In our occasional series focusing on bilingual books for children, and how picture books can support families with more than one language at home, we’re delighted to welcome Saudi children’s book author Dr. Amal Alaboud to tell us about her debut picture book, Sabir’s Paradise/جنة صابر, published in Arabic and English.
WKL: Congratulations on the publication of Sabir’s Paradise. What was the inspiration for the book and did you develop the story in Arabic or in English first?
Dr. Amal Alaboud: I got the idea for ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ on a snowy day in Upstate New York, back in 2016. I was headed to the Writing for Children class instructed by the amazing Liz Rosenberg. As I pushed forwards along the street and through the icy blizzard, I had an idea! A fantasy folk tale. Something for children that related to my homeland, Saudi Arabia, and so, the snowstorm became a desert storm and – as if by magic, little Sabir the camel was born.
Time passed and I all but forgot about my story idea. However, whilst rummaging through my old manuscripts during lockdown 2020, I came across the draft for ‘Sabir’s Paradise’. As I leafed through the pages it sparked something from within, and I knew that I had to share Sabir’s adventures with the world.
Liz had worked with me, giving me invaluable written feedback. I worked on developing the writing and it wasn’t long before I realized that this story had the perfect dynamic to be translated into a bilingual book. I translated it into Arabic myself and sent it to Nour Publishing house. They welcomed ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ with open arms and in December my book hit the shelves. The book featured at the acclaimed International Sharjah Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates.
WKL: What’s the story about? What themes might come up when parents are reading the story with their children? And is there a reason you chose the name Sabir for the main character?
AA: This cautionary tale about a little camel who gets lost in the desert appeals to children by igniting their imagination and thirst for adventure. Creating a link between cultures and languages that all children will love.
I want ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ to serve as a beacon of hope during stormy, dark days. Sabir, meaning ‘patience’ in Arabic, shows that if you stay calm and collected, you will reach your paradise. Hammam and Tammam, Sabir’s magical desert guides, show that you are never alone. That if you have a resolute attitude and act maturely in difficult circumstances, all will be well.
It is my hope that children will take on these values, and my book will act as a reassurance to both parent and child that they have the strength to achieve anything they put their mind to, be it a fairytale adventure or learning a new language.
WKL: You wrote the story in the US and it’s published and distributed from UAE. Who do you envisage as the audience for this bilingual picture book? And why did you choose a bilingual format for that audience?
The audience consists of various groups. Some are native English speakers who want to learn Arabic and explore Arabic cultural themes, like the desert guards and camels. There are also native Arabic speakers who would like to teach their kids English. The story is international; it appeals to people worldwide.
I made the story bilingual because I want as many readers as possible to enjoy reading it. There are very few publishing houses that publish bilingual children’s books in the Middle East, even though this idea is relatively popular nowadays.
WKL: Some parents won’t be familiar with reading a book that contains two languages, in this case Arabic and English side by side. How might parents and children approach reading the book with their children? How can picture books be part of a bilingual household?
The style of my book unfolds as a way for both parents (or teachers) and children to enjoy the story together as well as being used as a learning tool. The book’s beautiful illustrations walk hand in hand with the words. Encouraging children to naturally tell the story in whatever language they choose.
Parents can also use the illustrations to question their child about the story. Each illustration is related to the words on the page. This builds language learning and is also a fun way to make sure children have a comprehensive understanding of the story.
The words within ‘Sabir’s Paradise’ are carefully chosen for language learners. I used simple emotions and descriptions to appeal to young minds. The English text is always to the left of the book, whilst the Arabic is on the right. This allows parents of either language to teach their child without having to change books or turn to the back like some other bilingual stories.
WKL: Where there any particular challenges in translating the text into Arabic or with editing the English?
There were no challenges in translating the text into Arabic, as it’s my native language. However, when the first edition was printed, some typos were unnoticed previously. Unfortunately, because I don’t live in the UAE, where the story was published, I couldn’t travel there. There were travel restrictions at the time, so I couldn’t see the book’s sample before it was officially published! But these typos are corrected in the second edition, which will be released in June 2021.
WKL: How did you come to work with the illustrator?
The publisher sent me illustration samples drawn by different illustrators. I chose the style of the illustration that was creative and went best with my story. Then, the publisher set up a WhatsApp group and introduced us. The illustrator, Nour Altouba, lives in Germany, so this was the easiest way to communicate clearly and effectively. He sent a sketch of all the book’s illustrations, then I provided some details. For example, we discussed types of desert plants and how I imagined Hammam and Tammam would look. The final illustrations were vibrant and joyful.
WKL: Do you have plans for any more children’s books, as author or translator?
Of course! Writing and translating children’s books is my passion, and I look forward to many future projects.
Thank you for sharing Sabir’s Paradise with us!
Where you can buy Sabir’s Paradise
(and other Arabic children’s books)
More about Nour Publishing
Nour Publishing is a specialist children’s publisher based in Sharjah, UAE. The founder and owner is Nour Arab, a Palestinian Canadian writer. Arab is an author of more than 20 bilingual children books in both Arabic and English. The press has published books by Emirati authors Fatima Al-aleeli, Hiba Al-tuniji, Fatima Al-Mazrouie, Safia Al-Shehi, Kuwaiti author Ghofran Al-Jaber, Dr. Fadia Daas and Faeda Sabha from Jordan, Saudi author Dr. Amal Alaboud, Dubai-based American author-illustrator, Ellie Szymanska, Lebanese author Maya Taher, Nour Arab, and a cookery book by Emirati chef Badya Khairedeen.
Dr. Amal Alaboud is an assistant professor of Translation Studies at Taif University. She’s a children’s stories writer and translator. Her works have been translated into Spanish, French and Chinese.