Sharjah: With more time on their hands, children distance learning from home are reading more books, said visitors to Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) that opened on Wednesday at Expo Centre Sharjah.
The annual 11-day event, now in its 12th edition, was officially opened by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
Edvin Varghese Vinoj, 16, said he has been reading more since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I’m distance learning and so have more time at home. And what better way to spend time than read some novels?” Edvin added.
His sister, Evana Eliza Vinoj, who is 12, also is reading more books — traditional hard copy books. “Before [the pandemic] we would go outside but now I’m staying more at home, and reading more. I want to spend the extra free time, because I’m distance learning, on sometime nice, like books,” Evana said.
Encouraging young readers
Egyptian father Ahmad Elgaaly said he was at SCRF to buy books for his seven-year-old son Muaz. “Children are spending more time on screens because of the pandemic; that’s not healthy. So to attract them towards books, we’ve come here at [SCRF]. Digital devices and skills are important, but there has to be a balance between them and reading and writing the traditional way, which is the basis for our learning,” Elgaaly added.
SCRF exhibitor Vinod Kumar from Jashanmal Bookstore said parents are encouraging children to read more in the pandemic. “Children have more time at home because they are not going out or to school as much. Parents want children to make good use of their time, so we’re seeing more interest in books, in hard copies,” Kumar added. He said online orders have seen an uptick recently. Popular titles are the Wimpy Kid and Dog Man series, as well as activities books for smaller children, Kumar said.
High-profile opening ceremony
SCRF, this year themed ‘For Your Imagination’, is the region’s largest festival of its kind, and runs until May 29 at Expo Centre. Wednesday’s opening ceremony was attended by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence; Shaikh Sultan Bin Ahmad Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Council; Shaikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi, President of International Publishers Association; Shaikh Salem Bin Abdul Rahman Al Qasimi, Head of Executive Office of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah; Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammad Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention; Jameela Bint Salem Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Public Education, as well as members of the Sharjah Executive Council, directors of local government entities, senior officials, and renowned authors.
Sheikh Sultan welcomed
After cutting the ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of the 11-day festival, the Sharjah Ruler was welcomed in with a vibrant dance performed by a group of young girls from the emirate who conveyed the message of the importance of reading through a performance.
After this, Dr Shaikh Sultan began the tour of the festival, which features more than 530 activities, including workshops, storytelling, cookery shows, comics and anime workshops, social media activities, author discussions, dances and theatre. Participating are over 30 Arab and international authors, artists, illustrators and public speakers. The Sharjah Ruler also toured the ninth edition of the Sharjah Children’s Book Illustration Exhibition taking place at SCRF 2021.
The festival opens to visitors from 4pm to 10pm (excluding Saturdays, from 10am to 8pm). It is being held while complying with a comprehensive COVID-19 preventive plan that includes a daily sanitisation drive throughout the venue’s halls and common areas, as well as thermal scanning at all access points, and placement of hand sanitiser stations across the venue. In addition, precautionary practices such as face masks and social distancing will be mandatory throughout the event.
Now in other emirates
For the first time in its 12-year history, SCRF has expanded the scope of its cultural activities beyond the main venue of Expo Centre Sharjah. A select choice of programming is now offered in Dubai, Fujairah, and Ras Al Khaimah, in addition to the cities of Kalba and Dibba Al Hisn on the eastern coast of Sharjah. From meetings with the authors to stimulating discussions and debates touching upon several genres of literature, the 2021 edition of SCRF will address a variety of themes.
Dibba Al Hisn and Kalba
As SCRF 2021 expands its reach to the eastern coast of Sharjah emirate this year, residents and visitors at Dibba Al Hisn can meet with author Dr Hussain Ali Haref for a discussion on a broad range of topics, while in Kalba, students and children can interact with authors Kevin Sherry and Dinara Mirtalipova in separate sessions.
Al Safa Art and Design Library in Dubai will host four interactive SCRF sessions for the first time this year. In a discussion on ‘Bringing Stories to Life’, Claudia Rueda and Eltayeb Adib will explore the intriguing role of unique characters in enabling authors to tell their stories.
Award-winning illustrator Matt Lamothe and Emirati Aysha Al Hemrani will demystify the process of creating digital illustrations in children’s books in the session titled ‘Digital Illustrations’ while in ‘Stories and Pictures’, authors Claudia Rueda and Saudi Arabia’s Faraj Al Dhufairi, will shed light on the special skills required for writing picture books.
Greenfeet Guides founder and author Ambika Anand Prokop and Emirati novelist Fatima Al Mazrouei will explore the meaningful ways in which writing introduces children to foreign culture in a session titled, ‘Cultural Sustainability’, and delve into how books expand the cultural and environmental consciousness of children.
In Fujairah, Jordanian author Fida Al Zamr and South Africa’s well-known change maker and author Swaady Martin, will hold separate discussions with young students to offer insights on the writing process, and engage in free-flowing conversations on relevant topics of interest.
Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah will host two meet-the-author sessions for students featuring Eltayeb Adib and Saudi Arabia’s Faraj Al Dhufairi.