The Maadi bookstore was packed. Amidst the crowd and media buzz, Janna Gohar stood in her floral dress signing copies of her first publication for her school mates. Sharktanic, the first published story of 10-year-old Gohar, marks her debut as Egypt's youngest writer.
"I am really excited and a little scared," said Gohar. "It's my first time for everything."
Sharktanic, a children's book that can also be enjoyed by adults, is another version of Titanic, but with sharks as passengers instead of humans. The colourful book was edited by Gohar's teacher and illustrated and designed by her elder sisters. It is Gohar's first publication, but certainly not her first attempt at writing.
"I remember very well when she was in the first grade and her teacher called me around Christmas time and said that Janna had written a book about Christmas," Janna's mother, Nevine El-Guindi, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "I was so proud of her and I immediately took the initiative to encourage her to write after noticing that her school marks on reading and writing were very high." Janna's mother promised her that she would publish any completed work for her as soon as she is finished writing it, which got Janna really motivated. "I wanted her sisters to join in. I thought Nadia would do the illustrations and Laila can write the dedication and they all did it," El-Guindi said joyfully.
Why the Titanic theme? "Because I liked the movie," Gohar said, explaining why she kept the same tragic ending. "I knew lots of people would comment that sharks can swim, but you see, the water was too cold for them."
Her attention to detail made her description vivid and colourful. "I want people who read my book to see the pictures in their minds," she said.
On a parallel note, Sharktanic is not short on moral lessons. Chapter three features small sharks playing with a football, which kept running till it disturbed the fancy ball. Here the author commented that in case the reader is confused, the sharks were just being themselves, for they are supposed to destroy and crush things.
"I meant that you cannot judge one by what you think is correct, because maybe that person thinks something else is correct," Gohar explained.
Gohar's family members are her biggest supporters. "My mom inspires me because she gives me lots of confidence and she helps me a lot. My role model is my older sister, Nadia, because she helps me."
Inspired by a television programme that posited that when one believes their offspring should have a particular future occupation it comes true, El-Guindi was set. "They were giving examples of Nobel prize winner Ahmed Zuweil's mother who used to hang the sign 'doctor' on his bedroom door ever since he was a school boy. I thought why couldn't it happen to my daughter?"
As for Janna's father, support came in the form of freedom. "I didn't want to interfere," explained Mohamed Gohar, who works in the field of media production. "I believe that kids should be left alone to make decisions in their lives so I always tried to keep a distance; to let her be who she wants to be. It's the best way. She goes to a very good school and they build her manners and character very well."
Gohar doesn't have a favourite book because she loves all books. The latest book she read was The Top 10 Ways to Ruin the First Day of School, a story about school cranks that she liked because she enjoys comedy.
Gohar is currently working on two stories: World War Three (Cats and Dogs), featuring the US Iraq war; and the Book of Virtues.
"My second story is called the Book of Virtues and it has mini- stories all put together, each with a few morals," Gohar said. "One of the short stories in the book of virtues is about a girl with no kindness, which made the kindness genes in her body upset because they had no control over her. Finally, they decided that there is no room for them in her body and so decided to kill themselves, all except one, who believed there is still hope."
For Gohar, the best thing about writing is getting published and having the world read your thoughts and ideas. "But the worst thing about writing is the editing, because you have to read your story several times to make sure that everything is correct," she said.
"YOU ARE one of the reasons I enjoy teaching," said Janna's teacher at the back of the story. Sharktanic is a four-chapter story written in English by Janna Gohar, an Egyptian fourth grader. The illustrated book is about a grand ship, quite similar to the infamous Titanic, whose passengers are sharks. The ship sails into the ocean, yet faces the same tragic fate of the Titanic. Throughout the story, Gohar draws a detailed mental image of the ship, down to the refreshing scent of neatly folded bed sheets. The story begins with a description of the ship and its passengers, as well as life inside the ship. Then comes the grand ball during which everybody is having a blast and, finally, the tragic end when the ship hits an iceberg amidst the Arctic Ocean. Gohar's detailed description showcases her writing talent and rich imagination. The language is simple, yet strong on style. Leaving no room for redundancy, she smoothly sails from one chapter to the other down to the last page. Though only her first publication, Sharktanic foreshadows a great literary career for Egypt's youngest writer.
Since its launch, Sharktanic has sold 97 copies at Kotob Khan alone. At the Diwan bookstores, where they are bestsellers, copies can also be purchased.
More information about the book and the author can be found at www.sharktanic.com .