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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Abu Dhabi International Book Fair: a celebration of reading

Inspired authors, pop-up works for children and energised publishers – we survey a good week for reading at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair.
Author Abdul Majeed Al Marzooqi at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. He has written two books, one on happiness. Antonie Robertson / The National.
Author Abdul Majeed Al Marzooqi at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. He has written two books, one on happiness. Antonie Robertson / The National.

When Abdul Majeed Al Marzooqi first learnt about the UAE’s Year of Reading initiative by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, in December, he was inspired to do more than reading. He wanted to give people at least one more book to read.

He started to write his first book, Optimistic Hearts, putting together what he saw as the values of Emirati society.

“The ones I wrote about are related to our everyday life. These values include unity, loyalty, faith and generosity,” he tells me at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

“I also discussed national values, on the role of Sheikh Zayed in the union of the country, on the success of the UAE’s unity experience.”

But Al Marzooqi did not stop there. He decided to write his second book after the recent changes in the UAE Cabinet, when two ministers of state – one for happiness and one for tolerance – were appointed.

In The Duality of Happiness and Tolerance: Coexisting and Creating Life, Al Marzooqi tackles two crucial questions: what is happiness and tolerance? And why are they important?

He conducted a study to interpret the sayings of prominent intellectuals, writers and philosophers who discussed these two concepts in their work, such as Plato, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Mahatma Gandhi. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai also features, along with Moza Ghobash, chairwoman of the Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Award for Creative Women, and renowned poet Sultan Al Owais. “Happiness is considered a major artery for the advancement of any nation. It plays a major role in the life of the individual, as well as the overall well-being of societies,” he says.

“As we can see, the region is now going through turmoil because of the lack of tolerance and acceptance of the other. We’re lucky to have a government that is putting focus on this particular value, as well as on peace and moderation.”

In the week that brought the announcement of a Dh100 million fund and national law to be drafted to encourage more people to pick up a book, the Year of Reading has motivated publishers to print more books to meet the expected increase in demand.

For Alyazia Khalifa, the founder of the new translation and publishing company Al Fulk, this year’s book fair was an opportunity to present and promote her company to readers.

“The Year of Reading gave a boost to ... my publication plan. Our government’s efforts are massive to make the UAE a publishing hub in the region. I believe this was, and still is, a major reason for Al Fulk [which loosely translates as ship or ark] to be founded and to grow even more.”

Khalifa established Al Fulk in 2015 to enrich Arabic literature for children and young people, by translating high standard and award-winning books into Arabic. These include The Child who Invented Zero by Amedeo Feniello.

“Coming from a very solid academic background, I noticed the low standard of children’s literature in Arabic compared to the international standards,” she tells me.

“So I decided to start my own publishing house to change the whole equation.

“I want my books to be not for children only. I want my books to be a reference for local writers and illustrators.”Khalifa also praised the UAE’s Arab Reading Challenge, announced by Sheikh Mohammed to encourage children in the region to read 50 Arabic books within the year.

Publishers will benefit from the reading challenge by firstly, having more readers and secondly, getting a chance to be one of the challenge’s strategic partners, she says.

However, Khalifa says she faced challenges registering her company to participate in the challenge. “I’m really keen to participate,” she says.

She also praised the 1,001 Emirati books initiative, “1,001 Titles”, announced by Knowledge without Borders (KWB) in Sharjah under the slogan “Nurturing talent to enrich content”, as “it helps to encourage quality books from the Emirates to enrich Arabic libraries”.

Al Fulk’s stand was popular throughout the fair and parents in particular showed a great deal of interest. One of the visitors, Saeed Al Dhaheri, from Al Ain, said he was keen to bring his five children plus nieces and nephews to the book fair every year “to instil in them the spirit of reading”.

“It has become customary for us to visit the book fair – in both Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – to spend some time and buy books. Each of us has something specific to look for, so we would be all over the place.”

It was very clear at this year’s fair that children’s literature has flourished, with a remarkable number of new books for young readers being exhibited and sold. For Fatma Al Mazroui, it is her fourth year participating in the fair.

“This year, I published three new books about the Founding Father and the UAE for children. I started with Sheikh Zayed’s life story, from his childhood to his death.”

She used a pop up technique.

“We tried to take care of the details and used 3-D pictures of historical places in the UAE, including Qasr Al Hosn.

“I used historical documents from the National Archives as references, along with stories by the people who accompanied Sheikh Zayed, including photographers and people who went with him in hunting trips,” she says.

“I also focused on the women in his life, including his mother Sheikha Salama bint Butti, and on how life in the UAE was, and Sheikh Zayed’s long-term vision for the future.”

She also tried to capture children’s imagination and encourage them to read by including dolls of the main characters with the books.

Al Mazroui says the Year of Reading is an important initiative that has a positive influence on the community.

Many organisations, schools and universities have started to dedicate more time to reading. Many workplaces have established libraries and allocated special times for reading, which is important to promote its importance in society.

Alia Ahmed, a mother from Abu Dhabi, was interested in the idea of the pop-up books and bought them for her three children.

“I like to make my kids accustomed with books, by putting books around them, so they can see them before they sleep and when they wake up. This is so important to instil the love of reading in them from a very young age.

“Books are sacred in our culture. Essentially, reading is an important part of our religion. Before all, the first word revealed in the Quran was Iqra or ‘read’.”

Ayesha Almazroui is an opinion writer at The National.