x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fed up with rubbish, author creates a hero who fights it

An Australian children's author has created Omar, a goatherd who cleans up scenic spots strewn with rubbish.

Kathy Hoopmann with her new book, Omar's Goats.
Kathy Hoopmann with her new book, Omar's Goats.

Kathy Hoopmann, an avid camper, has grown increasingly upset in recent years at the growing amount of litter left behind by people visiting wadis and desert picnic areas. But rather than just lamenting the fact, the Australian children's author has created a hero who does something about it: Omar, a young goatherd who cleans up scenic spots strewn with rubbish.

In August, Jerboa Books will publish the book Omar's Goats in the hope it will raise awareness of environmental issues among children aged from three to five. The book, which will be sold across the GCC, as well as in several other countries, including Yemen and India, will be accompanied by a handbook for teachers so the message can be reinforced in the classroom. "I have done a lot of camping and have seen the wadis and deserts can be so dirty," said Mrs Hoopmann, who has a son and two daughters.

"I didn't want to just write a children's book. I wanted to educate children about environmental issues. For this region it's so important. I don't see a lot of basic environmental things are happening here." In the book, Omar and his goats enlist the help of animals, including spiny mice, leopards, genets, chameleons, falcons and snakes, to clean up the desert. "I chose animals that not everybody knew. Everyone knows the camel, so I tried to choose something a bit different," said Mrs Hoopmann, who has lived in the UAE for more than five years.

Omar's Goats is illustrated by Donna Acheson-Juillet, a French artist who was based in the UAE for seven years and now lives in Paris. A former teacher, Mrs Hoopmann said the accompanying handbook contains detailed notes and activities for pupils in all subjects. "I wanted to do the hard work for the teachers, then it would be more likely to be used," she said. By the end of next year, Mrs Hoopmann is hoping to publish another book and teachers' handbook, this time about marine environmental issues. She has had a dozen books published in the UK, Australia and the UAE and says she "just loves" writing for young people.

"I love putting words together and I love the effect the books have on children - I enjoy their reactions to it," she said. Her books for very young children can contain as few as 200 words, while those for teenagers might be as long as 75,000 words. "If you want to write, you cannot just pick up a pen and start something that's going to be published. It's a long process of refining," she said. "Also, it is hard to get any book published, but children's books in particular are not as easy as some people might think."

dbardsley@thenational.ae