Head to the children's section of any UAE bookstore and chances are you'll find a huge variety of international titles (your Harry Potters, Mr Men… etc.) – but unfortunately there are not many homegrown titles.
This gap in the market was realised by creative duo Tala Ardalan and Tanya Ivin – both of whom grew up as expatriate children – and their book The Adventures of TuTu and TanTan was born.
With the two main characters based on Ardalan and Ivin themselves: TuTu and TanTan are two young girls who magically travel across Dubai to visit its most famous landmarks, such as The Palm Jumeirah and Sheikh Zayed Road.
Along the way, they make wishes with a little help of some magical sprinkle which turns Dubai into candy. Aimed at young children (but could also interest tourists as a souvenir), the publication is a real artistic delight, featuring a combination of real black and white photographs of Dubai, and colourful hand-drawn illustrations to give it a modern yet story book feel. With the first book already launched, Ardalan and Ivin plan to continue their adventure together by launching a series of books based on different cities in the Middle East, with the next one due to be about Abu Dhabi.
"We wanted this book to stand out from all other books by giving it a modern edge, and yet representing the Middle East in an artistic way," Ivin said. "Starting out with Dubai, titled Magical Balloon Ride, we plan on this being one of many books to come."
Emirates Business met the girls to find out more.
Tell us about the book.
Ivin:The Adventures of TuTu and TanTan is about two girls who try to create a more magical world. They wake up in the morning with adventure on their mind and make wishes as they go along. In our first book, we explore Dubai; being the city we both live in and love.
How did the idea come about?
Ivin: We are both very creative-minded people and decided to share our thoughts and imagination with the rest of the world. We tend to use our imagination whenever we are out and about making every day a little more special.
What are your backgrounds? What do you do when you're not writing?
Ardalan: Being half-Iranian and half-American, I was born in the US and raised between the UAE and Switzerland. I have a BFA in Advertising, but am currently working on my law degree and interning at my father's law practice in Dubai.
Ivin: I was born and raised in Oman and am half-British and half-Dutch. I have a BA in Interior Architecture, which I freelance in as well as manage events.
How did you two meet?
Ivin: We have a mutual friend who we met through in Oman around 2006 and been friends since. Working on the book together was a lot of fun and made every decision together. There were no problems with who does what. Each page has a bit of both of us in it whether it's the idea, drawings, photos or words.
Publishing is hard in the Middle East. How did you find a publisher to take the idea of your book forward?
Ardalan: My brother has a friend who owns a publishing company, OMS Publishing, in Dubai, so we ran our idea past him with a few sketches and notes in a quick meeting, and he was very excited about the idea. He immediately took us on and led us in the right direction.
Where did you obtain funding from? Did you consider approaching businesses for investment?
Ivin: This was our own baby – we loved and put everything we had into it. We wanted to prove ourselves before approaching businesses or sponsors to show what we could achieve, what we were aiming for first... and after hard work and a lot of effort we succeeded. We see this book as only the beginning with many more to come.
What about marketing and distribution? Did you have difficulties in those areas?
Ivin: The launch had to be in a great location to initially attract kids and the press. It had to be as magical, adventurous and fun in the same way we saw The Adventures of TuTu and TanTan – so we chose Hamley's in Dubai Mall. They were extremely helpful and kept it exclusively with them for the month of December and we ended up being in the Top 10 selling items that month.
From there, we took it to More Cafe, Sauce, Belle Femme, Saladicious, Jashanmal book shops, Borders and Kunikunya.
It wasn't difficult... just time consuming.
Which children's authors inspire you, and whose success would you love to match?
Ivin: We adore Dr Seuss. It's unlike any other story book. The way his illustrations are drawn by hand makes it so personal and innocent and we hope one day people will have the same perception of The Adventures of TuTu and TanTan as we do for Dr Seuss.
We dream of our book creating success and being in the market long enough to become a classic.
You say you plan on expanding the books – when are your planning to release the next one?
Ivin: Our main aim for the book was to promote the Middle East from a different perspective by exploring each country in a magical way. Having just launched our Dubai book, our next book is aimed for release after summer taking place in Abu Dhabi.
Finally, if The Adventures of Tutu and TanTan were to be made into a movie in the future, which actress would you like to play your characters?
Ivin: That's such a difficult question. Since we are the main characters in our book, we would definitely want to be a part of it, but if we're to choose Hollywood actresses, they would have to be young stars such as Rachel Bilson and Emma Watson.