Emirati Authors Tell Book Fair Audience Folklore is a Challenge to Write but Essential to Read

November 06, 2017 - 12:00 am

Three Emirati authors spoke about their desires to maintain the heritage of traditional storytelling and some of the challenges they faced while trying to produce it to an audience at Sharjah International Book Fair, which is taking place at Expo Centre Sharjah until 11 November.

The authors participated in a four-day workshop in April this year aimed at reviving the art of traditional folk tales in book form, marking the sixth annual edition of UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) and Goethe-Institut Gulf Region cultural collaboration, ‘Books – Made in UAE’.

Following the workshop, the participants were tasked with writing their own folk story in a way which would appeal to children and at the same time help them to explore and encourage greater interest in their heritage.

The panel of Ameera bin Kadra, Maitha Al Khayyat and Alya Al Shamsi was presided over by German author and illustrator Ute Krause, who also conducted the workshop
and has written 22 picture and children’s books and illustrated around 400 books for young readers.

She told the audience that many examples of folk tales and fairy tales were universal. “We see similar elements across the world to the extent that some are so similar they must
somehow come from the same source. We can see that there will always be differences because even when we look at the same stories, some have travelled through generations in the desert and some from the oceans and some from the mountains, these stories vary according to different ways of living and different ways of communicating.” And she pointed out: “What we do know is that in any form, if parents do not read to their children, their children will not become readers.”

Maitha Al Khayyat agreed: “When I was writing my story, I felt that we always need to keep the backbone of the narrative but at the same time, I needed to write it in my own way. Our kids don’t know enough about each other and about our community, so it’s up to us as authors and illustrators to tell these stories. And of course it’s also down to the publishers to make these books attractive and accessible.”

Ameera bin Kadra continued: “To be honest, I found my story a little rigid and I wanted to make sure the messages and origins were there but I needed to lighten it up to a certain extent, so I injected some humour as well – I hope it’s worked!”

For Alya Al Shamsi, there was always reasoning behind the stories she was told and others that she had heard from other people.

“My tale was really quite disturbing, so I had to tone it down in some form. But it was generally accepted as a way of living that you told stories sometimes to scare your kids – when you have six children, how else are you going to keep them in order and make sure they don’t go off or get lost?”

Ute Krause concluded the session with her thoughts on the content of a traditional tale – or the modern equivalent. “While positive message should be conveyed, I think values are more easily learned by children if they are shown through the experience of the story’s character, rather than shouting and finger pointing.”

Having completed the written content, the authors will then have their stories illustrated and ready for publishing in time for the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in April 2018.


About the UAEBBY
The UAEBBY is the national branch of the IBBY, a non-profit organisation which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together. The IBBY seeks to promote international understanding through children’s books; to give children everywhere the opportunity to have access to reading material with high literary and artistic standards; to provide support and training for those involved with children and children’s literature; to stimulate research and scholarly works in the field of children’s literature and to protect and uphold the right of the child to a general education and direct access to information.

Ute Krause – Workshop Instructor
Ute Krause has been working as a children’s book writer and illustrator for the past 30 years. She has illustrated around 400 and written 22 books. Her work has been turned into films for children’s T.V., into radio plays, nominated for children’s book prizes and translated into many different languages. Six of her books have been translated by Abu Dhabi translation initiative KALIMA into Arabic. She grew up in Asia and Africa and lived for six years in New York. Ute Krause’s picture book “Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon” (also translated into Arabic) was nominated for the Florida Reading Association Award, for the Montana Treasure State Picture Book Award and the Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award 2012.

Attached photo during the panel discussion:
From left to right: Ameera bin Kadra, Maitha Al Khayyat, Alya Al Shamsi, and Ute Krause.