Images submitted by Rasha Hamid
Sudanese-American elementary teacher Rasha Hamid recently published a children’s book about Sudan called Kadisa كديسة, which is the Sudanese word for cat. Inspired by the book, Black Cat, by American writer and illustrator Christopher Myers, the informational picture book depicts a child having conversations with various streets cats.
Kadisa كديسة is the latest children’s book on Sudan. Throughout the years, there have been several children’s books on the Afro-Arab country however many of the books like The Red Pencil, Brothers in Hope and When I Was a Boy in Sudan tell stories of a war-torn Sudan with a refugee crisis – written by non-Sudanese writers. However, Kadisa كديسة – created by a Sudanese author for a Sudanese audience – introduces the young and the old to the magnificent and mundane Sudan with beautiful illustrations and lyrical conversations in English and Sudanese Arabic. A glossary at the end of the book introduces young readers to a few Sudanese Arabic words.
After living in New York and being away from Sudan for several years, Rasha decided to move to Sudan in 2010. “My father passed away before I was born, so I did not grow up speaking Arabic or knowing much about Sudan. About eight years ago, I moved to Sudan with my son to get to know the country and my family, and to learn more Arabic,” the 42-year-old teacher explained.
Rasha began working as a Primary Years Programme (PYP) teacher at Khartoum International Community School (KICS). “When my Year 2 class studied Sudan, I found that most of my Sudanese students had very negative views of Sudan. I looked for picture books to show them some of Sudan's most beautiful places, and found there really weren't many books at all,” said Rasha. She then decided that the class would write a book. “The children collaged cats into photographs of Sudan contributed by their families and wrote lovely poetic text,” she added.
The Arabic language teachers took part in the project and wrote the text of the book in Sudanese Arabic. “It was important to me that the Arabic text is written in
Sudanese Arabic. I want Sudanese children to feel ownership of this book – to see and hear themselves and their families in it,” she explained, adding that one reader said, "It's so refreshing to read a book in Sudanese Arabic!"
The book written by Rasha’s Year 2 class inspired Rasha to create a similar book that could be published and shared with a larger audience. “I've wanted to make a beautiful book about Sudan and get it into classrooms, libraries, and the hands of children all around the world,” said Rasha.
Singer Sharhabeel Ahmed, who is also Rasha’s father-in-law, contributed to the new project by sketching the cats for the illustrations in the book. Rasha included these sketches in many of the illustrations she created. “Each illustration is based heavily on a photograph of Sudan with some collage, paint and ink added. Some of the photographs are my own. Some of my Sudanese photographer friends contributed additional photographs. I wanted to leave the photographs intact so readers would see the real Sudan and appreciate its beauty,” she explained.
The book took several years from the project’s inception in 2014 until the first copies arrived in New York in November 2017. As a full-time teacher, Rasha found it difficult to find time to complete it. “I spent many of my school vacations working on the book over the course of several years. Last summer, I decided I had to finish it and get the book out into the world,” she said. Rasha initially created a crowd-funding campaign and raised US $5,000 to do the first print run.
Kadisa كديسة is Rasha’s first published children’s book but not the last. “I look forward to writing more children’s books reflecting the experiences of children who don’t often get to see themselves in children’s literature. I already have a few ideas inspired by Sharhabeel Ahmed’s stories from his childhood. I hope to collaborate with him again,” she said.
Reviews came in fast for Kadisa كديسة, as one supporter said “Rasha Hamid, your book is a one-of-a-kind treasure! Kadisa’s adventures highlight such beautiful scenes in Sudan! Can’t wait to share with my kids – they love learning about Africa! I’m especially excited to show my Sudanese students! Love the poetry and collage!” Another fan wrote “Beautiful book that stirred feelings of nostalgia in me. Simple enough for a child yet rich enough for an adult”. “This journey through Sudan is beautiful and heartwarming. The images and story capture the most special moments of a most special country. We have read it over and over again,” said another reader.
Rasha is still working on finding other ways to make the book accessible internationally. “I want readers to see images of a Sudan that is full of color, beauty and light. I hope Sudanese children see themselves reflected in Kadisa كديسة…even the youngest readers will learn so much about Sudan through the text and images. I hope readers are left with a curiosity to seek out even more information about Sudan,” she said. In addition to the print version, a planned audiobook version will allow children to hear both English and Sudanese Arabic text read aloud.
Kadisa كديسة is sold out in Sudan until a sponsor can be found to re-print more copies. The book is available in the United States on Amazon and at Square-up. Most international orders can be placed at http://kadisa10.mybigcommerce.com/.