Sharjah Reading festival
Children at a workshop during the 12th edition of Sharjah Children Reading Festival being held at Sharjah Expo Centre. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

An endless stream of stories from the pandemic, the drudgery of online classes and months of staying away from the freedom of hanging out with close-knit friends — making do with the occasional Zoom catch-up.

For most children around the world, that’s how the past year has been, ever since the coronavirus upended their social and educational activities, confining them mostly to the safe but increasingly placid surroundings of their home and family.

It’s therefore not hard to imagine their joy when a brand new opportunity to celebrate knowledge shows up — and that too replete with in-person workshops, theatrical shows and a comic corner.

That’s exactly what the annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) aims to achieve over the next 10 days at Expo Centre Sharjah.

An oasis away from the stress of the pandemic, the 12th edition of SCRF will host 537 activities, showcasing a wide diversity with the participation of 27 authors from 15 countries and 172 publishers from around the world.

Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy shows by top Arab artists, culinary sessions by renowned Arab chefs and social media workshops — all strictly following COVID-19 preventive measures in line with UAE safety protocols, and the mandatory use of face masks and social distancing rules.

Research shows that reading a book just for the sheer joy of it has immensely powerful and measurable real-life benefits that can transform lives — especially in children and young adults. This assumes even more significance during a year in which most children have been glued to their screens and electronic devices for an unprecedented amount of time.

Across demographics and cultures, it has been well proven that the more people read, they are more likely to be happier, healthier, and even financially prosperous in future. In children, numerous other benefits also include the quick development of language, confidence and communication skills.

The onslaught of the pandemic has demonstrated that reading can be a safe sanctuary for many children, helping them nurture their imagination and reconnect with their spirit of inquiry and curiosity amid a world roiled by the virus.

With the apt theme of “For Your Imagination,” the children’s reading festival in Sharjah is thus a timely opportunity for young minds in the country to browse, interact and gain vital knowledge for a better future — and parents and the education community must lend their support to make this possible.

Instilling the love of reading among youth and actively aiding the cultural enrichment of young minds is also a vital part of building a knowledge-based community in the UAE — which will go a long way in bolstering the country’s creative economy.