When I was introduced to the work of Dana Salim, I was so excited. I relish finding out about new ‘diverse books’. I’m fascinated by books show not just different races and cultures but belief systems. I want books beyond boys boy’s book and girls girl’s books. I was interested to find out about Dana, as well as her new book Beautifully Different. Beautifully Different tackles the big question; would we be better off if we were all alike?
Beautifully Different poses one of those questions a parent might dread. You know the type of question that makes you feel like you don’t know enough. However, it cleverly puts the ‘control’ into the hands and imagination of the little enquiring mind. Little Yousuf, asks his dad ‘why can’t we all be the same?’ Instead of giving him the answer, his dad responds ‘We can play the Imagination Time Travel Game and hopefully you will find your answer there.’ I read the book to Angelo and Valentina. Angelo grasped the idea of time travel. They both enjoyed the adventure that Yousuf went on. Then, we discussed Yousuf’s question. Both children felt that if everyone was the same we would get confused, who’s who. Their view was an over simplification but it illustrated how they saw difference as being aligned with identity. As for me, I wasn’t sure if Yousuf’s adventure explored the question sufficiently. I felt he could have two additional short scenarios help thrash out the question. Overall, Beautifully Different is a sweet book that will allow children think about their world and foster an appreciation of differences in everyone.
Below is The Tiger Tales’ interview with Dana Salim.
TTT: Tell us about yourself, and the point at what did you know you had to publish your stories.
DS: My name is Dana Salim and I’m the lucky mother of an *almost* 3-year-old boy, Yousuf, and the wife of an amazingly supportive husband. I graduated university with a bachelors in Industrial Engineering, but ended up going after my dream of becoming an author. I’ve had this dream since I was a kid in elementary school and I always wrote poetry and stories on the side as a hobby. But I never actually went after it till I was pregnant with my son. I became motivated with the idea of writing a children’s book with a character named after him so we can read it together during bedtime. Little did I know, there was so much more to publishing a book than writing it. But as hard as this path of becoming an author has been, it’s also been rewarding and I’m thankful for that.
TTT: What has been the biggest challenge to date for your publishing company? And how did you overcome it?
DS: I published my first book in September 2015, one year before establishing our company, DS Publishing. During my publishing journey, before and after the company, the biggest challenge was and continues to be marketing. Your day-to-day life changes from a person caring for family or working with others around you to someone trying to get their name and book out there. I think what helped the most in overcoming it was two things: persistence and having supportive people around (especially my husband) when I faced self-doubt or discouragement. It’s not easy when you are doing your best without immediate results or benefit. But after persisting and finding new ways to market, it finally started producing results.
TTT: Did your own travelling and expat life influence your writing? And how?
DS: I think living in different countries with different languages and cultures has definitely helped as it shaped me into the person I am today. For one thing, my dream started during my childhood in Canada and it was there that I started developing my language and writing skills. As for Jordan, during my years there I continued my writing while finishing university and met my husband (my biggest supporter). Regarding the US, it was the place where I had the chance to take my writing to the next level largely due to available resources and supportive friends who helped me overcome a few obstacles along the way. In addition, the different trips and vacations with my family increased my love for the differences we have as humans and the beauty I observed when mixed together. All that definitely affected the way I write and the goals I wanted to accomplish.
TTT: How was the character Yousuf been received by your readers?
DS: I feel they love him and the adventures they go on with him. Also, when they know he’s named after my son, it leads to them connecting with him even more.
TTT: Why did you chose time travel as the medium to explore diversity?
DS: The series is based on the idea of using “Imagination Time Travel” to go on adventures and learn different things. I wanted to use something that will help kids let their imagination soar while not being restricted to the time they are in right now. I also put it there for parents and teachers to use and connect the present with the past. As my husband always says, history is always repeated in some way. If we can just look back on it and learn from it, it would lead to many priceless lessons. In this particular book, Beautifully Different, imagination time travel helps kids see how diversity has always been there. It can especially help teachers show students the results if we use diversity and accept it instead of trying to eliminate it.
TTT: What has been the most rewarding experience to date during your storytime events at schools?
DS: I wanted to say first that I love hosting storytime events. Every experience I’ve had has been rewarding in some way. Just getting to meet so many kids and see how precious this coming generation is has been super special. If I were to choose the most rewarding experience, it would be when I was book signing at one of the schools (I usually write a special note for each child with the message of going after their dreams). I heard the kids compare their messages with admiration and passion. One even approached me to thank me for the message, saying it inspired him.
I also give youth talks to share my journey of publishing and talk to the youth about their dreams, comfort zones and believing in themselves. At one school, the kids were so enthusiastic with such a wonderful variety of dreams and they approached me after the talk to tell me they’ve been inspired to go after their dreams and feel like they really can do anything. Frankly, that is the best gift you can give me.