For Love of the Written Word: Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Who among Myriad Other Roles Is a Dedicated Pioneer of Children's Book Publishing in the UAE, Shared Her Views and Hopes about Books, Publishing and the Future of Sharjah with the Middle East Magazine's Rhona Wells on the Sidelines of the 2012 Sharjah Book Fair
Wells, Rhona, The Middle East
You started Kalimat, publishing children's book five year ago. How is it going?
I started Kalimat mainly because I wanted to offer Emiratis the chance to publish children's stories. Now we have over 100 titles with lots of Emirati writers.
At the beginning all our authors came from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, the 'well-established' literary markets. In the UAE, writing for children was not regarded as a profession, but I am very proud to say that five years on things have changed a lot; many of our authors are now locally based. So I feel it has really offered them and many local illustrators, a great platform.
Are Kalimat books getting international exposure? Yes they are, on two fronts. One of the books is translated into English, which we feel is a real breakthrough.
My Own Special Way, by Maitha Al Khayyat, about a young girl's ambition to wear the hijab just like her older sisters, captures the essence of Kalimat, which specialises in books written specifically for children in the UAE and the Middle East. Through stories rooted in local culture, the stories focus on the value of family, friendship and Islam as well as other issues children in the region can expect to encounter.
It has been translated into other languages and is particularly popular in Turkey.
Our other collection, and one that is generating international interest is our "historical figures" collection.
Ibn Battuta is one of the stars of a new collection aimed at educating children about historically influential people in the Arab world. The series also includes the scientist, philosopher, astronomer and poet, Avicenna who lived and worked around a thousand years ago. These books are also very popular with people in other countries who want to know about our cultural roots; it is important for the wider world to learn about these important historical figures that are sometimes forgotten.
You run an initiative, called "knowledge without borders" which includes distributing free books to families. How does this work?
My father, the Ruler of Sharjah, Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi started this initiative in 2008 and later, passed the project on to me to run. We buy books from Arab publishers and pass them on to families, who receive a collection of books to allow them to enjoy reading in their own homes. People who would not be able to buy books get them through this initiative and the local publishers also sell their books, so it's a win-win situation.
I then established the mobile libraries, which reach out to communities in the remote areas that have no access to books or libraries; it also goes to workplaces to encourage people to borrow and read books; it helps promote the culture of reading which is really important. People get excited when they see the mobile library bus arrive. I want people to love books. I love books and it is very important to me to give every one a chance to love books as well. "The Love of the written word" was the motto my father used when he first started the Sharjah book fair in 1981 and, like him, I believe books are paramount for people's growth.
You have some very cute ideas such as the Buggy books Yes, we are always promoting reading for the very young, we had cloth books, bath books that could get wet in the bath and now we have added the Buggy books; at that age, children want to read so with the added safety of the book not landing on the floor the child can read to its heart's content. …