SHARJAH, UAE – The world’s largest book fair aimed at children, Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, has attracted a record number of people.
This month 306,000 people attended the event in Sharjah, in the UAE, a small increase on last year’s figure of 305,000.
Leading publisher and member of Sharjah’s ruling family Sheikha Bodour Bint Al Qasimi said during the event that it is her lifelong mission to get children reading to promote peace and understanding and reduce bigotry, hate and violence.
Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival has particular relevance this year as the emirate has been named UNESCO World Book Capital 2019.
Poetry and creative writing workshops, a talk by a young social media star and sessions about child geniuses were included in the 11-day programme at Sharjah’s Expo Centre. Competitions and cookery workshops were also in the itinerary as well as workshops for young illustrators.
Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is one of two annual book events in the emirate. Sharjah International Book Fair has been running since 1982 and is in the top three book fairs in the world.
Hira Hareem, an exhibitor from Pakistan, said: “People are more inclined to gadgets now – iPhones,
iPads, YouTube – and books are losing their importance. We feel this festival and festivals like these are a great opportunity because this is how you bring them closer to books.”
Sheikha Bodour said: “It is my lifelong mission to get children to enjoy books. I’m a mum of four children and for me what I really like to see is for children to enjoy books. It’s not about education and learning because they do that at school. What I like to offer them at home is for them to have pleasure from reading a story. For them to laugh, to cry, for them to get connected to the stories and that for me is a joy.”
As Vice President of International Publisher’s Association Sheikha Bodour is also a strong advocate for freedom of expression and aiming to bring the UAE’s leading publishing experience to global markets. “It’s important for us to allow our authors that platform where they can freely say what they want and also express themselves freely.”
The city was selected by UNESCO because of its “innovative, comprehensive and inclusive nature” towards reading and its proposals to engage the large migrant population. During Ramadan Sharjah is also running a special program, distributing books to refugee camps in the Middle East.