Beirut, Books & Babies: A Sit Down With Sara Ghannoum

In the wake of the Beirut explosion, children’s author, Sara Ghannoum, sprang into action – doing exactly what she does best.

As the true horror of the Beirut explosion sent waves across the world, children’s author, Sara Ghannoum, knew she wanted to help. Springing into action, the author of the widely acclaimed children’s book series Tom Alien, penned a short story to help Lebanon’s children understand and deal with the aftermath of the blast. The Big Cosmic Boom is available in both English and Arabic and can be downloaded free here.

We sat down with Sara to learn more about the book, the inspiration behind it and her plans for the future.

1. In the wake of the Beirut explosion, you wrote The Big Cosmic Boom, can you share your thought process behind this decision?
As a Lebanese expat, I believe I speak for many Lebanese people when I say I felt very inadequate and powerless in the aftermath of the blast. We all really wanted to help, but, being so far away, there’s only so much one can do. I hoped, as a writer, I could provide some sort of support through a Tom Alien story. I am a firm believer in the power of healing through reading, and I think a book pertaining specifically to the blast could be a useful coping tool.

2. Why do you think it’s so important for children to be given the tools to understand tragedies and trauma?
Adults and children, alike, need tools to understand trauma. Children need them even more as they are less emotionally developed and may not understand their feelings. A character experiencing their same emotions may help them identify and deal more effectively with them. A child may also realize that they’re not alone in their reactions to such a tragedy, which is a comforting thought.

3. You made the book free to download, which is an amazingly philanthropic gesture – are you involved in any other philanthropic initiatives?
I always try to support the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL); my relationship with the center dates back to my 20s when I used to volunteer there. CCCL has always held a special place in my heart. It is an amazing institution where you meet incredibly strong, resilient children; it is full of positive energy and has saved the lives of thousands of young children battling this horrible disease.

4. The Big Cosmic Boom is part of the Tom Alien series – where did the inspiration for the series and characters come from?
Before I had children, I had never been around babies, so you can only imagine the culture shock! I used to feel like they were little aliens that came to Earth and understood absolutely nothing about anything. Everything was overwhelming and made them cry. Just like babies, Tom Alien has to go through the whole process of discovering life on Earth, with its feelings, social interactions, and soon, its natural environment.

5. Why is reading so important for children?
Where do I begin? It broadens their imagination, their vocabulary, their minds, their horizons; it is therapeutic and fun. The characters children read about as kids can stay with them their whole life. They can discover their passion through reading, and of course, as I mentioned earlier, reading is a great tool for healing. The list is endless!

6. What books did you love as a child?
My literary hero (to date) is Roald Dahl. He is the author that got me into reading. I still remember being huddled up in class as an 8-year-old and eagerly listening to the teacher read us George’s Marvelous Medicine. I also absolutely love the rhyming books he wrote – Dirty Beasts and Revolting Rhymes. They were my introduction into the wonderful world of rhyme.

7. What’s next for you – are you currently working on any other Tom Alien books?

In June this year, I published my second book, Tom Alien & Friends, in Lebanon, where it is already being sold. I am still trying to figure out the logistics of bringing it into the UAE – the Lebanese situation has, of course, delayed matters. I am also finalizing the third book in the series, Tom Alien & Plastic, where Tom Alien learns about the atrocities of plastic, hopefully spreading awareness amongst the little children of today for a better and less polluted tomorrow.


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