Sharjah: The challenges facing children’s books in terms of content published was the topic of a panel discussion held on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.

Amal Farah, a prominent Egyptian children’s writer, said: “People talk about how visual media — the digital media — pose a threat to the children’s publishing industry. When you think about it, visual media isn’t new. In the past we had street clowns. These are just excuses to justify the failings and shortcomings of the publishing industry,” she said.

“There’s a need to bring back children to books and the key to that is for publishers to show genuine interest in that sector and to understand how books work.”

The classic cliches that pertain to children’s books, such as using bright colours for certain age groups and fewer words, lead to oversimplifying the industry, which kills creativity, she added. “The result is that children don’t want to read books anymore and hence are less likely to be a reader when they grow up,” Farah said.

The problem is manifested in the “commercialisation” of books and the use of marketing incentives to encourage readers to buy books, she added. “It is as though books need that commercial push to be sold.”

Also discussing the challenges facing the children’s book publishing industry was Kuwaiti writer Latifa Butti, who prints and publishes children’s books in Kuwait through the Sidan Media project.

“Before talking about the challenges facing the publishing of books we should talk about the love of books. Schools today offer rigid curricula that are outdated and lack creative stories. They are informative but dry,” said Butti.

She added that while the publishing industry is not lacking in terms of quality of paper or story illustration, the core issue is the lack of good content. “The text has to be relevant to the world in which the children live in. To make them feel safe and happy,” she said.

Another challenge that she said she personally faced was the publishers lack of interest in publishing children’s Arabic folktales. “I like to revive these folktales so that the children remain connected to their own heritage. I was shocked at the publishers’ negative reactions saying that it is only relevant to the local Kuwaiti culture. Meanwhile we have Peter Pan, Cinderella and Snow White - stories that are not relevant to Arab culture at all — translated into Arabic.”