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12 X 12 February Featured Author – Fatma Anwer Al-Lawati

12 x 12 February Featured Author – Fatma Anwer Al-Lawati

Fatma Anwer Al-LawtiIt may seem strange for some to know that until the early 70s, children in Oman knew no such thing as children books. Most of us from that generation did not grow up reading children’s picture books at an early age. As such, some may wonder how, with the lack of children’s book for kids in my generation, did some develop the imagination to write children’s books later on?

One key factor I wish to highlight is what we call in Arabic “Al-hakwati”, or the storyteller. The first “Al-hakwati” I knew was my late father who would sit with me and narrate stories from history, traditional folklore, and popular culture. He was a reader with a library which consisted only of books for adults.

The oral interaction between children and an adult, “Hakwati”, helped children exchange ideas and shape skills such as imaginative thinking. As Muslims, many stories were centered
around Islamic history and Quranic stories. They are told in a way that is suitable to the age group of the children. Children joined by some adults all huddled around listening to the Hakwati’s engaging narration.

My first experience with the “Hakawati’, besides my father, was at 6 years old on a family trip to India. At the hotel, there were several families from my country, and after dinner we would all gather around an old woman to listen to her tales for hours without feeling the time pass. Such interactions I believe enriched my imagination and shaped my storytelling, helping me embark in children’s literature in the late 80s.

Maryam's Journal by Fatma Anwer Al-LawatiIn 1988, I took a short course on children’s literature and wrote my first story titled, “Zahraa is Afraid of the Night”, but was not published until a few years later. A short while after, I wrote several other stories, including a series called “My Country”. My first book, “Maryam in the Well”, was published in 1989 by the Ministry of Heritage. By 1996, I had published 4 children picture books and two plays, before leaving for the United States to pursue a graduate degree in Education.

During my stay in the United States, I read hundreds of children books which were easily accessible from public libraries and my children’s schools. But as a PhD student with five children and working as a research assistant, my writing career was on hold until I resettled back in Oman for good in 2014 after obtaining my degree and performing a series of fellowships. At that time, I noticed there was a demand from parents for good children’s books.

By 2015, amid the wars in the Arab world that resulted in an increasing number of children who were affected by war, the idea of “Project Peace” came to mind. The mission of this project is to provide free books to children with the hopes to plant ideas of peace in their minds in creative, imaginative, and fun ways—ways that bring smiles to their faces.

Hence, my husband and I decided to start our own publishing company- Mayaseen Publishing LLC, dedicated to publishing children’s books and supporting “Project Peace”. The company was established in Michigan, USA and over 15 books were printed in two versions — one distributed freely under “Project Peace” and the other for sale.

My large book output in the last few years was motivated mainly by this project and helped me write a continuous stream of what I believe is my most creative work for children in my career.

This is a brief summary of my journey in the field of children’s literature. I continue to learn and develop in an effort to publish books that make children enjoy reading. I have also conducted several workshops to teach those interested in writing for children. I really enjoy being a part of 12 x 12 and learning new ideas and techniques, and I wish a forum such as this would exist in Arabic one day.

 

Dr. Fatma Al-Lawati is an author and educator from Oman. She graduated with a PhD in Gifted Education from Utah State University. She is the founder of Mayaseen Publishing and the “Project Peace” initiative which has the vision to provide free books to children who have been affected by war and kids from a very low-income level raised in a poor environment.

This Post Has 118 Comments
    1. WOW! A beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your writing journey. I have enjoyed many Storytellers from a variety of cultures throughout my life and have enjoyed telling stories on stages and for small groups. The oral tradition really does help develop ones imagination.

      Project Peace sounds like a fantastic way to support children.

      Peace to you.

  1. Your story is fascinating! I was very interested to read about the storyteller, “Al-hakwati.” I loved reading how you pursued learning, reading, and writing picture books. I admire your focus and your Project Peace. Thank you for all you do to share books with young readers. Thanks for sharing with us so we can learn about your journey and be inspired in our own writing. I’m glad to be a part of 12×12 with you. 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us. Project Peace sounds like it has an incredible mission. What a wonderful, giving organization to create!

  3. I’m honored to be a 12×12 member with you. Thank you for sharing your story. Your tradition of oral storytelling is wonderful, and I love your memory of the old woman in India. There’s nothing like listening to a good storyteller. The time really does fly by.

    1. WOW! A beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your writing journey. I have enjoyed many Storytellers from a variety of cultures throughout my life and have enjoyed telling stories on stages and for small groups. The oral tradition really does help develop ones imagination.

      Project Peace sounds like a fantastic way to support children.

      Peace to you.

  4. Thank you for sharing your writer’s journey! So many of us take it for granted that children have access to books; unfortunately, so many across the world do not.

  5. My husband lived and worked in Oman for a year. I was able to visit for a few weeks. It is a beautiful country. I was saddened to here of the Sultan’s death. Thank goodness it has been a peaceful transfer of power.

  6. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story to writing and publication. Like you, I didn’t grow up with picture books written by people from my culture. Most picture books I read and borrowed were Eurocentric. So right now, I’m writing my #ownvoices stories.

    I can relate so well with the tradition of oral storytelling. In ancient China and all of Southeast Asia, stories were passed down orally. It’s the same in Italy too, where my husband’s from. In the old days, shepherds and goatherds would spin yarns to entertain each other.

  7. Amazing to hear your story behind being an author, so deep and waiting to be heard. Thank you for sharing here, Fatma, your gifted insight is a gift to MANY.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. I believe in supporting authors, so I will add your books to my library as well as to the books I donate to our local schools. Best wishes!

  9. Thank you for sharing your incredible story and mission, Fatma. I’m thrilled to think we were neighbors for a while during your stay in Logan and USU to get your PhD. Like you, I grew up with stories that depended on the imagination of the listener to fill in the pictures. We didn’t have much picture books in our home; instead we had a big bound book of traditional classics. All text…unabridged it seemed. But my brother and I loved curling up on my mother’s lap and listening to the sound of her voice as she read them. Nurturing a love of stories likely kindles that flame for storytelling. Best wishes for your most wonderful project. I’d love to learn more about how you gather donations for your book-giving goals.

  10. Interesting life journey to writing and providing stories for children in areas where life
    Is unsettled by war and few children’s books. Good luck with your mission.

  11. Kudos for not only surviving but thriving on your remarkable journey, Dr. Fatma. And all the best with your peace project.

  12. It’s hard to imagine not growing up with access to books. My favorite place in town was the library and my own children spent countless hours at the library growing up. Thank you for sharing your interesting story.

  13. What a journey! I got both oral and stories read to me. I believe both of them helped me develop a deep creative ability.

  14. Your culture sounds similar to Native American storytellers. It’s amazing you were able to have a job, go to college and raise five children, and then start a publishing company. Good luck with your peace project.

  15. Dr. Fatma, wow, wow. Ya rait w inshallah there will be a forum like this in Arabic to spur on creatives in the Arab world to reach and bless children with more literacy, fun affordable books, open minds for new ideas and a hope for their future. I live in a poor corner of the Middle East where most of my neighbor kids only own their school books- if that, no extra books in the house. Many children have trouble with MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) as its not the language they speak at home. I hope, along with you, that there will be more children’s lit in MSA and in other Arabic dialects like Levantine and Egyptian. Let it be! Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. Wow! Such a powerful testimony of love and devotion to children! I remember all the oral stories I told my children and how they loved it! Now I’m trying to capture that in my writing. I pray for continued success in project peace!

  17. Thank you for sharing your story. Project Peace looks like an incredible organization. I enjoyed reading about your journey.

  18. Thank you for sharing your story and for your work to bring picture books to children who would otherwise not have them.

  19. What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it with us. What a great gift you have given the children in your country.

  20. Your story is so inspiring. What incredible memories you have, and what a wonderful mission. Thank you for your post and for being part of 12×12.

  21. Inspiring post Fatma. Your work is admirable and needed. Thank you for sharing your journey into children’s literature.

  22. Storytelling is so important. I’ve noticed that children who have trouble sitting still for a story read to them will often be entranced by someone “just” telling a story. As someone who has a Masters Degree in Oral Traditions, this just emphasizes how important it is for people to share stories.

  23. Thank you, Fatma! Your story is fascinating and reminds us of how much good there is in the world. Good luck on your continued journey.

  24. I loved learning about “Al-hakwati” and about your journey from listening to your father tell stories all the way to creating your own publishing company. It is inspiring. Thank you, Fatma!

  25. Fatma,
    Your Project Peace sounds wonderful. Congratulations on your published children’s books. You are starting a new tradition of children’s printed literature in Oman.

  26. Oral storytelling, what a lovely tradition that needs to be saved for future generations! The university here in Puerto Rico has done a great job working to save it, but some gets lost on the way. Thanks for sharing and much success to you.

  27. Thank you Fatma for your inspiring post. My father was the storyteller in our family. One of six boys brought up in Little Italy, he would regale us with stories of the trouble the boys got themselves into. There was no shortage of laughs and shock – but always a lesson to be learned.
    Congratulations on taking the step to fill a gap and a need in publishing.

  28. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. It evokes so many images on its own—”Al-hakwati” with children gathered round and the Project Peace— I can just imagine how beautiful your book are. I think many children have benefitted from your efforts.

  29. Thank you for this post. It really shows the importance of sharing stories, from the stories you heard as a child from storytellers, to the stories you’re sharing through Project Peace, to the story you’ve just told us in this blog post, and everything in between. Very inspiring!

  30. Thank you for showing how a life of story telling and listening have helped you to become the writer and person your are today. It is always fascinating to see another’s life evolve in a totally different way than mine.

  31. I cannot imagine a world without children’s literature! Thank you for your post and opening our eyes to other lands and their histories. Congratulations on your children’s picture book success. I wish your publishing company good fortune as you further children’s literature.

  32. Fatma, You write a beautiful post about the inspiration behind your storytelling journey. I admire your tenacity and passion for printing GOOD children’s books that offer hope, joy, and stories where children can recognize their feelings when children so often feel alone. Last fall while traveling through Egypt, our personal tour guide became our personal friend. When Doaa visits her brother in the United States this summer, my husband and I will reconnect with her. Sharing our two faiths created a bond of hope, joy, and common ground. We are friends for life. Picture books can do that too. I keep my dearest books from childhood nearby because they are my “friends.” Thank you for your words and your mission. “SALAM ALYAKOM”

  33. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us that children everywhere need to see themselves and their lives reflected in story.

  34. Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story, Fatma. And thank you for sharing stories of peace, joy, and hope through Project Peace and your publishing company. Best wishes to you!

  35. Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey. In this day and age of fear and hatred, children everywhere need to hear the voice of reason. Thank you for giving them yours.

  36. Thank you for sharing this. It broadened my views about oral storytelling traditions. Wishing you continued success with Project Peace.

  37. I enjoyed your life story. It reminded me of the ‘visiting’ librarian who would come to our school in Florida every few months to tell us stories. I always thought how amazing she was. She never read to us, but sat alone on the stage, sharing her wonderful stories with our class. She was mesmerizing. Thank you for sparking that memory. Good luck with your Peace Project. It’s sorely needed through out the world.

  38. I really enjoyed hearing the story of your writing and publishing journey. Thank you for sharing, and for the work you are doing with Project Peace.

  39. Hello Fatma,
    Your Project Peace sounds wonderful.
    Do you write your stories in Omani dialect or another Arabic dialect/form?
    Thank you so much for all your study and efforts for children!

    Janet

    1. Hi Janet,
      The Arabic written is same no different among all who read and write in Arabic, I write the stories in Arabic not Omani dialect. Thanks for your question,

      Fatma

  40. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us Fatma. Your dedication to Project Peace is evident and I wish you continued success as you move forward. I’ve read your books and loved them. Keep up your good works!

  41. The image of multiple generations sitting around listening to a storyteller is so powerful. Thank you for sharing your story, and the service you’re providing to children through your projects and publications.

  42. Fatma, what a poignant story you tell, so beautifully expressed. May your books and Project Peace continue to change children’s lives. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I found it moving.

    Your friend in Michigan,
    Isabel O’Hagin

  43. Your first sentence grabbed me! What we can take for granted others may never have heard of! Children’s books have opened many doors for children and I’m glad it opened a door for you. Thanks for your post.

  44. I loved reading about your life and work. What a wonderful thing you are doing for children! Proud to be in 12 x 12 with you. Thanks for sharing with us.

  45. I was surprised when you first mentioned that children’s books were uncommon growing up in Oman, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder how much this is the case in many parts of the world? On the one hand, I’m sure it is good to translate books that have broad appeal. In addition, though, it would be wonderful if the big publishing houses would do more to support local imprints such as yours so that children can have books written in the wonderful style of their local culture.

    1. Thank you for your valuable comment. There are unfortunately many children who only have access to their school books or a few more. There are others who lack the understanding of reading and the importance of surrounding their kids with books. In recent years however, there has been a growth in this area. And yes, more support from big publishing houses would be of tremendous help.

  46. Hi Fatma,
    Thank you for sharing you writer story that honors your country and appreciates the opportunities the US brings. It is admirable how you formed a company that publishes books for all children!
    Sincerely, Nicole

  47. Thank you very much for you comments, I am glad that you liked my post. I tried to highlight on some of the children’s struggle in this world. Kelli added the link to the book, if you would like to check it. Thank you to all your support!

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