Interview: From Nursery Teacher to Author

For Ebtisam Al Beiti, a Dubai-based former nursery teacher, lock down was a transformative time that resulted in a new life direction and, quite unexpectedly, a publishing deal. Now a celebrated children’s author and motivational speaker for children, Ebtisam Al Beiti tells her story.

An educator at heart, with more than a decade’s experience, Dubai-based children’s author Ebtisam Al Beiti’s vibrancy and exuberance gives a surprisingly youthful impression. It is easy to imagine her in her former-career, as an early years teacher, drawing energetic 3-year-olds into imaginary worlds, inspiring creativity and curiosity in her classroom. 

And then, in early 2020, the world became aware of a new virus, and ‘normal’ life – certainly the life inside nurseries – came to an abrupt halt: By March 2020, the UAE government had swiftly directed all nurseries to close until further notice, and in April, Dubai residents were in full lockdown, with a 24-hour curfew.

Like so many around the world, Ebtisam’s employment was suddenly uncertain. Concerned about what the future held, and feeling a void while not being able to connect with children, Ebtisam decided to focus her energies on something positive: writing a children’s book. She told us:

“It was just supposed to be a lockdown project at first. I just wanted something to focus my mind on, during a very worrying time, and writing a children’s book was always something I had wanted to do and never made time for.”

The result of Ebtisam’s lockdown project was Can I Go Out Now?, the heart-warming story of ‘Little Earth’, who wants to go out and play, but must stay indoors until his oceans are blue. Feeling encouraged by positive feedback from friends and family, Ebtisam sent her manuscript to Emirates Literature Foundation, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

“They had a look and they loved it. They said that they would like to introduce the book as part of an initiative from the Ministry of Education called the ‘Reading For Pleasure’ project. So the first edition of Can I Go Out Now was for UAE government schools, they printed over 80,000 copies.”

The project saw Ebtisam doing live webinars with classes of primary school children in government schools, using her expertise in the classroom to inspire a love of reading among Emirati children.

By February 2021, 10 months after Ebtisam’s lockdown project began, Can I Go Out Now was launched commercially at the Emirates Literature Festival, with sell-out readings and an overwhelmingly positive response from children, parents, and educators alike. Ebtisam found herself repeatedly being asked the same question: what will your next book be about? Feeling the pressure to deliver, she enrolled in creative writing classes to further develop her skills, and through this process the story of Citrus the Smoothie Sloth emerged:

When Citrus the Smoothie Sloth launched in 2022, everything just exploded. Suddenly people seemed to know about me, I had requests for appearances at events, school requests, TV interviews. Above all, it’s been wonderful sharing the book with children and continuing to inspire a love of reading.”

As well as the Ministry of Education’s efforts to develop a reading for pleasure culture, many UAE private schools are treating this as a priority. Brighton College Dubai recently invited Ebtisam to visit their early years section, creating considerable excitement among the children. Madhulika Badhe, Librarian at Brighton College Dubai told us:

“At Brighton we believe that reading for pleasure is ‘caught not taught’, so hearing from passionate authors like Ebtisam is an excellent way to spark children’s interest. We were delighted to have her visit us and read to our Foundation Stage children.”

Forever an educator, Ebtisam has found great joy in how this path has taken her to connect with children in new ways:

“This experience made me think about our role, as adults, as educators, as parents. As a nursery teacher, I always loved story time; it was the part I’d look forward to most, just sitting with the children and reading a good story. But actually, we all have a huge role to play in this, in exciting children about reading. Being an author took me outside the classroom, suddenly I have the privilege of inspiring children everywhere.”

Ebtisam Al Beiti telling the story of Citrus the Smoothie Sloth at Brighton College Dubai

Perhaps quite predictably, Ebtisam’s success has stirred the attention of fellow educators, eager to understand the secrets to her success and inspired to follow in her footsteps. She told us that there is no secret, just a dream and the time to focus on it:

“The biggest mistake that I made was simply waiting too long to do this. There is no perfect time to fulfil an ambition, to create something, there is only now. For me, it took a pandemic, a situation where I was trapped indoors and in need of distraction, but really I could have done this years ago. When you’ve got a story, write it down. Don’t wait!”

We asked Ebtisam what is in the pipeline for her, following the success of her second book:

“What’s next for me? More book tours, getting it out there, spreading my stories and love of reading throughout the UAE and beyond. And I’m thinking about my third book, I am getting my next ideas together right now!”

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