Pupils’ books are global hits

The books were created as part of a pilot digital literacy workshop launched by Abu Dhabi Education Council last year to introduce children to online publishing.

A group of Year 7 girls from the Hamdan bin Zayed School have published their first book, which they wrote and illustrated. The interactive book, ‘Ella Releases her Fear’, has been downloaded hundreds of times from iTunes. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Pupils from Hamdan bin Zayed School wrote, illustrated, narrated and published eight interactive books that have been downloaded hundreds of times from iTunes.

Not only that but the children wrote each story in Arabic, English and Mandarin.

Jo McMillan-Chabot, an academic quality improvement officer, said that the girls “would be, I would imagine, the very first trilingual published authors who are 12 years of age and under”.

The books were created as part of a pilot digital literacy workshop launched by Abu Dhabi Education Council last year to introduce children to online publishing while teaching them basic storytelling skills.

The school’s English teacher, Natalie Turner, who worked with the Grade 6 and 7 girls on the project, said it took the pupils about a week, working in groups of four, to brainstorm an idea for a story, write the narrative in the three languages, sketch the illustrations and record their voice-overs.

The pupils also selected one animation and one sound effect per page to help to bring their story to life.

“They did everything themselves,” Ms Turner said.

“They chose the animations. Like they said, ‘OK, in this picture we want her eyes to blink or in the next picture we want her crying with the tears falling down her face’.

“It was amazing and the girls worked so hard.”

Last year, the Grade 6 and 7 girls produced four books and this term the boys in Grade 7 and 8 are working on publishing their own stories.

Mariam Al Marzouqi, a social worker at Hamdan bin Zayed school who helped to coordinate the project, said the digital publishing workshops gave pupils the opportunity to apply their technology, literacy and artistic skills.

“They have the skills to draw, they have the skills to write, they have the skills to use the electronic machines, so why not collect all the skills and put them in once place as a project,” said Ms Al Marzouqi.

Mrs McMillan-Chabot, who is employed by Adec but based at the school, said the project’s learning outcomes – formal and informal – were countless.

“The informal side is teamwork, the decision-making, understanding the structure of a story and what makes a story exciting, being able to brainstorm lots of ideas, listening to each other and then condensing it down to meet the word limit,” Mrs McMillan-Chabot said.

“They are really making the connection between illustration and story.

“It’s a huge process for them.”

For 12-year-old Mariam Al Khoori, who helped to produce the book Ella Releases Her Fear, the project was simply fun.

“We really hope to make people learn from the story,” she said.

The interactive book was published by Kiwa Middle East, which worked with three public schools in the emirate – including Abdulla bin Otaiba Primary School and Al Asayel Primary School – to produce 14 books that have been downloaded nearly 3,000 times by readers all over the world.

The company’s chief executive, Rhonda Kite, said that the application was a medium for children to tell their stories.

The company converts the children’s stories into interactive books that are free to download on iTunes by searching Kiwa Digital Middle East.

“These are stories written by Emirati children for children of the world,” Ms Kite said.

“The first thing we noticed is that the books are being downloaded more from overseas than they are here and this is always a really beautiful surprise for them.

“When we first went live with the Hamdan bin Zayed books, 50 per cent of the books were downloaded from the United States and I think 5 per cent were from Australia.

“So what this is telling us is that there are people out there who are looking for Arabic-language content and coming across the children’s books.”