According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, 228 languages are extinct. The Hajjiri family is determined to keep Arabic far, far away from that list.
Jumana, mum of three, recalls the dissatisfaction she felt speaking to her children in her native tongue; they would stumble over words. “My kids themselves were not very strong in Arabic. So we had this issue domestically. The thing is, you know, our kids are in international schools. And sometimes their native language becomes the second language. So the idea was to highlight the importance of speaking your native language and being fluent in it,” says the Dubai-based expat.
“So I tried, we've been trying so hard to strengthen the slide in language. We’ve reached the point now where we can spread the learning among the other kids to tell them yes, you can you start, take baby steps. By the end, you will be fluent,” she says.
When she discussed the issue with her kids, the idea of writing books that use stories to teach words and lessons appealed to them. And so the ‘The Three Siblings’ Diary’ was born.
“We made cartoons out of the characters based on my kids and the stories are very real. They are our day to day memories. That's what makes it really relatable,” she explains.
Together with her daughters, 13-year-old Sara and 14-year-old Leen, Jumana creates storybooks that speak of cherished human values such as kindness and having a sense of humour. (The third sibling, Zaid, is six and is brought in for peer review.)
How do they do it?
Jumana explains: “We sit together, we brainstorm. I do the writing, but I always consult them with about the ideas, the sequence of events, the illustrations, the paper it’s printed on … everything.”
Sara describes the writing process as one that takes place at the dining table. “We usually sit around the kitchen table and we are generally having snacks and just talking about the moments that we've enjoyed as a family. So, a lot of what you see in the books is actually what has happened before. So we discuss how can we can put this into a book and like really make children kind of learn a lesson out of it and get a moral of the story.” The result is generally laughter and a story to tell.
Before it goes to the printers, this narrative will be vetted once more – going through a group of kids whose ages match the target audience. (The four books that are out a geared to the ages 5 through 12.)
The family also holds workshops, helped along by the stories. The books come in two parts; an illustrated narrative and activities to reinforce the learnings including one that calls for a letter of gratitude. “At the end of each story, we ask the kids to write a gratitude letter for a person in their life that carries the value of the story,” says Jumana. “We’ve had very touching letters, I sometimes cry.”
Leen recalls the time someone bought the first copy of the first book. “It was a father getting it for his young daughter who was trying to learn Arabic. I love that, because it shows us how it's affecting people’s lives for the better,” she says.
For Sara, the best thing about the series is the quality time she gets to spend with family. “I enjoy the quality time that we have together and coming up with the ideas and writing the stories down,” she says.
So far, four books from the series ‘The Three Siblings’ Diary’ have been published by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation and two more are on the way. For now, the Hajjiri family are taking their stories to literature festivals, including the Emirates Literature Fest, and in so doing gathering more fodder for their tales.
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