Children's Author Aysha Majid Talks Diversity In Her New ABC Book
British Asian writer Aysha Majid takes us inside the cover of her first ABC book and its significance to mixed-heritage children in the UAE
7 October 2019
With a special annoucement at the end!
Here we speak to journalist, mother, and advocate of child education, Aysha Majid, the author behind the vibrant and diverse children's picture book ABC to Sheikh Z. The book teaches children the English letters by connecting them to landmarks, places, and things that beautifully represent the UAE.
1. What sparked the idea for ABC to Sheikh Z?
My daughter, I wanted to write a book she could enjoy. Also, coming from mixed heritage, it was important to me to create a book that she could relate to— a book that celebrates diversity. Lack of education is often at the forefront of prejudice and the book was written for adults and children really; it’s a UAE-centric ABC book based on interesting facts, inspiring quotes and modern culture, with some irony in there. Dubai is full of shiny new things but the UAE does possess culture, however you choose to interpret this. Poetry, for example, has played a huge part throughout the history of Emirati culture and that’s what the book is about really— giving young readers an insight into UAE culture in Layman’s terms; by featuring colourful images, iconic landmarks, the international influence and regional history (old and new).
2. The book’s illustrations follow a bright, unique colour palette. What inspired this design?
ABC books are often formulaic and illustrated in primary colours. As a parent and a book lover, I’m initially drawn to children’s books that appeal to me, so I wanted the colour palette and design to be fun, modern and appealing to both children and adults.
3. What makes ABC to Sheikh Z stand out as a picture book?
There are some wonderful local distributors, publishing houses, authors and artists who inspire me personally and have paved the way for kid’s lit in the region, but modern children’s literature is limited. I worked with an awesome British illustrator, Peter O’Toole, whose work includes Nike, Adidas and the Boston Globe. I came up with some ideas and the colour palette and he brought the illustrations to life.
4. Any favourite responses from parents or children regarding the book?
We were very grateful to participate at the Emirates Festival of Literature this year and we did a couple of readings. I spotted some children running up to their parents, asking if they could buy the book— that was pretty awesome. My nephew also knows the English text cover to cover and is working on the Arabic. He tells me ABC to Sheikh Z is his favourite book— which (although could be biased) warms my heart. My daughter also loves the book.
5. If ABC to Sheikh Z could have anyone read the book for a children’s reading event, who would it be?
I really created the book for everyone. The aim is to be inclusive, with a little tongue-in-cheek humour— as a Brit, that’s usually intrinsic to our character— so the honest answer is, I’d be most happy to see anyone reading the book and taking pleasure in it.
6. What were the challenges encountered to complete the book?
I initially created the book for my daughter during my pregnancy and it took on a little path of its own. As a result, I was quite relaxed about the process, as there was no pressure and were no expectations, so thankfully we didn’t encounter many challenges. That’s the wonderful thing pregnancy taught me — to take each day as it comes — and for a fastidious planner, this was quite liberating.
7. Why do you think it is important for children to develop a love of reading?
Reading allows your imagination to flow and explore. I would hate for books to die out and to see my child staring at a tablet or a screen as a substitute. There’s something really magical about design and words on paper and the feel of a book.
8. The illustrations in the book feature don’t just feature important aspects of UAE culture, but from diverse sources as well. What is the key message the book aims to give to adults and children?
We are all human. It was really about humanising a culture that is familiar to me and that my family and I have experienced great hospitality and warmth from. Emiratis were mostly tribal nomads, so there isn’t an abundance of beautiful, historic buildings in the UAE and it is a young country, but it is evolving and learning.
9. ABC to Sheikh Z may become a children’s library-favourite. How do the creators feel knowing they’ll be part of raising the kids of the future?
That was certainly never my intention when I created the book but it would be a huge achievement and I would be overwhelmed and very humbled.
10. Any projects coming up you would like to share with us?
We are participating in Dubai Design Week and will be hosting a Pop-up at Ripe at D3 on November 15 - 16. Other projects are under wraps at the moment but we’re excited to see what the future holds!
How to get your own copy of ABC to Sheikh Z
For parents who wish to get their own bubblegum-toned copy of the book for their kids, the hardback is available online at the ABC to Sheikh Z website for AED 120.
A portion of each book's proceeds are donated to non-profit foundations such as Room to Read, an international charity that dedicates itself to improving the lives of children from low-income communities.
WIN your copy of ABC to Sheikh Z!
As a special gift from Aysha Majid to your little one, we're giving 3 lucky EW readers a chance to win a copy of ABC to Sheikh Z.