Along with her father, she founded “Majdalawi Bookstore” in 1991. She has written and translated more than fifty books for children. Two of her titles won international awards and her beautiful picture book An Oyster’s Tale was nominated for the Sheikh Zayed Award in 2012.
Flora Majdalawi who earned a Bachelor of Engineering and a Master in International Studies with a focus on Economic Development, believes in the great role literature can play in children’s lives. She started writing for children 10 years ago. Her latest work includes a contemporary children’s series for pre-teens entitled “Hind and Saif”.
Arab Woman Platform chose Ms. Flora Majdalawi as an inspirational woman in this issue,
You founded the first children’s bookstore in Amman in 1991, why did you come up with this project especially that your expertise and education is in another area?
In the early nineties, publishing for children was still nascent in Jordan, and there was no specialized libraries catering for them. A lot of parents and schools had great difficulty getting bilingual children’s and young adults’ books. Here the idea emerged for a bilingual library that distributes books in both Arab and English from the best and largest publishing houses in the Arab world, United States and Britain.
But the bookstore has extended its activities beyond book distribution and ventured into publishing. What inspired you to move towards publishing?
The decision to publish came in 2005. In the nineties, the Arab children’s literature was hit by the drastic decline in children’s book production in Iraq, which was a major contributor to this sector. On the other hand, small publishing houses flourished, but all it was not enough to compensate for the withdrawal of a whole country. The gap between Arabic and English children’s production was very large in quantity and quality, and it is still widening. The Arab publishing sector is not fast enough to cope. Hence, came the decision to go into publishing to contribute and enrich this sector. Many mothers shared with me that they used English books to read with their children. They employed their pictures, but told the story in Arabic. I did the same in many occasions. However, I always felt that the experience was artificial, and unreal. Today, when I see a beautiful book in Arabic, I remember how I longed and wished for them when my children were younger.
Tell us about your journey with children’s books and what are some of the challenges that you encounter along the way?
My journey in children’s literature is a wonderful fulfilling experience filled with learning and fun yet great challenges as well. It added a great meaning to my life. I believe writing made me a better person. It made me more open and accepting to the other. It also taught me a lot about the world of children and made me pay attention to its particulars and details. I started writing as part of a team on a fictional Arabic graded literacy program entitled “Discover the Fun of Reading,” a series of leveled books consisting of 46 titles in four stages. I have also translated more than 20 books from the English language in collaboration with the “Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation” in Dubai. My final project is a fictional contemporary realistic chapter book series for pre-teens entitled “Hind and Saif”. It is based on two main characters; a ten year old girl “Hind”, and her twelve year old brother “Saif”. The stories are told from Hind’s and Saif’s perspectives, and reflect contemporary urban middle class lifestyles inspired from Arabic culture. The themes cover a diversity of high appealing teen themes such daily life challenges, concerns, adventures, and misadventures.
How do you find the state of reading in the Arab world today in general and children in particular? And in what ways can we improve the situation?
There are many reading initiatives across the Arab world today, and this is a positive thing. However, for a real impact, there should be an authentic partnership between the private and the public sector. In my opinion, the problem is a complex one. There are many points to consider, the first is related to the production process, that is the making of children’s books holistically and including its various components authorship, choosing the topics, language register, art work, and the output as an integrated work suitable to the targeted age group. The second point, is to adopt good children’s literature as a primary source for learning, research and classroom application. Another point that is vital in this matter is the activation of public libraries and turning them into community centres that serve community needs.
Why must we cultivate a love of reading in our children? And what do we gain as a society from that?
Stories have a great power to change our societies for the better. Humans are storytellers in nature. Through stories, we construct meanings, we understand ourselves, and make sense of the world around us. A child who grows up without stories is a very deprived one. That’s why children’s literature is so important, and its development and dissemination must be included in the country’s strategic planning.
What are your future dreams?
To write more, and see my books in the hands of Arab children from the Atlantic to the Gulf. I hope they will enjoy them, and that by identifying themselves with their fictional characters, they would feel united as a nation regardless of their sect, faction, or country.