Children’s story set in Oman selected for Global Children’s Book Club

Merge 104.8  |  23 June 2020

When children’s author Saniya Chughtai brought the characters of Chee (a cheeky chimpanzee) and Dae (an inquisitive dolphin) to life, little did she know where their adventures would take them.

Five books later, and ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae’ series has earned Chughtai accolades as an author whose colourful characters and whimsical prose bring to life tales rooted in the celebration of diversity and global voices through a lens accessible to young readers.

Photo credit: Saniya Chugthai

Now, one tale in the series — ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae in Majlis Jinn’ — has been nominated to represent the letter ‘O’ for ‘Oman’ in the 2020 Global Children’s Book Club, a 26-day virtual event where Chughtai’s book will be featured on July 1 in San Francisco, California.

Bringing together 26 diverse picture books by global authors, the event will showcase works from a variety of different countries. Chughtai, who is from a diverse background herself, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and eventually moved to Ireland where she lived for 20 years before she and her family made the leap to Oman where they called the Sultanate home for a number of years.

During her time in Oman, Chughtai says she was inspired to craft a children’s tale that highlighted the wonders of one mystical place in the Sultanate she fell in love with.

“I met some amazing people and travelled to lovely places in Oman,” she says. “During this time I was inspired to write a story about a place in Oman called Majlis Jinn. This would become my first children’s book as part of the series ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae.’

Since then the book ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae in Majlis Jinn” has been translated into Arabic, and I have written four more books creating a boxset for the series, ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae.”

Describing the lead characters of Chee and Dae, Chughtai brims with enthusiasm:

“Chee is a mischievous cheeky little chimp and loves to play football,” she explains. “Little did he know that some rain and a slippery mud slide would take him to a new friend and exciting adventures. That’s when he meets Dae, the lovely dolphin with whom he travels across the ocean and visits many exotic lands!”

Photo credit: Saniya Chugthai

Merge 104.8 spoke further with Saniya Chughtai ahead of the book’s upcoming showcase in San Francisco to learn about the lasting impact of the Sultanate that was the catalyst for the series.

Merge 104.8: Tell us more about how ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae in Majlis Jinn’ came to be represent the Sultanate at the Global Children’s Book Club in San Francisco?

SC: [Event organizer] Preethi B. Harbuck would normally travel with her friends as a cultural education for her kids. But in response to COVID-19, she decided to do a virtual global alphabet countdown, starting from June 8, where she will  spend 26 days (one for each letter of the alphabet) learning about a different country each day, and will discuss a picture book to go along with each.

In Preeethi’s research for the letter ‘O’, for ‘Oman’, she selected ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae in Majlis Jinn’ to represent the country. She then contacted me to see if I would like to be part of the Global Children’s Book Club and represent Oman. I was overjoyed, humbled, and proud to represent Oman; I said yes!

I don’t know the other authors, but they’re all up on the website. It is a great venture, where she talks about not only the stories, but also about the culture and food of the country. I am very familiar with Oman having first lived there in 1996. 

In the Book Club, besides facts and local cuisine, also covered are local kids movies.

I have high hopes to make ‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae in Majlis Jinn’ a big success for Oman as an animated TV series or movie, just the way [Disney’s] ‘Brave’ is for Scotland!

Merge 104.8: As an author coming from a diverse background and world experience yourself how important is it for children to cultivate a respect and appreciation for global stories and diverse voices from a young age?

SC: The one most significant thing I’ve learned through my diverse background is how similar everyone one else is at the basic human level. We all have the same emotions. Cultivating this in our young ones at an early age is, perhaps, the greatest gift you can give them. Expose your kids to all kinds of global stories so that they can have powerful and meaningful experiences.

An exposure to global diverse books can give your child a hunger for knowledge — besides developing the child’s language skills, exercising their brains, and enhancing their concentration. Gift your child a love of reading! In today’s ever-shrinking world, it’s easy to have access to all kinds of diverse books through different platforms such as e-books, along with conventional printed books through Amazon.

Merge 104.8: What message do you want young readers to take away from the book and what impressions of Oman do you hope they hold close through a lens of magic and adventure the book holds?

SC: The one big thing in the story is the importance of friendship and tolerance.

Through the adventure you will learn a lot of  Arabic words — and see how wonderful the spirit of Oman is through crazy characters such as Dhiz the Liz, who has no inhibitions about being his adorable self! In the book, you’ll discover fascinating species of turtles found in Oman through engaging turtle characters such as Sherf and Sul Haffah, who offer a great chance to discover more species about the lovely country of Oman.

I would encourage parents and educators to use the book for social and emotional learning.

Merge 104.8: What’s next for the ‘Chee and Dae’ series? Where will their next adventure take them off too? Are there plans for a 6th book?

SC: Yes! There is another box set of Chee and Dae in the making. This time, they’re traveling to different places in Pakistan. Their first adventure starts in Lahore, where they meet a pangolin who’s in great danger!

Here is a sneak preview of the book:

Phew, it’s hot! Chee and Dae need to cool down, and if anyone can help them, it’s their good friend Abe, the Arctic bumblebee!

Abe takes our adventurers to the bustling city of Lahore, to cool off in the waters of the famous Shahi Hammam. But there’s no time to relax, as trouble is afoot! All the water in the city is going missing, and the citizens are getting thirsty! Can Chee and Dae find the water? They’ll need help on this adventure, and their new friend Pango the pangolin is up to the task! 

Photo credit: Saniya Chugthai

Merge 104.8: What aspects of your time spent in Oman inspired you to use the Sultanate as a backdrop for the book?

SC: The biggest and the most fun inspiration came from my dear friend Juma, from Abu Abali, who gave me the phrase, ‘Double Shukran’. It has become a powerful phrase and for a few years I was known as ‘The Double Shukran’ author.

My trips to Ras al Hadd and seeing the amazing turtles there had a huge influence on one of the main characters in the book called Sul Haffah. He has become the only shape-shifting turtle in the world, where his face stays the same in each adventure but he turns into different kinds of turtle species. An inspiration taken directly from the vast, awesome turtle species of Oman!

I was invited to participate in the GUtech film festival in Oman and I entered with a short documentary titled, ‘The Story of the Storyteller.’ In my quest to find a great story about the storytellers or ‘Hakawati’ as they’re known locally, I discovered a treasure trove of storytelling. All was captured in the short documentary — the way the stories traveled from the desert to the sandy beach and ended up on farms! Being a storyteller myself, this powerful memory of Oman resonated with me the most and I will forever cherish the three generations of Omani ‘Hakawati’ we captured on film!

I’d like to mention another dear friend who is like a brother to me — Suleiman al Rawahi, who has shown me the true heart of an Omani, a selfless person always going above and beyond to help everyone and be there for them.

I hope in some small way I have captured Oman through the story and given a spark for future young ‘Hakawatis’ to write more children’s stories about their beloved land of Oman. For all others, when you get a chance to visit Oman, go all the way right from Muscat down to Salalah. You will be left with a wonderful string of lifetime memories and friends!

‘The Adventures of Chee and Dae’ series by Saniya Chughtai is available on Amazon, Kindle,, Abebooks and, also, through Chugthai’s website The Wadi Tribe.

(Also read: Oman: ROHM launches cultural performances online.)