#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Books Early Readers Features Genre International It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Picturebooks From the United Arab Emirates

"The Little Ghaf Tree" | "World Book Capital."


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

The Little Ghaf Tree

Written by Hanadi Al Fahim Illustrated by Shahul Hameed
Published by Makarem LLC (2019)
ISBN: 9789948375265 Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This book came highly recommended by an Emirati colleague and friend of mine while we were out book hunting in Dubai. Naturally, I bought myself a copy and was so pleased to learn more about the United Arab Emirates’ national tree: the ghaf tree.

Spoken through the voice of a young ghaf tree, the reader is introduced to the rich golden sands and unique topography and landscape of the country. People who are not familiar with the Middle East mistakenly assume that there are no greens in the desert. This book celebrates this sturdy, deep-rooted, lush-green ghaf tree that provides nourishment, shelter, and sustenance to animals and humans alike.

I was also amazed to learn how “miraculous” this tree is: how its bark can be used for medicine and how the smoke from its heated leaves can treat eye problems.

I was especially taken by the art and would have wanted to see the name of the artist in the book cover as well. The illustrations provided such a distinct sense of place as the reader learns more about this “life-giving tree.”

World Book Capital (Book Depository)

Author: Shaikha Bodour Al Qasimi Illustrator: Denise Damanti
Published by Kalimat (2020) ISBN: 9789948251668
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I did not know about world book capitals until I bought a copy of this book from Kalimat, its publisher. Authored by Her Excellency, Shaikha Bodour Al Qasimi from the ruling family of Sharjah, the reader is introduced to a “city unlike any other city.” Think of it as a bibliophile’s haven.

I love how the text is so sparse and the art created by Italian illustrator, Denise Damanti, fires up the imagination of a reader who becomes increasingly eager to know of such a place where books are celebrated, shared, and found everywhere in the city.

While I confess to not having spent as much time in Sharjah as I would have wanted to in the three years that I have been living here in the UAE (mostly owing to the pandemic), I have been alerted to the Sharjah International Book Fair that I am told is a must-visit. I also had the opportunity to do a used book hunting expedition in Sharjah back in 2020, pre-pandemic-lockdown.

Apparently each year, a city gets named as a World Book Capital beginning with Spain in 2001, Sharjah in 2019, and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia in 2020. It would have been even better if an Afterword was included that provides more information as to what criteria is used for a city to be identified as a world book capital and a few more details regarding the institution or award-giving-body that organizes this yearly recognition.

That being said, I am happy to learn that I now live in a country where one of its Emirates is known as the World Book Capital. I have to visit Sharjah soonest!

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 44-45 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “[Monday Reading] Picturebooks From the United Arab Emirates

  1. I love this idea of cities being world book capitals! It was exciting to see that Montreal, one of Canada’s cities was named a capital. It’s very annoying that I can’t find a copy of this anywhere around me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf

    Wow, Myra—it’s always so exciting when I return to commenting and find all these amazing books from you! Both of these picks look amazing, especially World Book Capital, for obvious reasons. (I suppose it’s not surprising that no U.S. city has earned that designation—we could do a better job actually getting people to read!) Thanks so much for the great reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

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