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Suzanne Kalloghlian brings UAE nature to life in 'Izzy Tail'

In her first book Dubai-based Suzanne Kalloghlian takes young readers to the UAE's shady gardens as a gecko and her desert friends search for her missing tail.

By Cheryl Robertson
20 Jul 2012 | 12:00 am
  • Suzanne Kalloghlian

    Local expat Suzanne Kalloghlian writes her first book - it is for children and it’s about a gecko in her garden.

    Source:Grace Paras/ANM

As Suzanne Kalloghlian relaxed on a garden swing in her Dubai villa one evening, a gecko that lived near her porch light was effortlessly hanging upside down from the ceiling - like a mini Spider-man.

It darted about, snacking on small insects lured there by the mesmerising light. Suzanne watched the creature, fascinated by the way its toes stuck to the ceiling, and was amazed that it didn't ever fall off as it gathered its food. She decided to call this gecko Izzy.

One year on and Suzanne has created a children's book based on the little gecko in her garden titled Izzy's Tail. Released this year, the story follows Izzy, as she lives happily on the porch surrounded by all sorts of plants and animals until one day, while taking a nap, she is pounced on by the next door neighbour's cat. She escapes - but without her tail. The rest of the book is all about Izzy and her desert friends' quest to recover the gecko's missing tail.

Jill-of-all-trades

Born Suzanne Hale in the West Midlands, UK, Suzanne was not always going to be writer. She began work as a medical secretary at Walsall Manor Hospital in the UK, before she married George Kalloghlian, an Armenian from Beirut, in 1982, and they have a daughter and two sons.

As a hands-on, stay-at-home mum, Suzanne found time to study sign language, establish a costume jewellery distribution business, gain qualifications in interior design and then became a chiropodist.

"As a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, I never thought about writing in the past, but now I feel I have really found my niche and am happiest when writing," she says.

Suzanne moved here with her family in the summer of 1999 after a job opportunity arose in Dubai for her husband. She has always been drawn to working with children, and immediately got involved with her kids' playgroup committees.

Later on she volunteered at Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs and the Rashid Paediatric Centre in Dubai. She has since started work as a teaching assistant at a local girls' school.

Writing for children began as a "winding-down" exercise, she says - she used to doodle preliminary story ideas, draw characters and add rhyming sentences while in the garden or walking on the beach.

She was inspired to write about the gecko when she noticed the children at her school often found it hard to relate to the content in books.

"Children from the UK, for example, immediately identify with a badger, a mole or a skunk, but these are not animals that are immediately apparent to children from the UAE, especially the little ones," she says.

"So I thought it would be perfect to write a story that was actually set in Dubai, using wildlife that these youngsters could easily identify with. I wanted my story to be fun but also, most importantly, based on fact."

Suzanne asked both children and adults what they knew about geckos, and came to the conclusion that very few knew much about them at all. In fact, she discovered, many of the pupils at her school were terrified of the creatures.

"It gave me a reason to write a gecko-friendly story," she says. "When I heard the girls screaming in the corridors I'd just know they'd spotted a gecko on a wall. Hopefully they will change their views when they read Izzy's Tail and realise that geckos are actually lovable little creatures - despite being small, bumpy-skinned and cold-blooded - and it is fascinating what happens to their tails if attacked."

 Colourful characters come to life

This tail phenomenon is of course unravelled in her book, along with many other snippets of gecko-related trivia. "Did you know that geckos don't have eyelids, instead they have a transparent membrane which they lick to clean? And that night-hunting geckos have extra-large pupils?"

Many other local animals are also showcased in the 28-page book as Izzy asks her friends - including a skink (another member of the lizard family), a Brandt's hedgehog (a species of hedgehog native to the Middle East) and a hoopoe (a colourful bird) - for help in locating her missing tail.

Personal encounters with wildlife during her time in the UAE helped Suzanne bring some of these characters to life.

"I once found a skink in my washing basket. It crawled out on to the ironing board and caused much hysteria among my children, who thought it was a snake rather than a harmless member of the lizard family," she says.

The story's setting in a landscape of multi-coloured bougainvillea bushes, frangipani blossom and desert roses, with balconies and a majlis creates a familiar UAE backdrop. "The book can be a great platform for family and friends back home to understand what goes on in our gardens."

As an added educational element, Suzanne included a few Arabic words into her text for Arabic-speaking children to warm to the story, and for non-Arabic speaking children and their parents to learn as they read.

Suzanne added a final touch of fun into her book with a hidden character.

"When my children were younger they loved books that had a character hidden within the illustrations. So I asked the artist Catherine Sunga from the Philippines, who also lives in Dubai, to hide a hornet called Herbe on all the pages."

Suzanne chose a hornet because she was once pestered by a swarm, which suddenly appeared out of nowhere while picnicking in the desert. "Herbe is Swahili for warrior, so I thought that was a very apt name," she says.

Suzanne hopes that the book will be a fun learning tool for students and teachers. "Children living in the Gulf as well as others around the world will learn something about geckos from this book," she says.

According to one UK-based teacher who was asked to review the book, the "short, effective sentences" of Izzy's Tail are a useful way to introduce pupils to a clear writing style, something that is rewarded in their Statutory Assessment Tests (SATs).

Suzanne has plans to continue with her writing and is working on a story about another local animal, a mischievous boy fiddler crab that she studied while out on the beach one morning. "Now I wonder how many people know about the habits of that crustacean?" she says.

Izzy's Tail is available in bookstores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

By Cheryl Robertson

By Cheryl Robertson