Sharjah: Printed books will not be dethroned in the digital age, visitors and exhibitors said during the opening of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) on Wednesday.
The ninth edition of the annual event was launched by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, who visited the stands and honoured winners of the festival awards.
The patrons of SCRF are Dr Shaikh Sultan and his wife, Shaikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs.
The popularity of the festival is a significant indication that the love for paper books is alive and well, said Ahmad Al Ameri, chairman of Sharjah Book Authority, which organises the festival. Last year, over 215,000 people visited SCRF.
Al Ameri said e-books have not replaced traditional books, partly because they are not as immersive for readers. “When reading on smart devices, you tend to get distracted by notifications. An email comes in, you’re going to stop reading and check the mail,” he said. Al Ameri added that studies show that spending too much time on the screen contributes to stress.
Speaking on the sidelines of SCRF, being held till April 29 at Expo Centre, young book lovers said digital books have not replaced traditional books.
Pakistani visitor Sameer Mukhi, 16, said he reads e-books only when he can’t find a print edition of the title.
“We [teens] spend a lot of time on-screen and you need some time off screen, and reading a real book is the best way to do it. Reading a real book clears your mind and helps you relax. I think it’s very important to read books because reading helps you explore completely new worlds and new cultures,” Mukhi, who likes science fiction, said.
Ebrahim Makhmouth, a 13-year-old Senegalese visitor, said he has been visiting SCRF for the past five editions to buy new books. “I don’t read e-books, I like paper books. Some of my friends feel the same way,” he added. His favourite books are from the ‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid’ series.
However, the popularity of smart phones and social media has replaced a considerable amount of time that children used to spend reading books, schoolchildren and teachers visiting SCRF said.
Archana Girish, a grade 10 teacher at British International School, Ajman, said: “Children have become digitalised; they’re very fond of these gadgets. They spend a lot of time on social media.”
Uma, a coordinator from the school, said: “We cannot say that all children are like that. There are children who still pass their time by reading books. They love books and they come here [at SCRF]. That’s a habit that’s been cultivated in them.”
The ‘cultivation’ towards reading starts at home with parents, said Vinod Kumar, a purchaser at Jashanmal Bookstore, one of UAE’s biggest booksellers.
“The push comes from parents. It usually starts with six-year-olds, with parents and children ‘doing’ activity books together, or going through heavily illustrated books,” Kumar said.
He added that the market for books for children and young adults is more robust than that for adults, “who are not reading as much as children”.
“Adults are going for best-sellers, that’s the general trend. With children, there’s a greater variety of collections … There’s been little impact of e-books on children’s paper books,” Kumar said. However, he pointed out that the impact could widen in the future.
“It depends on the parents; how they guide children. If you give them a book, they will read it. If you give them a smartphone or tab, they will play electronic games and put the book aside. Parents used to give books as gifts to children on special occasions, which would keep up their reading habit. Of course, events like the SCRF, book fairs, reading competitions and activities are also keeping the interest in books,” Kumar added.
Besides books, the event also offers games, contests, prizes and activities, including cultural and cookery ones, for visiting families.
Children’s Book Illustrations
First place: Alejandro Buitrago, Spain ($8,000 prize money; around Dh29,380)
Second place: Marco Somà, Italy ($6,000; around Dh22,030)
Third place: Ester Cortes, Spain ($4,000; around Dh14,690)
(Three incentive prizes valued at $1,000 each (around Dh3,670) went to Esteli Meza from Mexico, Cristina Pieropan from Italy and Hani Saleh from Egypt)
Best Arabic Children’s Book: Rania Zainab’s ‘Every Day’
Best Arabic Young Adult Book: Dr Ebrahim Shalabi’s ‘Wasim Tours’
Best International Children’s Book: Michelle Zilkoski’s ‘The Boy Who Knew the Mountains’
Sharjah Award for Library Literature
First place: Dr Amani Al Sayyed for ‘Archive Systems and Document Management at Institutions — An Exploratory Study of Technical and Functional Requirements’
Second place: Ayman Al Desouki for ‘The Fifth Generation of Wireless Telecommunication Networks: Future Insights for the Preparation of a Strategic Framework for a Unified Arab Archive’
Third place: Ahmad Usman Ahmad for ‘Electronic Archiving in the UAE: A Study on its Reality and Planning for its Future’
Location: Expo Centre Sharjah
Dates: April 19-29