I have been writing for children for a long time now. People ask me why I write for children. I have been doing it for so long that it has become who I am and I have to stop and think how I first got interested in books and stories.
As a child I was sent to a boarding school in Jerusalem run by an order of German nuns. I was just six years old. My mother had just died of cancer at the young age of 27 , and my father was working abroad in Iraq to support my four siblings and me.
I remember my first day at school hiding behind Orayb my eldest sister and peeking to see this new placethat was to be my home for most of the year..
“Schmidt’s Girl’s School” as it was and still is called overlooked
” Bab el A’moud”
( Damascus Gate) and seemed like an old menacing castle.
The corridors were dark long and shiny. The dormitories were big clean and Spartan. Everything was white ,the iron beds, the bed covers, the little table next to the bed. There were no curtains, no pictures on the wall, no carpets and of course no heating; but there was one magical thing for each bed. It was a mosquito net used during the summer months.
When it was opened and tucked all around the bed it transformed it into a private magical place.
Slowly but surely, I got into the hang of things and I learnt from the other girls which nuns to cross and which to avoid vexing.
To keep order the nuns forbade us to speak while going down in file to the dining room. We were not allowed to speak in the dining room or on our way to class.
Of course, that did not stop us from trying, but whoever broke this rule was told off severely and eventually punished.
As my reading skills improved I found a way out of this silence rule in reading.
I carried a book with me every where and read going down and up the stairs.
I would sit on the book in the dining room and after finishing my meal I would read.
Sometimes I would read in my private magical place using a torch after lights out in the dormitory.
Kids up to 4thgrade were lent Arabic stories once a week from the class teacher.
It was my favorite time of the week when I would exchange my story for another new one. But alas one of my classmates used my love of books to get back at me.
After a quarrel we had she scribbled a letter from me to her in ink on her library story and signed my name.
The teacher who had warned us many times to look after the books we borrowed was furious when she saw the book defiled and she decided to make an example of me .She forbade me from borrowing any books for the rest of the term. I swore that it wasn’t me. I begged and cried but she wouldn’t budge
I was lost and heartbroken. I knew there was a big library full of books in the school but only 5thgraders and up were allowed to borrow from it as all the books were in English.
Every break I would go to the” big girls'” library and look in.
Being shy as a child, it was not easy for me to ask for things. I would just stand there peeking every now and then at the row after row of books in the Library. They did not look particularly interesting like today’s colorful children books for they were all bound in cardboard cover and so all looked the same but I knew there was a whole different world hidden behind the covers
The librarian ” Sister Radigundes” noticed me and after a few days took pity on me and offered to lend me a book
To this day I remember the book she gave me.
It was a hardcover book with thick cream colored pages and with black ink drawings. It was an Enid Blyton book about children and their nanny and nursery and how the toys became alive after the kids went to sleep. Reading the book was hard going for me as my English was not that good but I was fascinated and in a few days I was back at the library silently asking for another book.
I must have taught myself toread by reading because with each book I read I could understand moreand more of what was going on and Enid Blyton was to become my favorite writer.
Books gave me so much pleasure and opened a whole newworld for me.
Remember this was way before the satellite days of today and I, a little Palestinian girl in a Jerusalem boarding school found a way to roam the world. I visited theEnglish moors with ” Wuthering Heights”and felt the cold snow of theAlps while reading Heidi, I cried while reading “Jane Ayre” and myheart beat fast while reading ” Tale of Two Cities”. I may not remember thedetails of these books but till this day I remember
the glow I felt and the feelings of wonder andexcitement that opened up for me.
Later I was to reap the benefit of my classmate’s prank for through reading I improved my English language skills and became the top student in my class.
Today I am a writer and a publisher.
By: Taghreed Najjar