For those of you who snagged a copy of our best-seller, “Uncle Khalfan’s Sheep,” you might agree with us that it’s quick to become a family favorite. A great story with beautiful illustrations (sheeps in braces?! what’s not to love!!), the story is easy to read and understand, especially with the rhyming text. We got the chance to chat with Maitha Al Khayat, the author of this book (and others, coming soon to Maktabatee!) and are excited to feature her on our blog today.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I'm an Emirati mom of five children, an author by heart and a children's book illustrator in spirit. I have a Bachelor's degree in Business and Information Technology and I love crafts and artsy activities.
What inspired you to become a children’s book author?
I think getting married, having children, and being surrounded by them inspired me to become an author. I disagree with some women who think that motherhood kills creativity. I don’t think that’s the case. My kids aren’t angels and I’m not a saint and I sometimes go crazy and drive my family crazy with me, but it’s those crazy occurrences that happen that turn into stories.
Do your children inspire the topics you choose to write about? If so, how?
My children’s naughtiness and everyday challenges inspire me to write stories. Parenthood can be so tough and sometimes you feel like a talking head or a commander bellowing out orders and directions. I found out, however, that this way doesn't always work for me. I’m good at telling stories so I use that skill to send a message to them in a subtle way, which I found to be more effective.
What do you think makes a good children's book? How do you choose books for your own children?
A good book has to be a page-turner that ignites questions, one that you never get enough of no matter how many times you read it. When my kids were very young, I chose books that were simple and focused on family bonds and allowed them to explore their imagination. But as they grew older I allowed them the freedom to make their own book choices. Sometimes I direct them to books that will challenge them and take their reading to the next level.
Where did the idea to write "Uncle Khalfan's Sheep" come from?
I took my son to a clinic to get his eye checked up and we sat within sight of the pediatric dentist’s office. We watched as the kids went in and came out one by one, either holding the side of their face, or smiling with big braces or staring at their hands holding a fallen tooth. I thought it would be funny to have a book that talked about all different types of dental problems but instead of humans, I thought it would be hilarious to have sheep instead. It's a scary topic for most kids so I wanted to lighten it up somehow.
What's the most challenging thing about writing children's books in Arabic, and promoting reading in the Arab world?
The most challenging thing is to write books that can compete with international standards. There is a lot more variety in English books than in Arabic books. I have also found that parents aren’t reading as much, so the children don’t see a good role model to emulate. We all know children will copy their parents, so it’s important for us to encourage reading by doing it ourselves.
In our last two blog posts, we discussed how to infuse the Arabic language in our children’s lives, and how to get kids to love reading (and off their touchscreens!); do you have any other tips you can share with us about how to encourage children to read more?
My tip would be to make reading a more involved activity by having parents and family members join in on the fun. A family “book club” is a fun idea, where you take turns choosing a book and at the end of the day or week, you talk about the book as a group and then do a relevant activity, craft, or role play. For example, creating a craft activity by drawing sheep faces with huge smiles, or getting the kids up and active by acting out a story such as "Uncle Khalfan's Sheep", where the mom can be the nurse, the dad the dentist and the kids the sheep. That would be fun!
Thank you, Maitha, for giving us a little glimpse into the life of an Arabic children’s book author, and for writing and illustrating some of our favorite books! We look forward to bringing more of Maitha’s books to Maktabatee-- in the meantime, you can sink your teeth into “Uncle Khalfan’s Sheep.”