Literature Festival day 1: 2. The Importance of Quality Books for Children

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The Importance of Quality Books for Children & Young Adults (Nadine Touma, Fatima Sharafeddine, Taghreed Najjar, Qais Sedki)

This was a very interesting session discussing the current state of Children’s books, why is it there, and how can we change it. Children and young adults are the category of those who are 18 years old and younger.

There was an argument whether such books are categorized as Children books or Children literature. The authors leaned towards it being more of a literature, because it is an art on itself to communicate with such a sensitive age-group with any topic at all. The problem is that due to this age-group’s sensitivity toward whatever they receive, it becomes a harder job to write for them, and hence it is easier to just avoid it.

The main questions that targets the writers for this group are: what value does it give the child? What did you want to establish with it? How will that affect them? This often kills the author from a side. From the other side, it is forgotten that a child at that point does not really care about learning, he wants to be entertained. That is why you find other cultures where kids do read, their books are not necessarily value derived, they are more towards entertaining the child, and allowing him to enjoy the process of reading. Sadly, our children books are very basic in their language and purely ideal value setting, e.g. Ahmad went to play with his friend, Sarah went to visit her grandmother, etc.

The statistics says that we have around 120 Million people under the age of 18 years in the Arab world. Sadly, according to the present authors, their books are merely printed for 3000 copies, which barely get sold out over a period of 5 years. Conclusion: no demand!

So what should be done? It was agreed that though the financial support is important, it is definitely not the key. It could be the key for additional publishing to more countries, but what’s the use if we are still stuck with the same content that didn’t get the children to read in the first place.

We have to realize that we have a problem with our generation reading, and then try to create the demand for reading. Learn from other cultures how they solved it, embrace the molds, but create our own content. This is not a call for translation, because translation will still look different, and deliver values we don’t accept for our kids. Kids need to read and see what they can relate to, and enjoy reading.

There was a question that was discussed and debated without reaching to a conclusion. The question was: whose responsibility is it to create a reading society? Is it family, schools, writers, publishers, media? It was argued that education ministry may need to collaborate with cultural authority to provide better books for schools, and to guide authors to be aligned with the new writing approaches.

I believe it is not a one factor solution; it is an equation of contributing factors. Families definitely play a role; media plays a role as well. You never find an advertisement, tv show, movie, or anything at all where a kid not even remotely far in the background is reading a book. So the idea of reading becomes marginalized, uncommon, and as they say “uncool”. Authors need to revisit their content, if it’s not selling, then producing more will not help either. Schools need to grow that in their students. This is not achieved with reading competitions, rather with discussion panels and debates. And the list goes on.

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