Monday, March 2, 2020

Q&A with Nazila Fathi

Nazila Fathi is the author of two new children's picture books, My Name Is Cyrus, about Cyrus the Great, and Avicenna: The Father of Modern Medicine. She also has written the book The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran. She worked as a journalist in Iran for two decades, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Q: Why did you decide to write these books for kids about Cyrus the Great and Avicenna?

A: I wrote these books for very personal reasons. My son was 5 and my daughter was 3 ½  when we left Iran. They didn’t know much about Iran except for what they heard from us or on the news media—which was often negative. There was a period that my son did not want to be affiliated to Iran and changed his name!

So, I began telling them these stories when they were 7 and 8 so they would learn their country has over 2,000 years of civilization.

Q: What kind of research did you do to write the books, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: For My Name is Cyrus, I went back to the earliest accounts about him. I read the translation of The Histories, by Herodotus, and also Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great by Larry Hedrick.

Both Xenophon and Herodotus were Greek, which means the books were written by Persia’s enemies, but interestingly, both authors depict Cyrus in a positive light as a leader.

For Avicenna, the Father of Modern Medicine, there were many stories written by Avicenna and his students.

Q: What was it like for you to turn to children's book writing after writing for adults?

A: The voice came much more naturally. Both my kids, who are 14 and 15 now, were my best coaches. They loved stories and wouldn’t go to sleep until they listened to two or three stories. During road trips, I entertained them with stories.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the books?

A: First, I hope they like the stories and enjoy them. But I also hope they inspire them because they need to dream big and learn to work hard from a young age.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on another story about Cyrus. To Iranians, Cyrus is what Moses is to the Jews. He is truly their liberator and a source of pride.  I have another story about him that I feel I need to tell.  

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I do want to urge parents to read more global stories for their children. There is so much in these stories that we can learn as adults too. My kids enjoyed them and I believe they shaped their perspective of people in other parts of the world. Stories are fun ways to teach kids about different cultures and their values.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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