DUBAI: A UAE-based mom is aiming to open a new chapter in children’s bedtime books by drawing on the rich culture of storytelling in the Middle East and beyond.
Entrepreneur Sadia Anwar, founder of the online book platform Storically, wants to promote race and culture through family reading books.
“I think cultural relevance and diversity in children’s content is a huge problem. In all the books published in 2019, white characters made up 41.8 percent, animals and other characters were 29.2 percent,” she told Arab News.
Referring to data published by the US-based Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Anwar said: “So, that makes 71 percent, which means there is only 29 percent for every other race and culture. Out of this, less than 1 percent are Middle Eastern characters.”
It was figures such as these that prompted the mother-of-two to launch Storically in a bid to create personalized books for children to preserve personal history and amplify diversity.
The website, launched in December, creates two different types of books.
“First, is a conventional personalized book where we write a story, and parents can go onto our website and select an avatar that matches their child’s character. Then add in their name, age, and any other details that are required by the story. So, the book that you get has your child as the star or the hero of the narrative,” she added.
The second feature allows platform users to share stories from their lives, personal history, or cultures. “It could be a story that your grandmother used to tell you or a family tradition that you want to preserve, and we create books out of those,” Anwar said.
The inspiration for Storically came from the Indian city of Bhopal that between 1820 and 1920 was ruled by “four amazing women” who are her ancestors.
“So, my daughter loves books and princesses. But for her, princesses are Elsa (from Disney’s “Frozen”) and all the other Disney princesses. This sort of worried me. I feel like my identity is getting lost because she doesn’t know about the princesses in her own family. These amazing powerful rulers from her own history and heritage.
“They look obviously nothing like Elsa, but there are so many stories from their lives which I want her to connect with,” Anwar said.
She pointed out that culturally relevant stories helped children to develop a sense of empathy, acceptance, diversity, and knowledge.
“I can learn facts about a country, such as in France they eat this, this is their national flag, this is what they play, but that doesn’t help you develop empathy.
“It’s stories, personal stories that help you find common ground, that help you feel what the other person feels, and to put it in one word … it’s to develop love and harmony, and personal stories are a powerful tool,” she added.
Anwar is a self-published author of four books for children, but she worked as an architect and lighting designer for 12 years before making the shift to entrepreneurship.