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World Book Day 2023: What do UAE Principals read for pleasure? A sneak peek into the bookshelves of top educators…

We know that role-modelling reading for pleasure is one of the most important ways that adults can inspire children to read more – but, as busy parents, it can be hard to find the time… So what do leading school role models read themselves? This World Book Day 2023 we got a sneak peek onto the bookshelves of the UAE’s top educators at Bloom World Academy, The English College, South View School Dubai, GEMS International Al Khail, Kings InterHigh, Victory Heights Primary School, JINS and GEMS New Millennium School – Al Khail, discovering the inspiring (and sometimes surprising) tomes they read for pleasure, and what books they see as vital must-reads for every child…

John Bell
Bloom World Academy

What are you reading right now?

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – the story of a boy growing up in rough, tough circumstances in Scotland – a real battle for success and happiness by a boy who is different and resilient.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

When I was young child I was a voracious reader of all books by Enid Blyton – but probably my most loved book was the George Best annual (famous footballer). More seriously, in my early teens my favourite was Animal Farm by George Orwell.  It captured my imagination about equity, fairness, kindness and being brave – it was a little bit scary and a little bit grown-up. The messages in the book have lasted a lifetime for me.

Which book would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why?

Animal Farm – as above – for all the reasons it struck a chord with me.

See our review of Bloom World Academy here.

The English College
Carmella Jodrell,
appointed Head of Primary (starting in August 2023)

What are you reading right now?

At the moment, I’m reading A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe. I’m part of a Dubai Book Club and this is our first novel – it’s also the first novel written by the author and an absolutely stunning debut for her. It’s centered around a terrible disaster, which the main character then volunteers to help at, and the impact it has on him and his life thereafter. It’s really beautifully written, and as soon as I pick up the book, I’m transported into another world. So I would wholeheartedly recommend this novel, yes. I’ll be buying this as a gift to my friends and family over the course of the next few months…they’ll all be getting a copy for their birthdays!


I’m never too far from a recipe book either – just for the joy of seeing some delicious recipes and being reminded of lovely meals I’ve shared with friends and family (I’m actually quite an awful cook these days!).

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

When I was a child, I loved the adventure stories by Enid Blyton. I imagined myself as part of the Famous Five or one of the gang at Malory Towers. Until I discovered her as an author, reading wasn’t on my radar as a source of enjoyment and escapism. I’d like to think that there’s one author who will ignite an interest in reading for all of us and once you’ve found one author (and read everything they’ve ever written), you can speak to the librarian and find other, similar authors, or completely new ones. Once you’ve got the bug, you’re off!

Which book would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why?

When I was in secondary school, I read To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, as part of my GCSE coursework. Although I’d been born and bred in the south of England, which is quite culturally diverse, I’d not experienced this type of prejudice and injustice before. We can’t really imagine what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, not easily, but reading is probably as close as most of us will get to understanding how others may live or be forced to live. This book was a huge turning point for me. I fell in love with the characters of Jem and Scout and wished to meet Atticus Finch more than anything – what a role model to us all. The character of Boo Radley was so mysterious and also slightly scary, wonderful characterisation. I couldn’t wait to finish the book, but we were told to only read upto a certain page and not beyond, so it was a torturous wait for the ending. I think this book is as valid now as it was then and would hope that all children do read this before they leave school, to make them more tolerant and understanding of others. Everyone deserves a fair chance, which I hope Atticus Finch can remind us all about.

Oh, and if we’re talking about the younger children, they can’t possibly leave school without reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Dear Zoo – so much fun to be had there.

See our review of The English College here.

David Flint
South View School Dubai

What book are you reading at the moment?  

The Will to Climb by Ed Viesturs. As a keen hiker and amateur mountaineer and having climbed beyond the Annapurna base camp myself, I have thoroughly enjoyed the book so far.  An accomplished and respected professional climber and someone who has summited all of the world’s 8000+ metre peaks, Viesturs epitomises the motivated, determined, goal orientated leader facing what I believe to be one of the world’s great challenges; high altitude climbing. The book tells of his climb up Annapurna, a highly technical mountain and manages to link his experience of Annapurna and mountaineering with self-reflection and personal development. For me one of the best parts of the book is where Jean Claude Lafaille and his partner Pierre Beghin suffered an equipment failure resulting in the death of Beghin.  Lafaille was faced with a 2,500 metre descent down a highly technical part of the mountain with no equipment as it had been lost in the accident. It took him five days with a broken arm and internal bleeding before reaching safety. The drive, the obsessive determination to overcome and, ultimately his success had my hair standing on end. Viesturs is a great writer and an amazing human being and is one person who I would very much like to meet and, certainly, climb with. Totally recommend!

What was your favourite book as a child and why? 

There were a few! To single one out, Enid Blyton’s The Rockingdown Mystery was a book I loved.  The mystery, danger and intrigue surrounding an abandoned, mysterious old house, circus characters steeped in mystery, intrigue and a little danger had me captivated as I escaped into this book time and time again!

Which book would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why?

One is a book called Imagine by Alison Lester; it is a book where two children imagine that they are in different environments around the world, seeing the animals, birds and plants that exist there but end up recognising the security of their own environment, their home!  For slightly older readers, Robert O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and The Rats of NIMH. A tale of a field mouse and her children who, threatened by a farmer’s plough, seek a new home and discover a civilisation of escaped lab rats who have developed an organised, underground society.  I love this book as it is an intriguing story that stimulates the imagination and leaves one reading an enjoyable story and then thinking, “what if?”

See our review of South View School here.

Tahoora Khalil Urehman
Head of Middle East
Kings InterHigh 

What book are you reading at the moment?

I love to read, either using a device or listen through Audible but I tend to go in waves where I will be dedicated for a period of time and then I put it on the back burner.  What I do find with reading is that its such a healthy activity for me in lots of ways and this is what we encourage in our students.  We started the year with a Form Group activity on the importance and love of reading and support this through our various platforms where students have a library of books they can indulge in. At the moment I am reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It’s about life choices and gratefulness.  It’s a lovely life lesson read.  I am also making my way through the Reese Witherspoon booklist and enjoying all the recommendations.  My friend and I often discus what we are reading and recommend our next read.

What was your favourite book as a child and why? 

If I cast my mind back, I loved fairy tales! Who doesn’t? I think it was great escapism.

Which book would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why? 

George Orwell’s Animal Farm in Year 9, they learn a lot about the importance of freedom from tyranny and respect for life. Shakespeare plays are great fun. Wonder in Year 7 also develops a lot of empathy!

See our review of Kings InterHigh here. 

Simon Herbert
Head of School/CEO
GEMS International School – Al Khail

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Yes, I would recommend it as an interesting and somewhat sad tale about ‘Artificial Friends’ (robots, really) of the future. The author is award winning and well worth a read. I like to read books that are non-work related.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

I enjoyed The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

Which book would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Sea by John Banville; Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be by Frank Bruni; Lord of the Flies by William Golding; Animal Farm by George Orwell; Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan. Many more…

See our review of GEMS International School – Al Khail here.

Carol Oliveira
Head of Curriculum

What book are you reading at the moment? 

I love books which are based on true life stories! It’s fascinating to learn about other cultures, people and places through the pages of a book, as well as to read about feelings and emotions we can relate to no matter how different from us those characters might seem to be at first sight. I have just started reading Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. In this book, the author talks about her journey through illness and recovery after she was diagnosed with cancer. Although I have just started, I am already hooked! I would certainly recommend this book to other adults who like the same genre.

What was your favourite book as a child and why? 

As a child, I was a BIG Roald Dahl fan. Actually, I still am! I used to love the fact that his books could be funny, scary, and silly – all at the same time! “Matilda” was my favourite book and favourite character: Despite her young age and all the hardships she faced, she remained true to herself and stood up for herself and for others.

Which book would like to make sure every child has read before leaving your nurseries and why? 

Helping young children to develop a love for reading in the early years is, in my opinion, more important than reading a specific book. This can only be achieved by ensuring that our little learners are exposed to a variety of storybooks on a daily basis at the nursery, as well as at home. “Touch and Feel” and “Lift the Flap” books for babies, and stories from authors like Eric Carle, Julia Donaldson and Oliver Jeffers are a good places to start. In addition to teaching children about the world around them, the rhymes and repetition found in many of the stories written by these authors are great for supporting language development and early literacy skills. Another book which I would highly recommend is The Colour Monster – this is a great one to teach young children about emotions!

See our review of JINS Nurseries here. 

Ben Rothwell
Deputy Head
Victory Heights Primary School

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman. I loved the first two books in the series, all about a group of pensioners called ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ who live in a sleepy retirement village on the South Coast of England. Being based in Kent/Sussex makes it all the more relatable to me, and it makes a change for the heroes of the story to be people who are far more relatable! So far so good with the third installment – it’s a great read – and I haven’t figured out “Who did it” yet!

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

I used to adore Enid Blyton books, from The Famous Five to The Secret Seven. However, the book that I remember the most is “The Machine Gunners” by Robert Westall. It was such an adventure, and I could imagine myself being in Chas McGills shoes myself (albeit with a distinct lack of shot down German aircraft) – but the forts and the camaraderie – it’s what every young boy lives for isn’t it?!

Which book would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why?

A series of books that I absolutely love at the moment are The Little People Big Dreams series of books by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara. They cover such a diverse range of people that all children can relate to at least one of the books, but above all they go to show that anyone can achieve anything they want in life, as long as their dreams are matched by their attitude!

See our review of Victory Heights Primary School here.

Samina Kanyari
General Manager

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The book explores the idea that certain experiences have a lasting impact on us and can shape our lives in a profound way. The authors suggest that creating “peak moments” or memorable experiences is a powerful way to influence people’s perceptions and behaviours. They identify four elements that contribute to creating these moments: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. They use a wide mix of case studies, storytelling, and research to illustrate their points and provide actionable steps to apply the principles at both an organisational and individual level. The book is filled with examples of how different organisations have applied these principles to create powerful experiences for their customers, employees, and stakeholders.
It is a thought-provoking book that challenges one to think differently about how to approach experiences in a person’s personal and professional life. The Heath brothers offer practical tips and insights that anyone can use to create meaningful moments that have a lasting impact.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

Growing up, books were my prized possessions. I clearly remember growing up with classical ‘The Ladybird’ book series. As an adult, I have fond memories of reading these books as a child and that I had to have all the books in the series. I loved these books for their distinctive small format, simple language, colourful illustrations and most of all for the incredible classical tales and stories. The smooth shiny top cover with the red and black ladybird on the spine of the book all stacked together made me very excited. Making these stories available to my own two children as they were growing up was the most beautiful experience and very nostalgic at the same time. ‘Ladybird’ has ever since continued to publish new titles, including books on contemporary topics such as climate change and mental health.

This popular children’s book series was first published in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century. Originally, the books were primarily non-fiction titles, covering topics such as history, science, and nature. However, the series expanded to include fictional titles and my all-time favourites such as The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Man and many more classical tales. A must-read and collection for all children’s book lovers.

Which books  would you like to make sure every child has read before leaving JINS nurseries and why?

Reading is essential for children especially between 0 and 5 years of age, as it not only helps with language, cognitive and emotional development, but helps with bonding and social interaction, along with creating the love of learning and reading.
There are many wonderful books available for children and it is essential to offer a diverse range of books and authors to help children explore and discover their own interests and passions. Children may like books for several reasons, the way they feel, or the colour, the illustrations, the story and for the special moments the books are introduced, the list can go on and on. Some of the all-time favourites that all children should read before leaving the nursery are:

Eric Carle books: Eric Carle’s books are known for their beautiful illustrations and simple, repetitive text, making them perfect for young children.

Julia Donaldson’s books are the best rhyming stories for children. The most popular are the Gruffalo, Room On The Broom, Monkey Puzzle, Snail and the Whale, Superworm, The Squash and a Squeeze.

Margaret Wise Brown books: Margaret Wise Brown’s books, such as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, are beloved classics that have been read to generations of children.

Maurice Sendak books: Maurice Sendak’s books, such as Where the Wild Things Are, are imaginative and help children explore their emotions.

Mem Fox books: Mem Fox’s books, such as Possum Magic and Time for Bed, are gentle and nurturing, promoting a love of reading and learning.

Judith Kerr books: Judith Kerr books such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog the Forgetful Cat have very captivating illustrations to support children’s imagination and creativity.

Leo Lionni books: Leo Lionni’s books, such as Swimmy and Frederick are beautifully illustrated and promote creativity and imagination.

Mo Willems books: Mo Willems’ books, such as the Elephant and Piggie series and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, are humorous and engaging, making them popular with young children.

See our review of JINS Nursery, The Palm, here.

Fatima Martin
GEMS New Millennium School – Al Khail

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf. I began reading this book with child-like curiosity. The book chronicles the evolution of the brain, from the days when tiny clay tablets were used by Sumerians as a resource, to the very different brain we have today, immersed in technology-driven literacy. As an educator I am keen to be at the helm of this revolutionary change in our ecosystem, when visual images on the screen are paving the way for a reduced need for written language – with potentially profound consequences for our future. I would highly recommend this book for Early Years practitioners. Wolf, a child development expert herself, has ambitiously addressed the remarkable journey of the reading brain.

What was your favourite book as a child and why?

I remember eagerly waiting for the summer holidays to delve into the world of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. The series follows the five cousins, Julian, Dick, George, Anna and their dog Timmy, through their summertime adventures. As I read, I imagined myself as the sixth adventurer on their team, enjoying every bit of the description of the Welsh countryside from my home in Bangalore, India.

Which book/s would you like to make sure every child has read by the time they leave your school and why?

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach, My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi, Seven Habits of Effective People by Steven R Covey, Armageddon by Leon Uris and 1984 by George Orwell. Together, these books are replete with every fantastic thought one could possibly write about. They are books that I read in my teens and early 20s, and they have had an influence ever since. The characters, settings, challenges and the impeccable portrayal of it all has led me to rethink, reflect and redefine who I am today.

See our review of GEMS New Millennium School here.

© A WhichMedia Group publication. 2023. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and's The School's Report - the global weekly round up of what matters in education for parents which is published every Friday, reviewing schools across the UAE - and features on issues that really matter. You can often find Tabitha on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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