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HBKU Press Children’s Books Recognized at 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press’s The Forgotten Garden, written originally in Arabic by Basma Elkhatib, illustrated by Omar Lafi and translated into English by Ghenwa Yehia, was named Finalist in the category of Children’s Picture Book (Illustrative 6 Years & Up) in this year’s edition of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and One Box, Many Hearts, written by first-time author Bayan Khaled and illustrated by Fadi Salameh, was also recognized as a finalist in the category of Best Overall Design (Fiction)

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“HBKU Press remains a leader in the local publishing industry by providing our authors and their books with the opportunity for international recognition and visibility,” explains Bachar Chebaro, Executive Director of Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press. “We are extremely proud of the contribution HBKU Press makes to the global literary landscape and our commitment to participating in cross-cultural communications in a global context. Now, more than ever, diversity in literary voices is essential to build stronger communities with a foundation of compassion and understanding.”

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards is an accolade presented by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group in cooperation with Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency. The award was established to honor the most exceptional independently published books each year across 70 different categories. It is now in its 15th year and is the largest international awards program for indie authors and independent publishers.

The Forgotten Garden mixes feelings of nostalgia and mindfulness to create a narrative that transports the reader to a time and place forgotten yet hidden in plain sight. It was recognized for its creativity, ingenuity, and lyrical prose. 

The story follows an unnamed narrator reflecting on the subtle changes that occur in her neighborhood – unseen, yet constant, as time passes by. In her awe of the changes, she is surprised by a place of beauty and joy that is easily overlooked but always there, silently waiting for someone to slow down, take notice, and appreciate the joy it may bring.

Elkhatib’s three children were the inspiration behind the story with their innocent view of the world.

“Before becoming a mother I thought I would have to teach my children about the world and help them discover it,” Elkhatib explains. “But it was quite the opposite. With their innocence and purity, my children were the ones who helped me rediscover the world, correcting my jaded beliefs, and revealing to me its beauty once again. I hope that others are reminded to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures and joy nature has to offer when they read The Forgotten Garden, just as my children reminded me.”

This is Elkhatib’s second collaboration with fellow children’s book author and translator, Ghenwa Yehia. The pair worked on Elkhatib’s award-winning In the Light of Hope (HBKU Press, 2019) as well.

“It is always a pleasure to work with Ghenwa as she never lets me down,” she said. “Rather, with her delicate sensitivity and linguistic acumen, she has elevated my story and captured its essence so a whole new audience can enjoy my work.” 

The story One Box, Many Hearts follows Lana, a young girl forced from her home due to conflict. Without her many comforts in a strange new place, her whole world is turned upside. Though her new home is safe, she had to leave everything behind and she misses her old friends, school, and home dearly. She has nothing. Will Lana ever be able to call this new place home?

First time author Bayan Khaled, who is also a Research Fellow at Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s College of Islamic Studies, reflects on what inspired the poetic story and on working with HBKU Press, saying: “I feel a strong connection with refugees because of my father: he grew up as a refugee who struggled and overcame so much to be able to provide a better life for his family, with the help of many kind strangers along the way. Now I feel it is my duty to show the world the importance and beauty of kindness and generosity to others. An act of kindness may feel small and insignificant but it can mean the world to someone else who is struggling and can have a positive impact on their life.

“As my first time publishing a book, I was quite nervous about the process but HBKU Press was extremely responsive and supportive along the way. I look forward to continuing my collaboration with them in the future.”

Illustrator Fadi Salameh, who has also illustrated I Look Like the Moon (HBKU Press, 2018) among many other HBKU Press books, was thrilled with the news of the recognition. This is Omar Lafi’s third collaboration with HBKU Press after providing illustrations for HBKU Press’s 2021 World Book Day Book, Migrating Hoopoe (HBKU Press, 2021) and Wool Yarns (HBKU Press, 2019). 

The Forgotten Garden will be available for sale in stores in Qatar later this year, though it is currently available as an eBook on Kindle, Overdrive and Streetlib. One Box, Many Hearts can be purchased in bookstores across Qatar next month and is currently available through the Snoonu, Rafeeq and Purplebox applications in Qatar and delivered to your door. It is also available as an eBook on Kindle, Overdrive, and the Streetlib platforms.