Qais Sidqi Image Credit: Alex Westcott/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Emirati children are steadily losing an interest in reading, not only because of their exposure to other sources of entertainment but also because they do not have enough cultural characters to look up to as their role models.

That concern, among others, was highlighted during a discussion titled ‘Emirati Authors Write for Emirati Children' at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2011 (ADIBF). The fair, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), ends on Sunday.

"The problem is that Emirati children and young adults do not currently have a wide variety of books or characters from our culture that they can identify and connect with, which is why they turn to other cultures to bridge that gap," Qais Sidqi, Founder and Managing Director, Page Flip Publishing, said.

Sidqi is the author of the successful Arabic manga (Japanese comic style) Gold Ring, which won the Shaikh Zayed Book Award for Children's Literature in 2010.

Fellow Emirati panellist and children's author Maitha Al Khayat agreed.

Maitha said that when she returned to the UAE after living in the UK for several years as a child, she found it difficult to re-connect with her heritage.

"I have always loved to read… I spent a lot of time in libraries and making friends with all the books that I read. When we returned to the UAE, I found it difficult to connect with other Emirati girls in my class… and I also found myself struggling with Arabic. I became determined to find some Arabic books that I could enjoy but after being disappointed with the titles being offered, I turned once again to English books," Maitha said.

One for the readers

Both Emirati authors noted that for children and young adults, there aren't many programmes, books or characters that they can identify with and enjoy reading about.

They agreed that one of the reasons is because Arabic authors writing for children usually write at their audience, instead of writing for them.

"Other cultures have a strong foundation for writing children's literature… they have developed techniques that encourage children to not only read but also engage with the characters… unfortunately, in this region we are still struggling to find that technique.

Instead of forcing them to read, which will make them resent it, we should allow children and young adults to develop at their own pace.