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The Festival is being held at Expo Centre Sharjah Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sharjah: Observing two young women, one pushing a stroller with an infant, sifting through Arabic children’s books at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF), one might assume they were shopping for a school-aged child. However, sisters Hala and Farah, in their thirties, were selecting books for Hala’s eight-month-old daughter.

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“I’m on the lookout for books with pictures and the Arabic alphabet,” Hala explained.

“We were both born and raised here, and have been visiting since we were children. Our mother nurtured our love of reading. Now that I’m a mother, I’m eager to instill the same passion in my daughter,” she continued.

“At this age, children are incredibly receptive; they soak up everything around them. I want her to grow up familiar with Arabic, so it becomes second nature when she starts to speak,” Hala added.

The Jordanian sisters are just two of the many visitors choosing Arabic publishers at the 15th edition of SCRF. With over 180 Arabic and international publishers, the festival has distinctly segregated the sections, fostering a deep appreciation for the Arabic language.

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Preserving Arabic

His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, has been a passionate advocate for preserving this rich language spoken by more than 300 million people worldwide, and the festival proudly supports the visionary’s cause.

Aseel Zghaibi, a mother of two, chose Arabic books promoting positive behaviour. “I’ve selected three books for my daughter, who has just started school. They focus on themes like sharing, friendship and perseverance. They are written in simple language but carry profound messages,” she shared, concerned that her daughter, attending a British school, is becoming more fluent in English than in Arabic.

The 15th SCRF is a treasure trove of books, brimming with activities, workshops, talks, and performances, running until May 12 at the Expo Centre, Sharjah.

SFCA activities

The Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA) in Sharjah is actively engaged in promoting awareness and education among children at SCRF.

Housing its various departments at its pavilion, SCFA offers a myriad of activities, events, and workshops to enhance children’s skills and cover various educational topics.

Asmaa Hassouni, director of the Media Office at SCFA, pointed out the vision of Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of SCFA, that is focused on family cohesion and community building. Workshops and activities include role-playing sessions, storytelling and drawing workshops, health promotion programmes, child safety awareness activities, and sessions on positive parenting, holistic approach to education and family well-being.

Session on separation

At the Kalimat Group’s pavilion, young readers flocked to listen to a storytelling session by author and media personality Samia Ayish who presented her latest work, ‘What Should I Say About Dad?’ This book, illustrated by Bakana Yaqoub Nejad, delicately addresses parental separation, preserving a dignified image of the absent father.

Ayish highlighted the need for open communication in families dealing with separation, encouraging parents to initiate honest conversations with their children.

Through an interactive art workshop, children expressed emotions inspired by the story, fostering dialogue about family dynamics. Ayish’s book signing ceremony concluded with personalised notes, reinforcing the importance of parental engagement in children’s emotional well-being.

Tackling bullying

Meanwhile, a panel discussion addressed the crucial topics of building self-confidence in children and combating bullying.

The discussion featured Riyadh-based Dr Iman Al Khatib and American author Stacy Bauer and was moderated by Emirati writer and life coach Dr Walaa Ahmed Al Shehhi.

Bauer highlighted the importance of open communication with children, encouraging non-judgmental dialogue to create a supportive environment. She also pointed out the unseen struggles of bullies, urging empathy and understanding.

Discussing the various parties involved in bullying, Al Khatib highlighted the role of family dynamics in shaping behaviour. Both speakers underscored the global impact of bullying on children’s self-esteem and offered strategies for parents to address and mitigate its effects.