Thursday, March 3, 2022

Q&A with Lina AlHathloul and Uma Mishra-Newbery


Lina AlHathloul



Lina AlHathloul and Uma Mishra-Newbery are the authors of the new picture book Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers. It is inspired by the life of Loujain AlHathloul, Lina's sister, who is a women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia. Lina is a lawyer by training who lives in Brussels, Belgium. Uma is a social justice and women's rights activist who lives in Geneva, Switzerland.


Q: Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers was inspired by Lina's sister Loujain. At what point did you decide to write this picture book?


Uma: We decided to write the picture book towards the end of 2019; we first met in September of 2019 when I invited Lina to come and deliver the family's first statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council. 


After this session, I had Lina to my home in Geneva during the United Nations Human Rights Council visit and Lina met my young daughter who started asking questions about Loujain’s case.


Uma Mishra-Newbery

I wondered how to talk with her about the reasons why Loujain was (unjustly) in prison and, and while reading my daughter the Little People, Big Dreams and Rebel Girls books, the idea of a book as a way to address her questions seemed a natural fit. I brought the idea to Lina and together we worked on bringing the story of Loujain to life.


Q: What do you think Rebecca Green's illustrations add to the story?


A: Rebecca's illustrations brought our words to life in an incredible and magical way. We wanted the story to feel as magical as possible, especially given the reality that this story is based in. 


Rebecca took what we wrote and added texture and more meaning to our words. She truly made the story even more magical than we could ever imagine it. 


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “By positioning Loujain in a fantastical world...this authorial debut successfully makes a real-life issue accessible for the youngest audiences.” What do you think of that description?


A: We believe that this review is an accurate reflection of our intention for the book. We wanted to take the real-life story of Loujain and share it in a way where all children of the world could hope, dream and know that their dreams and voices are important and valid. 


Q: How is your sister Loujain doing now, and what impact has she had on Saudi society? 


A: Loujain is released from prison, under strict conditions. She can’t leave the country for a period of minimum five years, can’t continue her activism, and she is on probation which means she could get rearrested anytime. 


Despite all these constraints, Loujain remains the strong, resilient person she has always been. She has led different fights since her release including holding accountable those responsible for spying on her phone. She is of course taking some risks, but she believes that freedom and justice are worth it. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: We are continuing to fight for full justice for Loujain and for all imprisoned activists who continue to languish in prison. We are also working to ensure this book serves as yet another advocacy opportunity to highlight continued injustices in Saudi Arabia and around the world. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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