The first series of books I wrote was “Best Friends’ series” which consisted of 12 story books. This was in the late 80’s early 90’s. I wrote the books while teaching the first grade in a local private school (ANS). Every couple of weeks I would illustrate a story in coloring book style and print out a hand written story for each kid using a stencil machine (photocopying machines were expensive then and stencil machines were used widely in schools). The names of the children in the stories were the names of the children in my class. They are all grown up now, many of them married with children of their own!
The school was very encouraging and supportive of my efforts since I used the stories as outside reading material for the kids. The kids enjoyed reading and coloring the stories because they felt the stories were about them. As their teacher, I made sure that the text was easy for them to read. I used predictable language formats with a lot of fun repetition. I still remember the excitement and thrill children felt when they could read a whole story all by themselves.
My experience as a first grade teacher was invaluable to me as a writer. I still remember the enjoyment my students got out of story books, and felt that if only we –adults- could just harness this excitement and build on it, we would have a nation of readers in no time.
When I wrote this series, I wanted it to have a local flavor while still addressing current children issues. There were very few local books, and the books available to children in Jordan were either translated or reflected other Arab countries mainly Egypt and Iraq. So I felt a great need for children in Jordan to have local children books that reflected their surroundings and society.
I got very positive feedback on my story books from kids, parents and the school administration who encouraged me to try to publish the books. Since at that time in Jordan there were no publishing houses that were ready to publish children books, I knew that I had to do most of the work myself if I wanted to convince any publisher to accept my book for publication. I started looking for a professional illustrator. There were established artists in Jordan but they had never illustrated for children and had no interest to. It took me almost two years to find what I was looking for during a visit to a charity bazaar. It was there that I finally met the illustrator I was looking for.
Manal Haddadin was a pretty young girl just out of university. She was at a table selling a new children local magazine, in which she had illustrated some pages. I almost jumped for joy when I saw her illustrations! Finally, I had found someone who could draw freely, who could create a character and a setting, had an eye for details and the best part was that Manal was from Jordan. This was the start of a long working relationship between us. I enjoyed working collaboratively with Manal and still do. So far Manal has illustrated 13 of my story books.
I chose the most “economical” size to print this series, and to make reading the story to kids easier for teachers I decided that the best design for the books would be one page for the text with the corresponding page for illustration. Many a teacher gratefully thanked me over the years because it was easy to bend the book so the children would be able to look at the picture while the teacher had the text conveniently in front of him/her.
Needless to say, a lot has happened in the world of children literature in the Arab world since the 80s especially in the last ten years or so. The printing industry has changed as well and most printing presses now have gone digital.
We at Al Salwa Publishing House were suddenly faced with the decision to either stop printing the series or to re-illustrate the stories and have them printed in digital form. The “Best Friends Series” is thankfully still very much in demand, some of the titles are in their 8th reprint and are so to speak our “classics”.
The first book of the series to come out in the new format is “Arnab Karma” (Karma’s Rabbit), illustrated by Hassan Manasrah, a talented young man, not to mention our first male illustrator! The size of the book has changed to a more landscape size. As for the cover, we decided to use a new technology in book covers called Flexo, which is a sturdy material that is midway between a hard cover and soft cover.
It is sad to say goodbye to the original look of this series, they have been with us for so many years that they have become like family. At the same time, it is also exciting to be able to give our “classics” a new look. We sincerely hope that you will like them.