When Hadeel Alabbasi, 36, had her first baby, she discovered there were no Arabic books that addressed the relationship between the child and Allah. Certainly, much has been said and written about religion, but none of the books suited the “little minds”, as she puts it. Alabbasi, who lives and works in Jeddah, decided to fill in the gap herself.
“I felt that I needed to start writing books for children in a simple, straightforward manner that would serve to tighten the bond between them and Allah,” she told Life & Style.
Thinking of how to find a publisher for her book did not stop her from writing, and not much later, her husband started a publishing house and offered to publish her first book. “I have to say that he supported me throughout the entire journey!” the Saudi writer said. Her first book “Allah A’atani” (Allah Gave Me) was available in bookstores and online in 2003.
From then on, Alabbasi went to book fairs and got in touch with publishing houses to find ways to print more books. “For my third book, I sent a draft to publishing houses through the Web, and luckily, a publishing house in Lebanon liked it.” So far, she has published three books with them.
All three books tackle important social issues, such as “Ara Be Qalbi” (“I See With My Heart”), about a girl who lost her eyesight. A blind professor who taught Alabassi at university inspired her to write this book. “I was one of the first students she taught. It made me think about how she had overcome all the obstacles she surely had faced.” Alabbassi contacted her to hear her story and wrote a book about it that teaches children that all hurdles can be overcome if one really tries.
The social issues Alabassi deals with in her books make them interesting for grown-ups too. “When writing for kids, I do put in mind adults. In my opinion, it is important to address both.” She regrets that many adults in Saudi society do not like to read. However, conveying a message in a children’s book is a good way to get the message out there, she thinks.
Alabassi gets her inspiration from day-to-day situations: A book, a movie, talking to a friend — but mostly from her kids and her experiences with them. “Either something happens, or I read something. I watch a movie or documentary, or a need just pops up that makes me want to write. First, I spill out everything. Then, I sleep on it. Later, I edit it and try to form it in reader-friendly way,” she said.
To make sure the language used is not too difficult for children, she tries to use easy words and short sentences. “I avoid similes or metaphors and opt for straightforward sentences instead.”
Even though some of the issues she covers, such as blindness and divorce, are not very light, Alabassi believes the books can be read to children. “Whenever the parent feels that the kid is ready to know about the subject, or when the child faces a situation that is similar to the one discussed in a book.” She believes it is always good to broaden kids’ perspective. “Books make kids think and appreciate what they have.”
Take for instance her book “Andee beitan” (“I Have Two Houses”) about a girl whose parents are divorced. “I read that book to my children when the youngest was four. He grasped the concept little by little.” Reading the story to children can be a useful tool if they are going through a similar situation, but also to make them grateful for having a mother and a father at home.
Her latest book contains small chapters (Suras) from the Qur’an, which are delivered in an attractive and colorful way with the help of a student from Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz University, who studied Islamic calligraphy. “For the Qur’an book as well as my first three books, I found the illustrator myself, just by asking around. After that, the publishing house in Lebanon illustrated the books ‘Ara Biqalbi’ and ‘Rabi, Hal Tasaeni?’ (‘Lord, Do You Hear Me?’),” she said.
Within Saudi Arabia, most of Alabassi’s books can be found in Jarir Bookstore, Little Book, and Virgin Megastore. Some are also available online (e.g. noorart.com, malayin.com), in other Middle Eastern countries, and are used at various schools in the Kingdom. Besides writing books, Alabassi is a regular contributor to “Mother and Child Guide”, a magazine in which she writes about parenting. In addition, she was part of the team that wrote the Open Sesame Theater Show, which was shown in Jeddah in December last year and will soon be touring in other Saudi cities.
That’s quite a busy schedule for a mother of five, but Alabassi is determined to keep writing books: “I have the responsibility to publish more books.” Several stories are ready, waiting for her to take the time to publish them. They talk about situations everyone faces and all serve the same purpose: “To strengthen the bond between kids and Allah, as well as to increase their faith.” She hopes to achieve this by conveying positive messages in all her books, including the ones about ‘sad’ topics.
The book about the girl whose parents are divorced, for instance, teaches kids that wherever they are, Allah is always with them. The same goes for the blind girl: “She is not sad about having lost her eyesight, because she knows Allah will give her sight back in paradise.” Other recurrent messages are that “Allah is the greatest, and he loves us” and that “You can overcome challenges in life” — messages Alabassi ultimately hopes her little readers will remember for a lifetime.