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Panel discussion at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2017
A recent panel discussion organised by the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2017), titled ‘Ways of Producing Outstanding Children’s Books, has raised a series of questions about the reality of the Arabic children’s book industry, and the major challenges it faces in producing new books that are new in terms of meaning, design and layout.
Moderated by writer Abdul Fattah Sabry, the panel was chaired by Egyptian author, Amal Farah, and Kuwaiti children’s author, Latifa Butti, who spoke about their personal experiences in writing, publishing and marketing, as well as the awards they received since they started careers in writing.
The discussion explored ways to develop the children’s book industry and foster young minds to have passion for knowledge and the act of reading. During the discussion, the two writers focused on how a book’s text, its illustrations, and overall direction influence children’s and young adults’ attitude towards books and reading.
During the course of the session, Farah and Butti outlined several examples of changes that have affected the Arabic children’s book industry over the past 10 years.
“The Arabic children’s book industry had been affected by stereotypes about how children’s books should be published, as institutions, schools and parents depend the on classification by age group. As a result, each age group tends to follow a generic pattern of color, illustration and layout – something that has led to strong stereotypes in the Arab book market,” remarked Farah.
“This has resulted in children moving away from Arabic books, who look for internationally published titles because they are able to offer them the kind of creativity and uniqueness in book direction that helps them enjoy a different experience with each new book they buy,” she added.
Highlighting one of major challenges hindering the production of outstanding children’s books in the Arab publishing market, Farah said: “This problem extends to children’s science books. In the past 10 years, the Arab world has seen a serious dearth of good science publications, at a time when such books are encouraging the youth’s natural curiosity and thirst for science everywhere.”
Latifa Butti pointed out that children lack love in their relation with books. They are not nurtured to develop a love for reading, as many families or schools are not aware of the importance of reading in shaping a child’s cognitive abilities.
“The curricula in many schools hardly inspires a child’s imagination, and that is crucial to draw their attention to stories and books. Today’s school curricula are mostly inanimate and lifeless. They stress more on literacy, while they can be designed for both learning and entertainment where children can learn while having fun,” Butti said.
She illuminated that the issue of the Arabic children’s book industry does not pertain to illustrators, publishers and the quality of paper, but it lies in the text itself. If the texts in books fit with children, they will be attached and more attracted to reading.
Speaking about her experience in authorship, Butti observed: “At the very beginning of my career, I sent letters to many publishers who refused to publish my writings because they did not adhere to the traditional Arabic writing style. However, when the producers of the ‘Open Sesame’ TV show talked to me, they admired all the texts that were previously refused by Arab publishers and used them in the famous children’s TV series.”