Woman with the world’s biggest challenge
Nadia L Hohn’s job is to keep her tiny readers happy, and the author-musician-teacher is very good at it
By Purva Grover
Published: Thu 23 Feb 2017, 5:39 PM
Last updated: Thu 23 Feb 2017, 7:56 PM
At seven, Nadia L Hohn got obsessed with the idea of getting to know about different countries and capital cities. “I’d make ‘Miss World’ pageant books. I would devote a page to each country and feature facts about it. Plus, there would be an illustration of the contestant say Miss Canada, Miss Jamaica, and so on. Even for school assignments, I’d make books and fill them up with illustrations,” says the 39-year-old author. “It was a very exciting time. I could express myself by drawing pictures and writing words.” Little did she know, that on growing up she’d be creating books for little readers. No wonder kids love her picture book Malaika’s Costume, which celebrates the different cultures of the world. Published in 2016, it won the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Children’s Literature Award. Its sequel, Malaika’s Winter Carnival will be published this year. Abu Dhabi-based since August 2006, Nadia is also an artist, teacher and musician. She’s looking forward to interacting with her tiny readers (between the age of five and eight) at the Emirates Airline Festival Of Literature on March 11.
Malaika lives in my heart
The eldest daughter in the family, Nadia grew up in Toronto. “My parents immigrated to Canada from Jamaica. I was surrounded with diversity — be it in terms of the food we ate, the people we met or the everyday events we encountered.” Her father would take her sister and her to the Caribana parade, an annual Caribbean Carnival that has been taking place in Toronto for the last 49 years — which brings us to the plot of Malaika’s Costume. It celebrates the different cultures of the world and the emotional journey of a young child. Malaika lives with her grandmother in the Caribbean, while her mother lives and works in Canada — she sends money back home to support them. It’s carnival time. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but the money doesn’t arrive — will she go to the carnival now? “It’s the tale of a creative, stubborn, emotional, and considerate girl — learning to cope with life. She lives in my heart and I think she exists in a lot of children.”
My writing tribe in the UAE
Writing is a creative, yet lonely job, one that suits Nadia. “It can be isolating, but I am an introvert by nature so I crave that silence at times — especially since my day job as a music teacher requires me to be an extrovert.” She feels that she does her best work when she is away from home, say at a cottage or retreat. “Also, in the wee hours of the morning.” Ever since she’s been in the UAE, she has been trying to find a ‘writing tribe’ of people like herself. “I feel that having a writing community is essential for one to get feedback and information. I try to attend meetups and get involved with literary events and organisations. I’ve discovered an amazing writing community in Abu Dhabi, which has helped me expand my skills and work on pieces outside of my typical genre of writing for young people.” Nadia is also the author of the Music and Media books in the Sankofa Series. She is currently working on a middle grade novel, picture books, and two biographies.
Pen versus piano
Can she choose between the pen and the piano? “I’d have to choose my pen. I can write songs and stories with my pen. My pen is light and goes with me everywhere.” Each time that she writes, she aspires to create a story/song that can connect with everyone regardless of their place of origin or background.
Picture books for adults
At this point, we can’t help but wonder if picture books can be for adults too (after colouring books). “Of course. A good picture book conveys a story that cuts across barriers regardless of age, race, class, ethnicity, faith, and gender. A picture book helps us meet the child within us and resolve issues in our lives. These books can inspire both children and adults. A great picture book is a work of art and can be used as tools to open up and have courageous conversations. I love that they can cross so many barriers and so happy that I get to write in this genre.”
‘The world needs your story’
She has a message for young writers. “Write about everything — made-up stories, your life, interviews, blog posts… write and share your work with others so that it gets seen and read. Just never stop writing — the world needs your story.”
Abu Dhabi Instagram’ed
Nadia confesses to falling in love with Instagram in Abu Dhabi. “I began to document my first 100 days here and shared a lot of my experiences and discoveries through photographs and words.” It goes without saying that she loves the food here. “I am vegetarian so I love eating typical Middle Eastern foods like Hummus, Pita, and Falafel. My favourite meal is the Veggie Arabian Breakfast at Cafe Arabia, Abu Dhabi. I love their Ful medames. Also, I love the veggie options at Shamiana, the restaurant at food courts in the malls.”
Purva’s current favourite word is Meraki (Greek): leaving a piece of yourself in your work