It is eight o’clock in the morning, the sun barely peeking through the backs of the tall buildings that line the coast of the emirate of Sharjah. The parking lots of the Expo Center Sharjah turn yellow. They are the dozens of school buses that make long lines waiting for the descent of the small schoolchildren who visit the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), which this year celebrates its 40th edition as one of the fundamental projects for this emirate It has been considered by UNESCO as the Cultural Capital of the Arab world since 1998.
The fair is seriously committed to promoting reading in girls, boys and young people. Every day the children’s offer is one of the most extensive in the program. More than 350 activities, between 40 and 50% of those programmed in total, correspond to practical workshops on art, science and technology, as well as talks focused on literary creation or around the publishing industry that allow children and young people to become familiar with the subtleties of the sector. On a daily basis, experts from nine countries give 40 workshops.
Children are the great bet of a nation project that seeks to position itself as a scientific, technological, cultural and tourist leader. Such is the importance that the Arab country places on the education of its smallest population that from an early age knows how to communicate in Arabic and English.
They attend specialized workshops
In the “History of typography” workshop, young people from the age of five learn the roots of the shape of letters and explore their elaboration techniques. In the workshop “Photography Hacks” they immerse themselves in the world of the image through the different photographic techniques with the use of non-traditional printing and developing materials.
In the activity “I read, I design (new engineering)”, children between seven and ten years old mix literature and exact knowledge: they listen to the narration of a story and pose a problem on the way to its climax and propose solutions to this problem based on their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) knowledge.
Imagining the technological future, learning essential references on aerodynamics and drone piloting and training in the use of social networks for education, research and professional relations are some of the additional activities for the small visitors of the fair.
Muhammad, a young man of about nine years old, delves into the editorial offerings of a booth of books on science and technology. “It’s the kind of books I’m interested in along with the biology books. I do not like books for pure entertainment but informative books, and when I go to university I want to study medicine or biology ”, he shares.
This Thursday, within the framework of the SIBF, the conversation table “Needs of children’s literature” was held, with the participation of Swaady Martin-Leke, recognized African business leader and founder of the LovingKindness Boma publishing house, focused on children, and Dr. Fatima Al Buraiki, an Emirati writer and founder of the children’s label Sama Publishing. Both were moderated by writer and translator Lamya Tawfik.
“The central question here is from what point we are sure that we are the right people to write children’s literature. All the time I wonder if we adults have the skills to write books for children who are going to build the future, “said Dr. Al Buraiki.
Swaady Martin-Leke replied: “It is always a responsibility to write for them, especially now that society is so polarized and oppressive, especially with childhood emotions. We adults write children’s books, but at the same time we are the adults who build this society. The polarization and adversity we experience are also the product of what we adults do. That is why I always wonder if our capacity as adults is really the correct one to speak to children who will build the future. It is the same as wondering if we are the adults that the future needs ”.
“Children have to be exposed to diversity, they do not live in isolation, they are part of this social factory. Only then will they be able to empathize with others and interact better once they understand other cultures ”, added Martin-Leke.
The assimilation of cultural plurality through children’s literature is necessary, added Fatima Al Buariki. “Children have to be exposed to all that diversity, they do not live in isolation, they are part of this social factory. Only then can they empathize with others and interact better once they understand other cultures ”.
The Emirati author added that those adult societies in which there is opposition to cultural plurality are the product of poor assimilation from childhood.
For her part, moderator Lamya Tawfik commented: “Another vital reason to encourage children to read books from different parts of the world is that when these children grow up, they will have access to entertainment from all sources. And it is essential to make them capable of deciding on all those stimuli. You have to create consumer criteria in them and not just make them passive content consumers ”.