Sunday, December 15, 2013

This Christmas, let's explore the UAE

Christmas shopping has got to be the toughest of missions. I just hate it. Our children have access to so much all year long, come the end of the year, any gift becomes almost dull. Even if it's meant to unwrap under a sparkling Christmas tree.

So if like me, you've been looking for something extra special, something your child doesn't already own in one or two or even three models, something that is fun but also educational and most importantly, something new and counter-mainstream, look no more because I have found what we're all searching for:

 The first book for kids about the UAE mixing information and games 
When learning about a country becomes fun…

I first saw this book at ARTE's market a while back and been meaning to blog about it since. The author, Marina FAHY-RUIZ was there, with her adorable daughters, promoting and selling their mom's work in person.

Photo: R. Abouzeid

This lovely family immediately stood out in the overcrowded ground floor of Times Square and let's face it, I've got a weakness for creative momtrepreneurs so this was bound the happen: it's interview time with this Parisian mom of two who "love[s] to create and travel with her family".

Born in 1973, Marina Fahy-Ruiz graduated from the École Supérieure de Commerce de Tours in 1999 and worked in banking before moving on to managing projects in the field of marketing for ten years. It's not in the least surprising her professional and personal history led her to the conception of 3.2.1. Explore. After all, traveling is a wonderful source of inspiration and it's no wonder Marina is always coming up with new ideas.

Why did you decide to write this book?

3.2.1 Explore is the first opus of, I hope, many other entertaining and educational books for children who wish to explore a country along with its culture. For the first book, I chose to picture the UAE to the youngest. The idea was born during a family trip to Thailand in January 2010. Looking for a playful way to introduce the country to my kids then 5 and 3.5 years old, I could not find what I was after in the usual book shops. Therefore I put together a little folder thanks to various information found over the internet and travel books, such as the flag, the spoken language, the money, the landscape, the country manners and habits, the religion and so on. A proper source for games and culture for my daughters. They came back from this journey with their memories engraved in this holidays copybook and illustrated by their various family pictures. Upon our return, finding out we will have to settle in Dubai in September 2010, I tried to find a book to introduce the country to my kids but also to keep in touch with the family, friends and classmates remaining in France to explain to them where we were going to live. As I could not find anything fitting my wonders, I decided to create not only an informative way but also an entertaining one to explain a country to children. This is the start of 3.2.1 Explore’s story with the first opus about the UAE.

So what is 3.2.1 Explore exactly?

There are many reasons for children to get interested in a country: to broaden their horizons, to get involved in a trip or move to a new country, or to learn about the country of a friend or a relative. 3.2.1 Explore is an entertaining and educational book to learn more about a country. Games are aimed to kids between 5 and 11 years old and information may please all age groups, including adults. The first opus, 3.2.1 Explore The UAE is 84 pages mixing information and games for kids, girls and boys, living or visiting the UAE but also their friends and their families. Children go on a trip with WENS, the tour guide for curious children. Thanks to questions and answers, children will learn a lot of information about the UAE like its geography, climate, animals, arts, inhabitants, landscape, wildlife, traditions, food, and means of transportation. The structure of the sentences and the vocabulary are suited to kids. The draft was read by teachers in order to be adapted. There also is a notebook and activities such as writing arabic letters or drawing arabesques and there are different types of games such as calculating, recognizing shapes, cross word puzzles and more. There also is a quiz to test knowledge and even two postcards to send to friends and relatives! Having fun while learning is important to keep the children interested and the book mixes information and games so children will have fun while learning about the country. It is an interactive book with questions and answers. Kids become actors of their own book by filling in information through the games and activities. There is nothing else like it in bookstores: it is the first book for children about the UAE mixing information and games.

How did you write the content?

Thanks to a training to become a tour guide in Dubai in may 2011 and thanks to interviews with inhabitants and visitors, I managed to illustrate my book with anecdoctes. My teaching experience between September 2011 and June 2012 also helped me better understand my future audience but also to finance this personal project, the content sees light.

Who worked on your illustrations?

I found an illustrator in France who gave body and life to my character, WENS, a tour guide, raising questions and answers along the pages and discoveries kids may do.

How did you meet and how did this collaboration come to life? 

Once I wrote the content and finalized ideas of illustrations and created a complete character, I looked for an illustrator. I posted an ad on a Dubai forum and I also asked a couple of people I knew for help, in France. It is through a friend that I found Cécile. I loved her response to my mail. She was spontaneous, excited and full of emotions. She sent a few drawings by mail and I immediately loved them. I called her up and was delighted by her warmth and her motivation for this project. Mother of two, just like me, we were ready to realize a dream together! She worked on the content I wrote, a powerpoint draft and a detailed brief to come up with her illustrations. We collaborated remotely, each in her country, but communication by email, Skype and phone went well. We finally managed to meet in person following the release of the French version of the book, during the summer. It was fantastic! I really hope to be able to collaborate with Cécile on other projects. 

So who is Cécile?

Born in 1974, in the South of France, Cécile Darras completes her studies at the École des Beaux Arts de Lyon before training as a colorist in an animation studio. In 1998, she begins her career as an illustrator for educational CDs for children and then moves on to the world of advertising where she spends a decade. Finally, in 2011, she decides to venture on her own, as a freelancer and this is when we met in 2012. She has always been passionate about children stories and illustrations and this was a dream come true for her.

Tell us about the translation of the book and will there be an Arabic version?

The French version was launched in June 2013 and the English version in September 2013. For the translation, I called up translators and educators I knew. We spent long, serious but warm hours working on it. Many ask me about an Arabic version of the book but I am not sure what the demand would be. I was also offered to translate it in Italian. Translations are quite simple but the problem remains to find a market for these languages.

How did you proceed for the publication?

From A to Z, I did not miss one step of the book. I managed the printing and the diffusion of the book. I did not look for a publisher because I wanted to actively manage all the stages of the book. Once the book was ready for printing, I got all the required authorizations from the UAE government and went to the publisher. It was yet another rich and interesting stage during which I learned a great deal about paper, formats and printing processes. I published a thousand copies of the French version and two thousand copies of the English version. Producing such small quantities is quite expensive per piece but I wanted to test the product with our audience before going further.

That is quite impressive for a novice writer and quite brave for you to learn about all these processes. So how did you proceed with the distribution?

As of now, I studied differents distribution ways: bookstores, shops, schools, tourism and cultural spots, travel agencies. I contacted few schools and the feedback is very good. Some schools have agreed to promote the book through the teachers in order to inform parents and children that this book exists. I proposed them to come and meet children in the school and autograph the books. I also proposed to come in class as speaker in order to explain the writing, editing and publishing processes. It was amazing children were very attentive and asked a lot of questions! I will also propose to schools to buy the book for their students in order to use the book as a teaching tool. I had good feedback from teachers, they need this kind of resources. The cost per student requires the school to allocate a certain budget for the book and of course making photocopies would infringe on copyrights, so this additional cost could be problematic for the schools.

And how was their feedback?

Super feedback! Way beyond games, kids enjoy asking questions around them and testing their parents.  Newcomers discover their new country of residence. The older ones learn new things and can tell what they love in their notebook. And of course, those who are leaving can keep a souvenir of the country where they spent a few years. Visitors can also keep a similar souvenir. And those who have never visited the UAE can discover the country where their cousin or their friend lives.

Have you received any support from organizations in the education or tourism sectors?

I led this project by myself with my ideas, in a bubble sort of. Once the French version was completed, and ready for printing, I went to Alliance Française in Dubai. The Director loved it and kindly proposed to promote the book there. Throughout the month of June, I had a table with my books on sale at all of the Alliance events. It helped me tremendously, it was a great kickstart! In addition to that, Dubai Madame and Madame Magazine published articles about the book, and there I was, established within the French community in the UAE. I also got support from associations like Dubai Accueil, Les Femmes Francophones D'Abu Dhabi, the Forum Francodubai and the UFE. I could really feel solidarity and help. It was really reassuring. Today, I am looking for cultural, touristic or educational organizations that could help me promote the book and maybe even finance the next ones. 

What does the future look like for WENS? Will he travel? Will he speak other languages?

As of now, the book exists in French and in English. I started to distribute 3.2.1 Explore The UAE in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The plan is to develop the distribution in the UAE, and maybe to translate it in other languages, Arabic for instance. I am going to think how to sell it abroad because I would like to explain and promote the UAE to kids around the world. I am thinking also to develop an electronic version. Finally, I plan to expand 3.2.1 Explore by writing about others countries. I started to write content about few countries and I think about partners or sponsors to help me publish them.

That sounds exciting! Then would the future hold for Marina?

A lot of work to expand the sale of 3.2.1 Explore The UAE and create a collection with the countries of the world! I would also love to work on two old projects I had started when I first arrived in Dubai, this time for adults.

Any final words?

When I first got to Dubai, I wanted to open beautiful parentheses, realize something I could not have achieved in France. This country allows you to do that. It gives you wings. Anything seems possible! I invested about three years between the concept and the launch of the book. A extraordinary professional and human adventure with its ups and downs. Spending long hours behind your computer screen is not easy and we face huge moments of doubts. But what I will take from all of this, are all the multicultural meetings with people throughout the stages, the exchange of knowledge and the support and help.


Virgin (Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall, Deira City Centre Mall, Burjuman, Mirdiff City Centre, Mercato Mall)
WHSmith (Dubai Mall, Marina Mall, Wafi Centre, JW Marriot Marquis, Oasis Centre) Kinokuniya (Dubai Mall)
Park’n’Shop (Safa 1)
Magrudy (Jumeirah 1)
Culture and Co (Oud Metha)
Alliance Française (Oud Metha)

Virgin (Abu Dhabi Mall, Al Wahda Mall)
WHSmith (Al Wahda Mall)
All Prints Library 
Alliance Française

To find out about future events (school fairs, private markets, coffee morning, etc.) and new points of sale, follow 321Explore on Facebook or email

Mamma Mia+Jad

Find this blog on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment