Talking to Shereen Kredieh of Asala Publishers I was interested to find out what was her experience of reading as she grew up, whether she was able to access Arabic literature, how had her interest in this area developed and why – and what she sees now.
I was born in 1977, at the start of the Lebanese civil war while my father ran his company. As the daughter of a publisher specialising in academic books, the memories of my childhood encapsulate family love and support. Having grown up with the fear of going to school due to ongoing bombing and running back home through the streets to be safe, attending book fairs with my dad gave me comfort.
By Candlelight © 2010 text: Samar Mahfouz Bragg, illus. Mira Al-Mir.
It is difficult to understand the events and feelings brought by war if you have not lived it. During such times, survival becomes the norm and I have felt that mentality lingering with me since. Although you may be wondering how reading is linked to all this.
Stories were the main tool used to distract children through such troubled times. My mother used to curate many imaginative stories before bed to soothe us. My father took us along to book fairs where other publishers insisted on gifting us quality children’s books. At the time, the dominant genre of children’s books in the Arab world consisted of folklore, stories derived from One Thousand and One Nights, and adapted versions of Aesop’s Fables.
Alongside my Bachelor studies in elementary education, I took a course of children’s literature where we had to create a children’s book as our final project. I remember writing this story in my living room surrounded by my family. Having observed me, my father suggested experimenting with this field by publishing a few children’s books. I began by publishing the story of a university friend of mine, which led to me earning a space at my father’s stand and I began to sell to the public.
Dagful © 2014 Sheikha Al-Zeyara.
When producing original books, it becomes easy for unbeknownst onlookers to judge and critique. Suggestions arise with such criticism, one which gained popularity was to add questions at the end of every book, so, appealing to the public, I did. With time and growth in wisdom I discovered that doing so defies the purpose of reading for fun or leisure and instead turns reading a book into a chore. The result of this should not be to cast aside all suggestions, but to begin a search to determine whose opinion is sound for one to build on. As a result, I decided to pursue a teaching diploma in Early Childhood Education.
Still feeling dissatisfied with my knowledge, next I applied for a Master’s Degree in the UK to study children’s literature. Through my father’s conservative lens of the time, he found it unfitting for ‘girls’ to travel alone to study, and so he was against the idea for a long time. With the help of my family, specifically my aunt-once-removed, he was convinced. Having now completed both my Master’s Degree and PhD, I can easily say that my love to learn remains, continuing to be confident about the products we publish and the quality to present.
When You Get Angry © 2012 Doniazad Al-Saadi.
My research has always been centred around information I require to develop my work of publishing in the Arab world. For example, my MA thesis tackled Arabic children’s books where I categorised over 3000 children’s books published then in Lebanon. I learned that over 50% of the books published in Lebanon were translations of information books as well as folklore. I did an internship in Egmont where I had access to all the manuscripts arriving to the publishers to study, so I decided to place an advertisement in a magazine asking authors and illustrators to send books. I’ve experimented with original realistic fiction and modern fantasy books, and learned from my own publications about the Arab market and their respective likes and dislikes. Later on my PhD thesis analysed the Arabic children’s books publishing industry in addition to the comparison of British purchasing patterns and successful marketing techniques when applied to the Arabic market. This proved that there is no standardised method of marketing children’s books since the same techniques yielded different results based on the geographical market.
In 1999, during my MA studies in the UK, I joined IBBY UK, which led to my participation in the Lebanese section in 2000. I began to work my way up and became a board member and have recently been appointed president of the LBBY section. Through my work with IBBY I took part in the Hans Christian Andersen jury and joined their executive committee. After the Beirut explosion of 2020, LBBY initiated a crisis fund which led to our renovation of public schools and libraries in partnership with UNESCO. So far we have developed over 20 establishments and are continuously working on more.
Words from rock! © 2014 Hadil Nashif.
With an ever-growing and ever-changing market, one must keep with the times. Children’s literature continues to develop and innovate within itself, and so I decided to begin a part-time teaching career at Haigazian University. My courses address children’s books as well as social work, which keeps me up to date with research and international initiatives. More importantly, it is a chance to expose my students to the fundamental work of the IBBY foundation and gives them an opportunity to participate within the organisation and help Lebanon.
Children’s literature is a world that encompasses me on a day-to-day basis. I teach it in the university, I work with it in publishing. It serves as condolence in times of crisis, and I have used it as a tool while delving into bibliotherapy. I see now, with time, with age, with experience, how important the pages we use to shape the minds of the future are. How every word, picture and placement will interact with them differently. But most importantly, it’s seeing how much support and comfort a children’s book can give.
Covers from books published by Asala Publishers. Beirut, Lebanon.
Shereen Kredieh holds a BA in Elementary Education, a Teaching Diploma and a Masters in Children’s Literature. She also has a PhD in Publishing. In 1998 she established and manages Asala Publishers that produces high-quality children’s books in Arabic. She has been a member of several organisations in Lebanon and abroad (LBBY, IRSCL, and Alumni: International Young Publishers and Cultural Leader (British Council)). Currently she is the president of the Lebanese Board of Books for Young Children (Lebanese chapter of IBBY). She is also a member of the International Advisory Board for Book Aid International and a member of Hans Christian Anderson Award jury 2018 and 2024. She teaches children’s literature and social-work courses in Haigazian University since 2018 as well as participating in several tours and seminars that discuss the issues of publishing and children’s books.