As expats living in the UAE we naturally want to celebrate our host country; as parents this can also mean ensuring our children understand and respect the diversity that surrounds them. Learning about Emirati culture is a great way for children to engage with their country of heritage, especially as the Ministry of Education has now made it mandatory for schools to include the UAE’s history, culture and traditions in their social studies programs.
Throughout the Arabic world oral storytelling has been a key way to pass on traditions and heritage, so it’s befitting that one of the ways to get kids interested in local culture is by swapping out some of their bedtime stories for books that depict Emirati life and experiences. Telling stories is the perfect way to introduce little ones to new walks of life as it allows time and space for them to ask plenty of questions and you can explore the tales together at your own pace. Recently there’s been a flurry of English language children’s books about life in the Emirates from Emirati authors themselves, but also from seasoned expats who want to celebrate the country they live in. Here’s just a few to get you started:
Tales of Hamad
Engineer Ahmed Al Shoaibi set out to help explain the roots of Emirati patriotism to children with his series of stories based around the adventures of local boy Hamad. The books cover many facets of Emirati culture, from respecting your elders to understanding why and how Eid is celebrated.
Purchase the books here.
Al Shoaibi’s publisher, Al Rawy Publishing, also produces a number of English language stories using simpler formats like counting and rhyming books with an Emirati angle, such as these two (above) from author Shama Khan, illustrated by Latifa Ahli.
The Boy who knew the Mountains
The creators of this storybook are both Australian women, but writer Michele Ziolkowski knows UAE heritage well, not only from her work as an archaeologist but through her husband and his family, who are Emirati. Inspired by the challenges faced by her autistic son and her mother-in-law’s tales about life in Fujairah before the oil boom, the story follows 11-year-old Suhail who is shunned by his community because of his special abilities, and is set in the real-life village of Al Hayl. The narrative is imaginatively rendered by illustrator Susanna Billson who aimed to depict the mountains of Fujairah in all their rugged beauty.
Purchase the book here.
Two Great Leaders and Kameel’s Little Secret
Explore Kids has a number of storybooks geared towards children in the UAE, both fiction and non-fiction. Two Great Leaders is a colourfully illustrated account of the UAE's founding President, Sheikh Zayed and his late father, Sheikh Rashid, following their realisation of a joint vision for a country where children’s dreams can come true, great for getting to grips with the history of the country. In contrast, Kameel’s Little secret, written by Emirati author Hassan Al Marashi, is a classic style of children’s story, following Kameel the camel on his journey to the desert where he makes new friends and learns an important lesson.
Sarah Sillis launched this series when she discovered the shortage of socially relevant books in English for her Emirati son. Together with partner Dina Nahas she created the character of Zayoodi, based on Sarah’s son Zayed and his experiences and adventures as a four-year-old boy.
Zayoodi Goes to the Parade - the first book in a series that includes books, games, and puzzles – sees the little Emirati boy attend a national day parade and learn about national dress and UAE identity. All products from Zayoodi’s Adventures have one clear aim, to teach expat children in early primary school years about the UAE, its traditions and culture in a fun and interactive way. They also touch upon some basic Arabic vocabulary.
You can find the books at Bookworm in Dubai (04 394 5770) and Early Starters in Abu Dhabi (050 282 3689). Or you can order in bulk via the website.