When it comes to the pandemic’s impact on literary events, few segments of the population were as affected by the dormancy as children.
Even as local fairs and festivals regained form, gradually expanding their programmes to feature in-person panels and activities, school trips were curtailed as authorities and organisers feared students would be susceptible to spreading the ever-evolving variants.
Now, as public events have largely reprised their pre-pandemic bustle, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival has returned with a sprawling 12-day programme designed to instil a love for the written word in youth.
Running until May 22, the festival is taking place at the Expo Centre Sharjah under the theme Create Creativity.
The event, organised by the Sharjah Book Authority, was inaugurated on Wednesday by Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Supreme Council Member.
The festival is hosting with 139 publishers from 15 countries, including the UAE, Lebanon, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the US, Kuwait, Qatar, Sudan, Morocco, Canada and Iraq.
The festival's agenda includes 120 cultural activities led by 43 international guests from 21 countries. The guests include Mohamed Henedi, Egyptian actor and comedian; Kyle Balda, American animator and the director of Minions, Jumanji and Toy Story 2; composer and singer Tarek Alarabi; in addition to authors and creatives from the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, countries from the African continent and Russia.
But while the festival’s book-related events are alluring in their own right, there are also several peripheral attractions that promise to make the visit memorable to children and adults alike.
Among these is the interactive Robot Zoo.
A high-tech experience that merges the natural world with the mechanical, the attraction features large robotic interpretations of animals including chameleons, giraffes, a giant squid and a rhino, each animated by visible motorised parts.
“We have created this unique exhibit because we’re committed to getting kids interested in the sciences — and ultimately in science and engineering careers,” a statement by Evergreen Exhibitions at the venue reads. “Innovations in medical, communication and information technologies happen when kids who think science and technology are cool become adults who make science and technology cool.”
The exhibition explores through robotics how flies manage to walk on ceilings, how chameleons change colours and how a giant squid jets around.
Another addition to the festival is the Social Media Station, which will host 12 influencers and content creators as they lead more than two dozen workshops and activities.
A Cookery Corner will also present culinary activities featuring eight renowned chefs from around the world.
The festival is also presenting the 10th Sharjah Children’s Book Illustration Exhibition, featuring impressive and unexpected artworks from child artists from 48 countries.
The event also brings together more than 50 publishers and illustrators at the Children's Book Makers Platform (Ufuq), which aims to promote children's books in Arabic that feature high-quality visual content capable of attracting Arabic speakers worldwide.
On top of all that, there's a Comics Corner, with coveted manga titles as well as publications by DC and Marvel on sale. The corner also has a video games station, where visitors can play popular titles including Fifa and Mortal Combat on the latest consoles.
From Sunday to Monday, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival will also host the inaugural Booksellers Conference. The first of its kind in the world, the conference will bring together more than 200 distributors from around the world to the Sharjah Book Authority headquarters to discuss ways to strengthen and advance the publishing sector in order to facilitate the reach of knowledge sources to the public.