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Making Sense of a Confusing World

By Shireen Sabanegh , Family Flavours - Dec 03,2023 - Last updated at Dec 26,2023

Photo courtesy of Family Flavours magazine

 

Her passion for learning and engaging with children was what fuelled Shireen Sabanegh’s decision to explore and dedicate time to writing children’s books.

 

“Storytelling was not only a part of my work at the Children’s Museum Jordan [CMJ], but represented the vibrant soul of these places, as museums deal beautifully with stories of humanity,” says Sabanegh as she explains her natural transition into writing.

During her 11 years at CMJ, she constantly looked for creative ways to help children explore the world around them, she says. This creative aspect continues to guide her toward writing stories that spark curiosity and enhance understanding for children.

With her long black hair and twinkling brown eyes, the vibrant museum professional turned children’s book author, believes that museums portray history and showcase art expressions, culture and scientific evolution. For her, books carry the same essence, serving as tools that narrate tales and convey imagination and knowledge.

 

Life lessons and values

 

This year, she debuted with two children’s books in Arabic titled Maymouna and Her Crazy Ideas and Knock Knock, produced by Hachette Antoine in Lebanon. “I use these books as a tool to convey values such as accepting the other and building self-confidence,” says the mother of three.

These stories integrate themes into engaging plots, allowing young readers to absorb important life lessons naturally, steering clear of preachy narratives:

“Children are extremely witty listeners and readers and if they spot a moral lesson from the beginning of the plot, they immediately lose interest,” notes the bubbly author.

 

Ingraining Self-confidence

 

Maymouna and Her Crazy Ideas highlights self-confidence, urging children to overcome fear and rely on their personal and social abilities for innovation and creative thinking. “Building self-confidence is essential in helping children face challenges and contribute positively to their communities,” states Sabanegh.

Friendship, she says, is significant in cultivating empathy and cooperation, providing children with the tools to build meaningful connections and contribute to a supportive social environment.

Given the rapid changes and challenges in today’s world, the author believes that instilling these values equips children with essential life skills that empower them to navigate complexities and contribute positively to their communities and beyond.

The main goal of both stories is to inspire children to become positive and tolerant individuals, who joyfully accept differences and have confidence in their ability to achieve success.

 

Transforming challenges into strengths

 

As for her book Knock Knock, it focuses on the theme of disability, illustrating how creativity and acceptance can transform challenges into strengths, with an emphasis on values of tolerance, respect for natural diversity and acceptance.

This story is unconventional with characters distinguished by their charm and uniqueness. Also, mystery is used to ensure unpredictable outcomes in the story.

 

A thirst for knowledge 

 

Currently residing in the United Kingdom with her husband and children, Sabanegh works part-time on designing creative learning programmes that support primary students’ learning within schools.

In the current context, with everything happening around the world, she feels the “need to introduce values such as accepting differences, building selfconfidence and fostering friendship which is now more crucial than ever”.

 

Navigating a globalised world

 

We live in a world marked by increasing diversity and interconnectedness, and for her teaching children, these values lay the foundation for a more inclusive and harmonious society. The author explains that “being proud of our own Arab identity, culture and heritage, while accepting that we live on a diverse planet, promotes tolerance and understanding”. Thus, preparing children to navigate a globalised world where change is a constant.

 

Books and abstract concepts

 

As a storyteller, Sabanegh believes that children’s books can help tackle tough topics in a way that connects with children. Stories, she says, have the potential to humanise and simplify complex situations, offering different perspectives and allowing children, through connecting with characters, to grapple with moral dilemmas, fostering a sense of compassion and a desire for peace.

She believes that, by weaving these difficult concepts into narratives, a safe space is created for children to explore emotions and morals. “Characters in stories can help children see different sides of war and conflict, encouraging compassion and a desire for peace.”

Stories spark discussions about values like justice and cooperation, guiding kids to make their own judgements and develop a sense of right and wrong.

For the author, children’s books aren’t just stories; they’re tools to help kids make sense of a sometimes confusing world and, hopefully, inspire a generation that values peace and understands the importance of empathy.

 

The shift

 

When asked about if she feels a shift to going back to hard copy books globally, she says she’s a fan of the physical book experience: “There’s a certain beauty in everything tangible that captivates the senses — the thrill of flipping a page, the aroma of a new book, and the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the final page and close the book.”

Although digital formats like e-books and audio books have become popular for their portability and easy access, many readers, especially when sharing stories with children, still cherish the tangible sensory aspect of physical books.

The children’s books’ author recognises that preferences for physical or digital books can differ among regions, age groups and reading communities.

But “some, like myself, find comfort in the simplicity of holding a physical book, while others value the convenience of having an entire library on a digital device.”

In this digital age, we must embrace the changes it brings. However, the author believes that, as digital becomes more prevalent, “the tangible qualities of physical books become even more unique, ensuring that they are here to stay”. 

 

Reprinted with permission from Family Flavours magazine

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