KT Exclusive: Sheikh Zayed's granddaughter opens up about writing for children

Sheikha Salama showcases Emirati culture through her books

Supplied photos
Supplied photos

Nandini Sircar

Published: Sat 5 Mar 2022, 11:38 AM

Last updated: Sat 5 Mar 2022, 10:34 PM

Acclaimed Emirati children’s author, Sheikha Salama Bint Hazza Al Nahyan, has not only set her mind and heart to promote children’s education across the UAE but succinctly showcases the Emirati heritage through her five children’s novels.

Inspired by the legacy of her late grandfather, His Highness Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Sheikha Salama is determined to leave an indelible mark not only as an author but even through her recent impactful initiatives in the areas of art, culture and heritage and early childhood development.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, she opens up about her love for her beloved country through her writings, while bringing to light the deep heritage of the UAE, to build a brighter future.

Sheikha Salama who began her writing journey at the age of 21, recalls her parents' crucial role in motivating her, with the literary world gradually emerging to be gratifying and nuanced for her.

She recalls, “When I was a child my parents had a foundation where it promoted reading, art, and education to children. The foundation shared stories written by people in the region and the illustration was done by them too. At the end of the year a prize was given out to the best authors and illustrators. Many children read those books, even as a child I would read them, they were rich with Arab history, culture and positive morals and values. I remember going to these events and meeting great authors and illustrators. I think all that influenced me in some way.”

The talented author made debut as a writer in 2019 with her first book The Invisible Orphans.

Since then, through her writings, Sheikha Salama has relentlessly been an advocate of children's literacy and education, persevering to delineate values that she feels must be instilled in young minds at an early stage to promote a prosperous future.

“In the children’s books, I like focusing on positive morals and values. For example, in the invisible orphans, the children became invisible because they didn’t listen to what the older people had asked them to do. They did something they shouldn’t have done and in the end they found out that by helping build homes for people, they become visible again. Therefore, each story focuses on different but similar values,” adds Sheikha Salama whose debutant work was about loss, sacrifices, courage, and unconditional love.

The renowned author has also published four other books namely, A play on Children’s Rights, The Well of Mysteries, Umm Al Nar, and The Horse, The Saluki, & The Falcon.

Besides, endeavouring to contribute to the UAE education system, Sheikha Salama has also established partnerships with various schools across the UAE, including Bright Learners Private School and Star Education, to further promote the importance of reading.

“Children are the next generation. If we want a better future, it starts within our homes and with our children. This topic is close to my heart because every child holds innocence within them. Their childhood shapes them in the long run and their future children too and society as a whole. They have the right to be children, to play, to learn, to be supported, to be loved and listened to. Those are the qualities I’ve tried to highlight in a play on children’s rights book,” she reiterates.

She felt the rippling effects of her writings when a young Emirati wrote to her, compelling her to realize that each bleak scenario illustrated the role of story in changing a system.

“A memory I will always hold close to my heart was when I received a letter from a young local saying she loves to read books. She read Umm Al Nar and saw the sad injured deer in the story. One day, at school she learnt that the Arabian oryx is at the brink of extinction. She now wants to increase awareness on this topic by writing stories about them and helping save them because they are beautiful creatures. That day I realized how stories not only change lives but also help influence or awaken a part of you that you were never aware of,” she underlines.

Further adding to her vision, Sheikha Salama has also established partnerships with various schools across the UAE, including Bright Learners Private School and Star Education, to further promote the importance of reading.

The author underlines how stepping into the lived experiences of others through books can help us build empathy.

“When you read a story, there are many characters with different personalities, varied perspectives, and way of life. The more the story unfolds itself, the more you understand why they are the way they are. Even the villain in a book doesn’t just become a villain because she/he decided to wake up one day and become evil. There’s always something that triggered it.”

She elucidates that reading can increase ‘perspective-taking’ which is a skill necessary for empathy. It makes one think deeply about one’s own life and teaches us things beyond our personal experiences.

“When you read, it not only requires empathy to understand someone’s background but also patience and understanding. Reading activates imagination. When you read, your mind imagines certain places, scenarios or how someone looks. This trains the mind to imagine, and imagination is very important. It makes a person think outside the box,” Sheikha Salama added.

This year, the veteran writer plans to begin drafting her latest novel, while continuing to participate in meaningful initiatives that hone a culture of reading, like the book fairs held in the emirates of Dubai and Sharjah that are aimed at promoting children’s literacy in the country.

Commenting on the need to extend the joy of reading and learning to children, as parents strive to steer the current generation away from screens, she says: “Having a schedule throughout the week with different activities, physical, mental, and spiritual activities is imperative. It’s very important for a child to try different things so when they grow up, they can narrow down their passions and hobbies. It shapes their future."

"Gaming and television should have a healthy limit for a child, they shouldn’t be prohibited or else they would feel left out from what other children enjoy doing but setting a healthy limit is important,” she added.

The multiple reading initiatives in the country help to improve the literacy rate, creative and analytical thinking, and broaden one’s horizon on the personal and professional front.


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