choose their characters and to develop the plot, the group members read many books. They were inspired by books from several parts of the world, but we highlight Arabic picture-books to let WOW readers know about books from the Arab world.

Jaddati walqamar
(My Grandmother and the Moon) by Fatema Shraf Addeen (Lebanese) and Maya Fedwi (Lebanese) (2008, Kalimat, UAE) is about a child dealing with her grandmother’s death. The child asks the moon about her grandmother and her whereabouts. The group was inspired by the child’s innocent way of thinking and her simple questioning.

Fatimah alhlimah(Dreaming Fatimah) By Arwa Khumayys (Saudi) and Maha (Saudi)(2009, Kadi w Ramadi, Saudi Arabia) is about a child’s dreams. The beautiful language of the book helped expand the horizons for the group to think beyond reality. For example, Fatimah dreams that she could swim in a watermelon and that she could be a stick held by her grandfather.

Ayna asabee (Where are My Fingers?) by Nadine Toma (Lebanese) and Leena Merhij (Lebanese) (2007, Dar Onboz, Lebanon) is a Lebanese lullaby about a child looking for her fingers. Although the main focus of the book is to teach children the names of fingers, it also deals with the feelings of loss in an extraordinary way.

Anqethona (Save us) by Rula Saada (Lebanese) and Maya Fedawi (Lebanese) (2007, Turning Point, Lebanon) is about extinct animals. Nadeem travels, through his imagination, to a reserve where he meets and talks with animals that are threatened with extinction. Unlike the previous books, this picture book shows the problem from the animals’ point of view.

The group used these ideas to write their own book, Takhaiial lau kunt… bematha satashor (Imagine that you were a… How would you feel?). This book takes the child to an imaginary world where objects have feelings. It is divided to five chapters. The first page of each chapter states: Imagine that you were an object (a rocket, an ear, a piece of potato chips, an ice cube and a remote control), and the following pages deal with objects’ imaginary feelings. For example; a rocket would feel free, astounded, happy and lonely.

After the project was completed, Alshaimaa Almerwai designed it using two design programs. She added one more dimension to the book by designing some of the words to reflect their meanings in art, such as a sigh.

This book is currently under publication, to be available in November 2011.

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11 thoughts on “Inspirations for Children’s Books in Saudi Arabia: Part 1, Objects and Feelings

  1. Taz Zafer says:

    I’ve been working on another children’s book during fall semester 2011 with a different group and I know pretty much what it’s like and what it takes to come up with an extraordinary idea such as this one!
    the language used in this book is superb, the drawings are full of creativity and the illustration is astonishing. this book should be a grand prize winner no doubt.

  2. Sama Khomais says:

    Congratulation to the group, you deserve this success, and thank you Dr. Nojood for following the dreams of your briliant students.

    Looking forward to read more about inspirations for children’s books in SA.

  3. LinaSamaha says:

    I am really proud of these talented ladies from the Arab world, especially of my dearest Alshaimaa. <3 this is a very big step to create a better world to the Arabian child, I'm looking forward for more, thank you a lot. <3

  4. Nice post doctor Nojood.
    I enjoyed every minute working on this project.
    It was exciting looking for ideas in books, newspapers, ads, etc “as you tought us doctor.
    I think everyone must go through this experience.
    Looking forward to the next one.

  5. Reading about achievements is surly pleasing, but trying to analyze them is the pleasure itself.

    Here are some random thoughts I have about the blog and would so much like to share.

    1- While reading the “source of inspiration” part, which was manly mentioning some Arabic books, written and illustrated by Arabs, I was overjoyed by two different thoughts:

    The first was the thrilling feeling that we finally became our own source of inspiration after spending a long time basically relying on foreign books. Now, I can easily say that we are capable of playing this role even though we admit we still have so much to learn “YAAAY!”.

    The second thought; however, was more concerned with the group worked on the picture book “Takhaiial lau kunt”. I must say, I was truly impressed by their ability of pointing out precisely their source of inspiration. For me, that is a high level talent (;

    2- “Some of the picture books produced by students were better than those available for children in bookstores”. I totally agree with this line and I hope that such books have the opportunity to be translated into other languages. That can be our next step, eh?

    3- The effort made in designing this book is a living proof that “designing” ADDS SO MUCH! It made me wonder how second editions of my fav books would look like.

    I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the rest parts.

  6. maymumuna says:

    I think the book is very interesting and its idea is unique. children will absolutely love the book.
    looking forward to having my own copy for my baby.
    good luck.. outstanding job guys.

  7. Kenan says:

    When I read the post and my sister told me about the characters. I liked the idea of the book because I remembered the characters of toy story movie. I love the idea of talking games and dolls and objects because when we play with it we drop it on the floor and if the doll has hair we cut it and color on her face and they never shout or cry or tell us anything or ask for help and I feel sorry for them. So if they invented talking games Like the ones in the story, children will respect their games more.
    I’m excited to read this book to know about the feelings the characters can have. I have to know who are the characters in every story I read because I love to imagine what can happen after the end of the story.
    I believe that everything has feelings even the things that doesn’t move infront of us.
    Thank you for the exciting books you make for us in KSA.

  8. Mishael Alsudairy says:

    I have always been fascinated by books, mostly children’s and young readers, but all of the books which amused me in the past were in English. When I first had my first born 5 years ago I decided to look for Arabic Children’s books to add to his library. Sadly, most of the books I bought were below expectations! When I speak with Dr. Nojoud, she pinpoints names of books with enthusiasm, but when I go look for them in local bookstores I cannot find them. I wish someone would develop an online store, something like Amazon, but solely for Arabic books, and that these amazing books would be available for either purchase or download. I have read previous publications by students of Dr. Nojoud, and I must say I am so looking forward to getting my hands on this one!

    Good luck to you all, and a final request, please focus more on the younger readers before my boys (currently 3 and 5) grow older..

  9. SA says:

    Great post and I’m really excited to read that there’s a strong library of Saudi and Arab children’s literature developing. I remember as a child growing up in Riyadh that I was always disappointed by how uncreative the available Arabic children’s books were. They all had very simple and realistic stories, usually with some moral, religious or nationalistic bend. Therefore I was more drawn to the more imaginative English children’s books available, books by Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak, etc.

    Thank you for promoting such an exciting project, and I look forward to reading (for myself and for my children) t5ayal lauw kint . . . bimatha satas3ur once published, and other future creative books that will be inspired by this project.

  10. Karam Abdul says:

    Indeed, I am one of those who are so proud of these books as well as proud of that university (King Abdulaziz University ) which offers such a unique program called children’s literature. I am so happy we are having just like this program in one of our Arab’s coutries which is unfortunately something unusual. As you might know , the best way to teach our children and let them understand our culture and relegion and so on , is by publishing just like these books that have pictures which help them get excited and read more and more of them. I strongly recommend just like these books to be translated to other languages ( ie En , Ordo and persion ) to let the children of other counties know more about us and about our cultures or whatever relates to us . I would like to congradulate these writers for these nice books . I really wish them all the best in their future and I hope they keep up the good work . Once again , I am really happy we have such creative people having nice thuoghts and stronge ability to do such things despite they are just beginners. I encourage the university to arrange some conferences for these people outside of KSA or inside to give these creative beginners a chance to meet other proffesional people in that field to gain more information and to develop their abilities to serve our children which I strongly believe that they are a very importent element of our communities .


  11. Tariq H says:

    Sounds like a really great project. You never know, we might see the worlds next JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer come from the Middle East (with more solid and rich material ofcourse – i am in no way promoting Harry Pot-head or Twig-light, pun intended).

    Inshallah we’ll start seeing more initiatives like this that will create content that our youth and the following generations can relate to on TV, the internet, Youtube, and all the next generation media platforms – I don’t want my children growing up to Spongebob, Hannah Montana and all the other garbage on TV these days. I’m pretty sure I don’t only speak for myself when I say this.

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