Emirati author Fatima Sultan Al Mazrouei and US-based writer, Ambika Anand Prokop-1622298249008
Emirati author Fatima Sultan Al Mazrouei and Ambika Anand Prokop, founder and lead writer of adventure book series Greenfeet Guides, at a session with children. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Children’s books are a gateway to cultural exchange between young readers, authors told the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF), which was held from May 19 to 29 at Expo Centre.

For the first time in its 12-edition history, aspects of SCRF 2021 were held outside Sharjah. At a panel discussion hosted at the Al Safa Art and Design Library in Dubai, as part of the expanded cultural outreach agenda of SCRF, writers said children’s interests are changing.

The discussion on Friday, titled ‘You Can Change the World’, heard from award-winning Emirati author Fatima Sultan Al Mazrouei and Ambika Anand Prokop, founder and lead writer of adventure book series Greenfeet Guides, who is the author of ‘Dubai-UAE Kids’. The session was moderated by Emirati writer Eman Al Yousuf.

‘Writing for children isn’t easy’

Al Mazrouei pointed out that writing for children is continuously evolving as the questions children ask today are different from that of the previous generations. “Writing for children is not an easy task as it must cater to the shift in the nature of topics that interest children today. Today, children need to understand topics that relate to their world. Most of them think about space, planets, and galaxies. Traditional stories about magic, giants, and speaking animals do not hold their attention as before.”

Stories connect cultures

Shedding light on her experience in writing for children, Prokop said: “Over the years, I had to travel around the world on account of my husband’s work, and it helped me explore many cultures that has inspired me to write my books. I discovered that a good story attracts not only children, but also adults, and this has made me believe that any culture can be introduced to people through stories.”

In response to a question on the impact of translation on broadening the scope of children’s books, she said: “I think that translation should not be unilateral either from English into Arabic or vice versa, but should be bilateral in a reciprocal process, because this contributes to enriching children’s knowledge about other cultures.”

About SCRF 2021
Under the theme ‘For Your Imagination’, over 30 authors from the Arab region and around the world spoke across 30 literary events at SCRF. More than 170 publishers from 15 countries showcased their books and other literary material. Also, held were hundreds of activities, events, workshops, and shows for children.

She pointed out that sometimes key aspects of a story are lost in translation, stating that such loss is normal because languages are different.

‘Don’t preach to children’

Books, plays, puppet-shows and other creative art forms can bring value to children and capture their attention by being more entertaining than moralistic or instructional. This was the essence of ‘The Fun Industry’ discussion held at the Cultural Forum of Friday at SCRF.

Dr Hussein Ali Haref, an Iraqi artist and academician who has wrote 30 plays and 13 puppet shows for kids, said: “Children come to the theatre to have fun, not to learn. Give them what they need. Authors all over the world need to research the psychology of a child. What makes them dance, what makes them scared, what makes them hate, what do they aspire to do? Authors need to be able to answer these critical questions while creating content for children." He added: “The ethical messages are already being delivered to kids by society, through their families and the school.”

Agreeing with Dr Haref, American award-winning author and illustrator Kevin Sherry shared his experience of interacting with schoolchildren by using costumes and puppets to create a lively interactive atmosphere. “When I put on a bear-head costume, make them sing and start telling them jokes, they start having fun and I get their attention. Once you have their attention, the child’s mind becomes receptive to whatever information you may want to give them,” said Sherry, author of ‘I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean’ and ‘The Yeti Files’ series.