Laila Rifaat on Aliya to the Infinite City and fantasy books for kids

Aliya to the Infinite City by Laila Rifaat. Book cover and author photo.

Our Cockatoo subscribers are heading off on a magical international adventure this month with the wonderful Aliya to the Infinite City by Laila Rifaat. With a brave and relatable heroine, a stunning Egyptian setting, history, mystery and adventure, this book has it all! It's the first in a trilogy and we can't wait to see where the story goes next. And we're thrilled that Laila was able to answer our questions and tell us more about what inspired the book and her favourite fantasy books for kids.

What inspired you to write Aliya to the Infinite City? 

This trilogy began with a desire to teach my children something about their country's history. I took a lot of inspiration from Cairo, the city I live in - from both its present chaotic charm and its long, fascinating history. 

We love the setting! What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?

I had to do a lot of research because my time-travel hub has characters from all over Egyptian history. It was quite challenging to keep all those facts in my head! When I was researching the 19th century I came across some very brave feminists and intellectuals who dressed in the traditional all-covering dress with face-veils. It was interesting to find out that women who seemed so conservative could have such radical ideas and fight for their rights. 

Are any of the characters inspired by people from history, myth or other stories? 

Mr. Kamel is perhaps a bit inspired by Sherlock Holmes, at least in terms of his attitude and sense of dress. Great-aunt Gigi is inspired by the many glamourous society ladies I've met here in Cairo. Most of my characters are a mix of real people, fictional characters sprinkled with an ample amount of imagination. 

Which classmate's skill would you most like to have and why? 

I think it would be cool to be as good at disguises as Fuad. That way I could hide from my kids and eat biscuits and read novels in peace. 

What do you think is the most important lesson Aliya learns? 

That family can be found, and that one has to do the right thing, even when it's hard. 

Do you have a favourite place to write? 

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I usually write my book sitting on my bed. I have four kids, so there's no space for my own office. I sometimes go to a nice coffee shop though.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I love the imagination, adventure and hopefulness of middle-grade novels!

What other fantasy books would you recommend our subscribers read next?

I really love the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend. I also love the works of Philip Pullman. 

Copies of our Aliya to the Infinite City pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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