Interview with Julia Johnson

What made you write and publish children’s books featuring native UAE flora and fauna?

A desire to share my discoveries about the region, I arrived in the UAE in 1975 and have seen huge changes.  I wanted to tell a story to children about the ancient tradition of pearl diving.  When I couldn’t find one I decided to write my own.  I enjoyed the process, and my publisher suggested I write more.  There was a gap in the market which I tried to fill, and I am delighted that teachers in UAE schools have found my stories helpful in exploring local culture and heritage.


What message do you try to convey to the young readers and their parents through your book?

I would like readers to empathise with my characters and understand what life was like before computers and cell phones !  Wisdom was passed on from one generation to the next and I think people were more in touch with the environment – food and water was precious, it wasn’t taken for granted.  Working animals, such as camels, Saluki hounds and donkeys often feature in my stories, and being kind to animals and showing them respect is a message I try to convey.


What are the positive and negatives ways you have seen nature in the UAE transform?   What do you think of the strategies and initiatives the UAE has adopted to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and what impact do you think they will have on the native flora and fauna?

I think there is a growing awareness of our need to take care of the environment, but wildlife has suffered as a result of huge construction projects which have destroyed natural habitats.  Parks and trees and wetlands help to reduce the country’s carbon footprint, but more needs to be done to clean up the once pristine desert and wadis.  Single use plastic is still a huge issue, and camels in the desert and turtles in the ocean are suffering because they ingest plastic bags and consequently die of starvation.  I applaud the proposed initiative that restaurants should serve tap water, thereby doing away with plastic bottles, but there also needs to be a government initiative to encourage supermarkets to do away with plastic bags and offer “bags for life” instead.


What are some of the habits and activities you practice in your daily life to try and reduce your carbon footprint?

I carry water in a reusable chilly bottle.  I pack my shopping in reusable hessian bags at the supermarket.  I refuse bags in shops and put items in a cloth bag.  I try to buy organic products, and I always buy free range chicken and eggs.  I recycle wherever possible.  If I see rubbish when I’m walking on the beach I pick it up and put it in the bin.  I discuss ways we can help the environment with students when I visit schools.  I hang birdfeeders in my garden and the birds love washing their feathers in my birdbath.

Julia will appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Julia Johnson: Stories of Lizard and Toad

Sat 08 February, 11:30 – 12:15

Come along and meet Lizard and Toad and hear about their adventures – they both live in a wadi in the mountains of Arabia; Toad loves to swim in his pool while Lizard prefers to sunbathe, but they both like to eat juicy bugs! Join in and find out all about wadis and the creatures that live there.

Age Group: 4+

For 8-11 year olds, Julia will also be holding the Let’s Do Drama workshop on Thursday 06 February, 16:30 – 18:00.

Is tomorrow beyond your imagination? Who knows what it might bring? Perhaps something totally unexpected and surprising will happen, perhaps you’ll make a discovery which could change the world. Tomorrow could be the most important day of your life, so come and join in the drama and be part of tomorrow’s adventure. . .

The tutor: Julia Johnson worked in Theatre-in-Education for many years, devising and acting in shows which toured primary schools in the UK and the UAE. She also ran drama workshops for young people.

Julia Johnson: Stories of Lizard and Toad