Sharjah: Young adult literature dominates bookstores these days. While the genre only began to gain momentum in the 1970s and ‘80s, it has definitely gone through a growth spurt since then.
Deliberating on the topic was Science fiction writer Noura Al Nouman and author of Ajwan, and Antiguan and Caribbean writer Joanne C Hillhouse who has penned several books in this genre like The Boy from Willow Bend.
While the discussion at the Sharjah Book Fair reflected on concerns surrounding the current reading patterns among children and young adults, it also touched on the overriding influence of the digital media. While today’s teens have come of age with smartphones in their pocket, compared to teens a couple of decades ago, its equally true that the way they interact with traditional media like books and movies is fundamentally different.
Sharing her thoughts on the issue, Joanne said, “Internet to video games, there is a lot more that’s pulling children’s attention now. If you find the right story, then any young person would be inclined to sit there and take it in, because film, television, movies, video games -- they are all stories and I am yet to meet a child who doesn’t like stories.”
Shedding light on the culture and prevalence of reading in the Arab world with regards to teens, Noura said, “I think there is an upsurge in reading. First, a lot of them read English books, not Arabic books, because in many private schools, that’s the medium of instruction. Second, Arabic books sometimes are not as evolved in content as the English books are. But I am sure there are a lot more readers now. I just feel the medium has changed.”
The discussion then progressed to the traditional book format where panelists conceded that several levels of quality checks by the publisher made the printed text more ‘literary’ than an online piece that children may be exposed to, as a lot of content available online may not meet standards. To this Noura responded by saying, “It’s important for children to just read, as long as adults know what their children are reading”.
Quoting JK Rowling, she said, “Those who don’t like books, or don’t like reading, just simply haven’t found the right book yet.”
Joanne said, “As opposed to good and bad reading, I would say get them reading to what they connect with. Sometimes, in children’s fiction like The Hunger Games, they like the character so much that they want to keep finding out what has happened to that character and at some point they will demand what they like and they’ll keep asking for more”.