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Maitha Al Khayat (left) with Ebtisam Al Beiti. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Books spark children’s imagination and stimulate their curiosity. They learn about the world, their own culture and other cultures. In the face of the pandemic, books also help them understand the situation and inspire them to move forward and to continue follow their dreams.

This was the gist of how children’s books have become a source of hope and resilience during the pandemic, according to Emirati writer-illustrator Maitha AlKhayat and children’s book author Ebtisam Al-Beiti. They’ve also noticed that more children’s books – fiction, nonfiction, middle grade, and books for early readers – have been published recently that talk about the pandemic.

On the sidelines of the recent launch of ELF Publishing, a new independent publishing house by Emirates Literature Foundation (ELF), Maitha told Gulf News: “Books are really amazing. They give hope to children and inspire them. They are thrust into an amazing world that help them understand their surroundings.”

“Stories help children cope up with the pandemic. In general, children’s books help them in many ways – whether during the pandemic or any other aspects of their lives, such as their first time to go to school, or if there’s something bothering them whether inside or outside the house,” she added.

Interactive storytelling

Maitha is an Emirati author and illustrator for children. With over 170 publications, she delights children with her quirky yet cultural stories through interactive storytelling and workshops. Her picture book, My Own Special Way, was awarded best children’s book at the Children’s Forum in Riyadh and was shortlisted for best book at Marsh Awards 2013. Another book, Turn Off the Light, was awarded best children’s book at the Publisher’s Association in Sharjah in 2016. Her illustrations of Father’s Date Palm Trees was shortlisted for best picture book at the Zayed Book Award in 2020 and heer recent book Grandma Moudy Fashionista was translated into Italian.

One thing that Maitha misses most during the pandemic is doing interactive storytelling with children in various schools. “We are also able to do that but mostly online,” Maitha noted, adding: “But despite the limitations, books continue to inspire and give hope to children.”

Fun and playful way

Recalling how during the early period of the pandemic children stayed only indoors, Ebtisam said it moved her to write her first children’s book titled ‘Can I Go Out Now’?

“The book talks about the uncertainty children are facing during the pandemic. My first book teaches young children about current environmental and health issues in a fun, playful, and interactive way,” she added.

Illustrated by Hana Augustine, ‘Can I Go Out Now’ is about Little Earth who is not feeling well. He misses all his planet friends until he finds a special way to talk to them and get better.

The book made its official debut in February 2021 at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature and was also featured in The Reading for Pleasure Project, a government reading program introduced by The Emirates Literature Foundation and the UAE Ministry of Education. It has since gained a lot of interest in the region and has featured in school readings, children’s events, and workshops in the UAE.

Ebtisam launched her second book, Citrus the Smoothie Sloth, at the ongoing Emirates Airline Festival of Literature taking place at Habtoor City hotels from February 3 to 13.

She said in her books there is a “recurring theme about children not giving up and always following their dreams.” And this is also the reason why they are inspired to continue creating books for children.