On the Scottish Bilingual Publishing House ‘Sunono’ & the Importance of Chapter Books for Kids

Sunono Publishing — a Scotland-based bilingual book operation — is one of the newer publishers making an impact on the landscape of Arabic children’s literature and translation.  This month, Sunono brings out an English edition of their beloved chapter book الرقم 25, translated by ArabLit editor M Lynx Qualey. We talk author Feda Shtia, who launched Sunono in 2018 “with the aim of creating books that encourage children to read and learn Arabic with pleasure.”
What made you want to start Sunono Publishing?
Feda Shtia: I wanted to reach out to Arab readers abroad via children’s book in Arabic and in English, published in two different editions, so that they could read Arab stories in whichever language they can access. I also wanted English readers to enjoy a different style of stories, translated from Arabic and from other languages all over the world. Sunono travels via stories, and the sunono (or swallow) is a migrating bird. This makes it the best symbol for our publishing house.
What’s the mission of Sunono Publishing? What makes it unique?
FS: We make sure that all of our books are available in Arabic and in English. We often start with an Arabic edition, but some times we fall in love with books in English, so we buy rights in English and translate to Arabic. We have also bought rights from German, translating to both English and Arabic to keep our promise to readers.
What’s the story behind Number 25? What made you want to write this book, for this age group?
FS: In fact, it was based on a true story I heard when I was in Jordan, which took place in a school book fair in the Abu Alanda neighborhood in Amman. The real characters were two girls with 10 cents each who were 10 and 11 years old. They were very shyly going back and forth to a magazine stall, worried that they didn’t have enough money for the magazine they wanted. Then my friend Jamal —  who is a famous children’s-book author from Jordan who told me the story —  took the 20 cents and sold them the magazine, whispering to his friend the salesman, “I’ll cover the rest.”
Such a beautiful story! What, then, made you want to publish both in Arabic and in English? Who do you see as the audience for your books?
FS: Both Arab and English readers might choose to read the English edition of the story. A lot of young Arab readers these days are more comfortable reading in English rather than Arabic, which can be an obstacle when they want to find good Arab stories to which they can relate culturally, with all the sensations, characters’ names, and much more. A similar immersive experience can happen to a young English reader who has never heard about Jordan, or the way people live and families interact. It would be the ultimate achievement if, one day, a young boy or a young girl wanted to visit Jordan because of the Number 25. 🙂
There aren’t many chapter books in Arabic. Why do you feel this is an important step in the reading process?
FS: Once children have become a confident picture book readers, they are buzzing to move to the big-kid books. But many of them can be put off if the experience of this “big-kid book” is overwhelming. The best way to overcome this, and to create a soft lovely bridge to merge picture books and complete novels, is through chapter books and perhaps also comic books and graphic novels.
What will happen next for Sunono Publishing?
FS: As we continue to make awesome children’s books, we are also in the process of publishing adult nonfiction. We also have lots of exciting new projects to support writes, artists, and readers, such as our latest project, Sunono Retreats.
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