Children from Leader's Private School, explore various titles available at the 11th edition of the annual Sharjah Children's Reading Festival (SCRF) in the Expo Centre Sharjah. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

With the 11th edition of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) kick-starting this week, the much-awaited annual bonanza of fun and learning for children is back. The 11-day festival, with its richly cognitive fare for young minds, is serving one of the most important functions in society: stimulating children and young adults to imagine a world that is a progressive improvement on the present, and then, with the tools it provides — creativity, imagination and inquiry — to go forth and fashion that world.

These tools, ancient and elemental, are as indispensable now as they were at the dawn of evolution. In fact, contemporary social scientists would probably argue that these tools are more critical today than before to combat technology’s gale-force dispersal of traditional pursuits of intellectual enrichment such as reading and cogitating into straws that blow in the wind.

The growing global concern on the diminishing appeal of reading among children is rooted in demonstrable causal factors. Over the decades, there has been enough hard scientific evidence that reading feeds young brain development. There is also enough hard evidence of the negative impact of excessive digital consumption on young minds. Experts on children’s progress from across the spectrum are harping on the urgent need to gain back the ground that has been ceded to technological overuse.

The SCRF, held annually under the directives of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has a stunning range of activities steeped in fun, inquiry and discovery. Playing a stellar role in helping regain the lost ground, the festival entices children into a world that sparks interest in the written word, and encourages thought and imagination. From author interactions, workshops, science shows to movies, comics, superheroes, lessons in history and geography, and food and fun, the SCRF is tailor-made to enthral young minds into realising the power of their own potential.

The sweep and scope of the festival, organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), is reflected in its sheer number of offerings — 167 publishers from 18 countries, more than 2,500 cultural and literary activities, and the participation of 198 international, regional and local authors and cultural personalities.

The sum total of such infusion of thought content into the minds of the young is beyond measure.