x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival will spark imaginations, and Afshan Ahmed writes that many acclaimed authors will be on hand to guide pupils through the possibilities

A primary school pupil browses selections at last year’s Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival at the Sharjah Expo Centre. Christopher Pike / The National
A primary school pupil browses selections at last year’s Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival at the Sharjah Expo Centre. Christopher Pike / The National

The sixth edition of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, which runs April 15 to 25 at the Sharjah Expo Centre has a big goal: encourage children across the UAE to read. More than 1,600 activities are planned, including workshops, story sessions, film screenings and writing competitions.

The theme of this year’s event is Discover Friends for Life, and is organised by the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) group. More than 95 regional and international authors and artists will be giving talks and leading sessions. Sharjah will host the interactive 1,001 Inventions exhibition from the UK.

It’s bigger and better

This edition is one of the largest yet, with hundreds of new events added to the schedule. Ahmed bin Rakkad Al Ameri, the director of SIBF, says this festival is the biggest yet, and “the secondary aim is to engage all parts of the community in the emirate’s cultural scene”.

The fair draws in Sharjah’s different museums to host workshops for both adults and children on a variety of topics, including pearl diving, Emirati heritage, Islamic architecture and calligraphy, puppet theatre and sand art.

Sessions on technology and its effects on reading among children will also be held.

The role models

Award-winning writers will offer tips, host lectures and lead storywriting workshops for children.

Among the Arab writers attending are the Egyptian author Amal Farah, the Iraqi writer and poet Jalil Khazaal, the Bahraini novelist Abdul Qader Aqeel, the Egyptian playwright Mahmoud Qassim and the Yemeni illustrator Bushra Al Shahari.

Andy Stanton, the author of the Mr Gum series of children’s books that won the Red House Children’s Book Award and Blue Peter Book Award, will be a part of the international line-up of authors, alongside the illustrator Tony De Saulles, who won a Blue Peter Book Award for his Horrible Science books, and the UK-born Fawzia Gilani-Williams, who has written 40 Islamic storybooks for children.

Writers from the UAE include Asmaa Al Zarouni and Ayesha Al Kaabi.

Discovering the past

Sharjah will also host the UK-based 1,001 Inventions exhibition Discovering Our Past, Inspiring Our Future, which will display cultural and scientific breakthroughs during the Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation.

“Along with introducing role models from the present, we want to include figures from the past,” says Ahmed Salim, the exhibition’s producer and director. “Children will connect with the legacy of their forefathers, these men and women that helped to create a golden age of innovation.”

Also, stories from between the 7th and 17th centuries will be brought to life at the exhibition, which will run from April 15 to May 15. “Children will be able to meet these great heroes from the past,” says Salim. “We will have trained local actors who will play those characters.”

Fringe benefits

Alongside the main festival are a series of classes in cooking, illustration and painting. The Sharjah Cultural and Chess Club is also on board, offering sessions on the history of chess and tutorials, and a film festival with a schedule of international and Emirati films has been organised. A special Youth Cafe will also be set up, where children will be encouraged to express their creativity through stories and poetry.

• The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival will be held from April 15 to 25 at the Sharjah Expo Centre

aahmed@thenational.ae