Last week, 7-year-old Rim found an unexpected package on her doorstep. The small, recycled cardboard carry box contained But, Excuse Me, That Is My Book by children’s writer Lauren Child, a newsletter addressed to her, a picture activity book and some colourful stationery.
Ignoring her mother’s advice to put the book aside for reading over the weekend, the grade two pupil couldn’t wait and has been reading the story to her four-year-old brother since it arrived.
Rim’s box of goodies was delivered by Kitabox, a new monthly subscription-based children’s books delivery service in Dubai. The company was launched this year by 30-year-old Dubai resident Charlotte Perret and her Abu Dhabi-based partners, Emirati Khaled Alali and Palestinian Ahmed Abdal Hadi, to encourage reading among young children by providing easy access to books. Perret chooses the books, both in English and Arabic, which are tailored for children between the ages of two and 10 every month, and sent out with a few surprise playthings.
“I want to make reading attractive and enjoyable,” says Perret, who quit her marketing job to set up the company last year.
“Reading is often seen as a chore here, something associated with school work,” says Perret. “It isn’t done as much for enjoyment any more.”
Packaging it as a gift each month makes it exciting for the children, she explains, who are then more likely to make a habit of reading regularly.
“Children love surprises and each box is filled with them,” she says. “They don’t know what book they’ll be getting each month and this interests them. Then they see the themes, the letter and the activity book. It’s like a gift every month.”
Perret, who is French, grew up in a household where reading was encouraged from a very early age, and frequently received books as presents. British children’s author Enid Blyton was one of her favourite writers.
“In France we had a similar concept to Kitabox when I was younger,” she says. “My parents had subscribed to a service that would deliver a book every month and it worked to get me hooked on reading.
“I clearly remember this French storybook that was given to me when I was 9. It was called We All Love You Charlotte. It was so close to my heart and I used to read it over and over again.”
Her endeavour also supports the government’s Year of Reading initiative, which encourages families to read with their young children and is being promoted among teenagers by schools.
A study by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in 2013 found that reading to children six or seven days a week helped to put them educationally almost a year ahead of those who weren’t read to and improved numeracy skills.
Kitabox is available for children between the ages of 2 and 10. Subscriptions come in 3-, 6- or 12-month bundles.
Each month, youngsters receive one book hand-picked by Perret from publishers including Penguin, Bloomsbury, Kalimat, Al Salwa Books and Al Aalam Al Arabi.
“The books match the theme for that month,” she says. “The other things that I look at before I select the book is what are its reviews, how current they are, their publishers and whether they are pictorial.”
This month, for example, the books were on the theme of reading. Toddlers received It’s A Little Book by Lane Smith in the English box, while the Arabic box had Emily Mackenzie’s Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, translated by Hamad bin Khalifa University Press. The Ghost Library by David Melling, which has a glow-in-the-dark cover, was sent out to the Adventurer English category subscribers.
For summer reading, Perret will send out one box with three books about family and friendship, a big playbook and amusing knick-knacks so that children will read more during the school holidays.
Rim’s mother, Hiba Zoohbi, who has signed up for an annual subscription for Arabic and English books, says her daughter was thrilled to get the box.
“There’s an old expression that books are our best friends,” says the French national. “This service helps broaden the variety of books she gets to read and all the activities with it make her use her imagination more, too.”
Zoohbi is of Lebanese descent and also wants Rim to be proficient in Arabic.
“It also gives her a target to read more,” she adds. “What we’d like to do at home is encourage each other to read. I want her to influence my son, too.”
Perret says she is working with schools across the country to create a delivery system on campus.
“I want children in even the most remote areas of the UAE to be able to access quality books,” she says.
What’s in your Kitabox
Each box contains an age-appropriate storybook in English or Arabic based on the theme for that month. For the summer months of June, July and August, the theme is Family and Friendship. One of the books children can expect in the Arabic box is Topsy Turvy by Rola Chami Al Hoss, published by Kalimat. As well as the book, youngsters receive a newsletter about the theme, a playbook, some stationery and stickers.
Parents can sign up for three, six or 12-month subscriptions at www.kitabox.ae. They can select from Explorers, for 2 to 4-year-olds, Adventurer for 4 to 6 year olds, Globe-Trotter for 6 to 8 year olds and Sailor for 8 to 10 year olds. Parents can choose an English box, Arabic box or a mix of both languages. A three-month subscription costs Dh195, while it is Dh365 for six months and Dh665 for a year.
Source: art & life