Six-year-old Amal and her several little friends clutched on to their alphabet books loudly reciting Arabic and English letters at the fourth Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF).
“I love reading. My mother reads to me every night,” said Amal. In line with celebrating World Book and Copyright Day on April 23, the annual festival encourages children to find a friend for life in books.
Humaid Al Qattami, UAE Minister of Education, and Adel Al Shared, Vice-Chairman and Managing Director of Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, sign MoU to provide books to schools at the festival on Monday.
For a generation that is addicted to iPads, Kindle readers and iPhones, some children attending the festival said that they still prefer picking up a book over technology.
“With all the technology available, the reading habit has become very tech-based. But I still prefer picking up the hard copy of a good book and sitting down to read,” said 14-year-old Iranian national Anoosheh Majidi from Victoria International School, Sharjah.
Meanwhile, a few other children opine that books are not marketed well here and they have very little access for new books in their school libraries. “I love reading horror and fantasy stories. Some of the titles I like are the Lord of the Rings series and Vampires Assistant. But some books displayed in libraries are not appealing to kids of our age. We have books from the 1980s and books like How to Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t find these titles interesting,” said 15-year-old Ansel Johnson. Several children from schools across the emirate turned up at the SCRF which opened on Monday and will continue till May 2 at the Sharjah Expo Centre.
The SCRF played host to school kids belonging to all age groups and publishers from across the globe. Jehan Heloud, Palestinian President of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBPY) who is participating in the event, said: “In general, events like this are very important. Children get attached to books with events like this and it nourishes their love for books and they get into the habit of reading. It provides a platform for children from several cultures to get together.” She added: “The biggest benefit with this event is that it is activity-based. They have stalls here that educate children on the benefits of nutritious food and healthy eating.”
Sonali Choudhary, 13, said: “I think the ratio of readers and non-readers is equal. I personally prefer reading books over technology, but a lot of my friends like to just check stuff out online. Reading also becomes a group activity sometimes because I recommend books to my friends.”
Usman Syed, 15, echoed Johnson’s thoughts. “Schools need to allocate reading hours for children apart from normal classes and kids should be given the freedom to choose what they want to read,” said Syed.
Meanwhile, the Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education promising to distribute 200,000 books to 422 schools across the UAE. Books will be distributed to children from Grade 1 to 11 and 400 books will be distributed to each school. Currently, only Arabic books will be distributed to the schools. The aim of the memorandum is to promote best selling books translated from nine different languages into Arabic.
More than 200 Arab and foreign publishing houses are taking part in the event with over 20,000 printed and digital titles. The SCRF will also include a series of art and heritage workshops, as well as theatrical plays, reading sessions, popular games, circus performances and many other activities. For the first time, the SCRF will also be organising awards for children’s books.