Maitha Al Khayyat's children's books are books with a difference: they directly relate to issues and situations encountered by young Emiratis.
Author's fun new books aimed at Emirati kids
Children's books often introduce young readers to moral, social and educational issues, teaching them the differences between right and wrong. Maitha Al Khayyat's children's stories are books with a difference: they directly relate to issues and situations encountered by young Emiratis.
Her first book, I Love my Dad's Long Beard, has been published in both English and Arabic and is dedicated to those fathers in the UAE who sport facial hair.
"I was with my children who were missing their dad as he was away for a few weeks with work, and I asked them, what do you miss about him? They told me he has a beard and you don't - and that gave me an idea," said Al Khayyat.
Her son Omar was 5 years old at the time. He told his mother that when he hugged his dad, his beard tickled him and smelled nice, which is not something that she had.
"I thought it could be a lovely story, so I sat down and researched different beards and professions in the UAE, and wrote a verse for each daddy," she said.
Her second book, My Own Special Way (Tareeqati Al Khassa), was also inspired by her family. Her young female character longs to wear the hijab like her older sisters, but needs to find her own special way to do so.
Al Khayyat is the eldest of four sisters and her youngest sister, she said, "is a rebel".
"We wanted to encourage her to wear the hijab and we couldn't find a way of inviting her to it. I just read this book at a fair to some girls and it tackles things that girls and children face when they get to an age where they want to do things. My daughter doesn't know how to tie up her own hair, so I said she needs to find her own way of doing it," the author said.
My Own Special Way was published by Kalimat in 2010 and the international rights have now been acquired by the UK publishers Orion Books. It also won a prize for Best Children's Book from the International Forum on Children's Education and Development in Riyadh.
The Ras Al Khaimah-based author grew up in the UK while her father was completing a doctorate. As a child from the Middle East, Al Khayyat said she had problems making friends at her middle school in England, which inadvertently spurred her love of books.
"I had trouble with spelling so I was sent to the library a lot … there were lots of bullies and the only way to escape was to go to the library," she said, adding that her favourite Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl books took her imagination to other places when she read them.
Her own love of books is something she also likes to transmit to her young audience.
"It's a challenge for me to visit a school with children who aren't used to their parents reading to them … it's as if they're not given the chance of having anyone read to them," she said, "but every time I open a book and read it to them, they ask if I've got more books to read to them."
Having learnt English before Arabic, Al Khayyat tends to write in English, although her friends encourage her to write in Arabic.
The Emirati author is due to publish two more children's books by the end of the year: When a Camel Craves Luqaimat (the Emirati dessert) is due to be published by Kalimat, while I Love My Mum's Pretty Veil is due to be released by Zodiac Publishing.
She is also writing a graded reader in Arabic (text book), and is working on articles for a children's magazine that will be published in the near future. Although Al Khayyat's current work focuses on children's stories, she has always wanted to write longer works.
"I love reading novels and stories, and I've always fantasised about writing a novel - which might happen in the near future. Right now I've written children's picture books, but in the future I might consider chapter books and then as my experience grows, I may try writing a novel," she said.
Maitha Al Khayyat will be appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature with her own dedicated session for children under four, on March 10 at 10am (Let's Celebrate our Cultures and Customs) and for a panel discussion at 6pm (Why Arabic Is So Important and How Parents Can Make a Difference)
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