Sharjah: Surging visitor traffic at the 40th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) at Expo Centre Sharjah has prompted an ‘orchestra conductor’ to step in and direct the smooth flow of visitors at the fair’s halls and pavilions!
Dressed in a bright ensemble, the ‘Event Commander’ from the Netherlands-based TukkersConnexion, appeared to have fled from her orchestra group as she roamed the SIBF 2021 venue, directing visitors to turn left, right or move forward with a blow of her whistle. Her comic movements and baton-waving antics delighted the crowds at SIBF 2021, evoking laughter and joy amongst both young and old visitors, who lined up to click selfies with the artist.
Importance for folk literature
Knowledge without Borders (KwB), a Sharjah-based cultural initiative, facilitated a cultural discussion with leading Spanish, Emirati and Arab authors at SIBF, where writers highlighted that although traditional folk literature holds a special place in people’s hearts, it was time to make it relevant to keep pace with the needs of the modern times.
Speaking at the session, Marta Villegas, Spanish author of Womagis — an award-winning multilingual book featuring 18 languages — emphasised the importance of diversity in stories for children. She said: “I created Womagis so that kids can learn to accept and connect with people of diverse backgrounds. Womagis also fosters their creativity and imagination by motivating young readers to create a universe of their own.”
Emphasising that children must be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, Emirati writer Reem Al Mujadmi said: “In classic folk tales, characters are rewarded for doing good – but that is not always the case! It is essential to have stories that inculcate positive behaviour, irrespective of the outcome.” She also pointed out that books must inspire children — irrespective of their gender — to be in touch with their emotions. “Books often portray boys as saviours who don’t cry, but we must change with the changing times and I tell my son, it is okay to shed tears.”
‘Books should be more relatable’
Echoing a similar thought was Barcelonian writer Iris Morata, who said: “Our society is growing and leaping into the future, but our folktales are not. We need books that are more relatable to the times we live in. When I read out to my kids, I change the traditional fairy tale ending so that it is not only the girl who waits for her Prince Charming; occasionally, the prince too must wait!”
Stating that stories have the power to change individuals, especially the ones that resonated with them as children, Lola Sanchez Ros, founder of the Spanish Book Club in Dubai, said: “The classic folk tales bring hope to the kids we were and the kids we are today. They teach us that if we believe in ourselves, our lives too can have a happy ending.”
Nadia Al Najjar, an Emirati award-winning author, explained that the Khararif or folktales from the UAE share similarities with that of other nations and cultures, and that it must be adapted to the changing times. She commented: “The idea of waiting for ‘the one’ persists even today. We must change the narrative of our stories to bring out the strengths of our women and girls too. One day, I will rewrite Cinderella, and in my story, the young girl will first complete her studies before setting out to meet the prince!”
‘Retaining a story’s essence’
Mariam Al Qasimi, Emirati author of Curious Adam, said it was important to think beyond one’s boundaries when sharing stories. She said: “What might be relevant in one language might not make sense in another culture. So, we must ensure that we retain the story’s essence in whatever language it is being translated to.”
Panelists at the discussion further emphasised the need to nurture the culture of reading at a young age and called upon parents to foster an interest in books by reading out to their children.
Gitanjali’s recipe for pathbreaking innovations
“Observe, Brainstorm, Research, Build, and Communicate,” urged Gitanjali Rao — a 15-year-old scientist, innovator and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) promoter, as she shared her five-step formula for developing pathbreaking innovations with a large audience of students, youth, and adults at Expo Centre Sharjah.
Speaking to a packed audience at SIBF, the young changemaker and the first ‘Kid of the Year’ on Time magazine cover, said: “Nobody is born an innovator or a problem solver; you learn as you attempt to solve the problem. Think of ideas, foster them.” She continued: “Finally, remember to take that risk — don’t be afraid of failure. It is okay to fail and make mistakes; that is what kickstarted my innovation journey.”
Gitanjali is using the power of science and technology to invent sustainable solutions to address some of the urgent everyday problems around the globe. Her most recent innovations attempt to tackle grave issues such as cyberbullying and opioid addiction, while previously, she had devised a solution to detect contaminated drinking water. Shocked by the lead contamination in water in communities worldwide, Gitanjali created Tethys, a simple lead detection device that is portable and inexpensive and provides accurate and quick results.
Her attempts to battle cyberbullying led to the creation of ‘Kindly’, an artificial intelligence-based app that detects and alerts users to words associated with cyberbullying. This allows youngsters to edit their messages and raises awareness of their actions, forcing them to rethink their choice of words.
“By partnering with Unicef, I aim to integrate Kindly with other platforms, and it can be added to Gmail, Twitter, Instagram, Google Chrome, and more. In addition, youngsters will receive real-time feedback, allowing them to modify their responses,” said the Indian-American student at STEM School Highlands Ranch, Colorado, United States.
The need of the hour is an alternate path to innovation; but how does one innovate?
Inquisitive young minds and aspirational innovators can discover the answers through the step-by-step process outlined in the 15-year-old author’s second book, ‘A Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM: 5 Steps To Problem Solving For Students, Educators, and Parents’. This inspirational book is available at SIBF 2021.
‘100 Great Indian Poems’ in Arabic
Meanwhile, the Arabic edition of 100 Great Indian Poems, selected and edited by Indian poet-diplomat Abhay K., the Ambassador of India to Madagascar, has been translated into Arabic and published by the Sharjah Institute for Heritage. The book includes poems from 28 Indian languages spanning over 3,000 years of Indian poetry.
On the publication of the anthology, Abhay K. said that the Arabic edition of the book would act as a literary bridge between India and the Arab world.
Dr Aman Puri, the Consul-General of India in Dubai, said: “It is our privilege that the Arabic edition of 100 Great Indian Poems by Abhay K, Ambassador of India to Madagascar, and translated by Sharjah Institute for Heritage, is being launched at the prestigious Sharjah International Book Fair, the biggest book fair in the world. Cultural and literary exchanges between the Arabic speaking countries and India goes back millennia and we remain committed to keep this special friendship flourishing.”
Dr Mini Abdelkader, director of Content and Publishing Management of the Sharjah Institute for Heritage, speaking on the occasion, said: “The Shariah Institute for Heritage aims to pay importance for cooperation with various cultural bodies worldwide. By publishing the Arabic version of 100 Great Indian Poems, the institute will be able to introduce and propagate the strong Indian culture and tradition in Arab world. It will also be really helpful for the cultural exchange among different people and communities living across the world.”
Session for budding engineers
The 40th edition of SIBF is inspiring the next generation of engineers through a popular STEM-based workshop that aims to inspire creativity and challenge young minds in the basic principles of engineering and architectural processes.
At the Keva Tower Challenge workshop, organised by Fun Robotics Center, young children of all ages are learning to engineer high-rise buildings through a crash course in the basics of structural design.
From learning how skyscrapers are built to reaching dizzying heights and yet maintain their stability, participants are getting acquainted with intriguing perspectives of architecture through a hands-on learning approach. Citing the example of the UAE’s Burj Khalifa, workshop instructors introduce the young ones to various aspects of structural support, while exploring key facts about the iconic skyscraper including details of its height and quake-resistance features.
Omar Alzuabi, one of the instructors leading the session, said: “Through the Keva Tower Challenge, our goal is to teach students concepts of scale and loading constraints, amongst others, when designing a tall building. The one-hour session involves a two-step process where kids first create structures on their own, which seldom stand. We help them identify the structural issues and they learn how to resolve it to ensure that their towers stand tall.”
Design and illustration workshop
For the first time in the history of SIBF, aspiring illustrators, designers and art directors have an opportunity to benefit from a series of free workshops and panel sessions as part of a dedicated Illustration Survival Corner.
With multiple sessions lined up every day throughout the 11-day book fair, organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), participants have been presented with the perfect opportunity to interact with and learn from global experts, said Cathy Olmedillas, who attended a masterclass by Italian design expert, Giacomo Benelli, titled ‘Professional Relations: The Illustrator’s Job’.
“This was helpful and practical. You are never really done with being an expert and there’s always something new you pick up at sessions like these,” said Olmedillas who has been self-publishing children’s book for over 15 years from her base in London.
Benelli, said these workshops become an absolute must-attend events for anyone in the same industry because they will help “upgrade their skills, acquire knowledge about image design and creativity tools, and learn from global experts”.
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Developed in collaboration with Bologna Children’s Book Fair where Sharjah is participating as Guest of Honour in 2022, this unique project is curated by Benelli’s Milan-based, Mimaster Illustrazione, a leading international educator on the illustration scene.
Throughout the festival, four portfolios are being reviewed each day. Participants can present their works to a panel of publishers, illustrators and art directors and receive constructive feedback and suggestions. In addition, one workshop, with maximum capacity of 20, and two masterclasses on a specific theme is being held daily throughout the festival.