The Sharjah Book Authority is in charge of organising this Festival, which has just closed the doors of its 14th edition and whose general coordinator is Khoula al-Mujaini. A meeting by and for children and young people, because they are the future and the society of tomorrow will also depend on their education. According to official figures, the festival has had 122,000 visitors.
Throughout the different corners of the Sharjah Exhibition Centre, the venue for this prestigious event in the United Arab Emirates, one could read the slogan of this year's edition: "Train your brain". And that was the main objective, to provide these generations with the necessary tools to reflect and develop their intellect and emotions, but without forgetting to have fun. And what better age to carry out the training than at an early age, when minds are open and absorb everything they are told like sponges absorb water.
Every morning since 3 May, students from the various schools and from all over the emirate arrive in their yellow buses to enjoy some of the dozens of activities scheduled daily for children between the ages of 4 and 15. Uniformed schoolchildren mingled with families, another key ingredient in Sharjah's philosophy, hence many of the initiatives organised were designed to involve them together.
Spaces for art and science
The palette of colours to choose from was so vast that the choice of where to go and what to entertain oneself with became the most difficult. Original and fun spaces with the festival mascots, Wanda, Shuaá, Qalam and Nuqta, announced the theme of the activity or workshop: Science, Robotics, Music, Skills, Sport, Social Media, Handmade, Culture Forum, Intellectual Forum, Grand Prix, The Adventure of the Cubes, The Cooking Corner, The Social Networking Café, the Comic Station... Spaces that were joined by those of foundations, associations and official bodies.
Science and literature went hand in hand and walked together along the path of learning and play. Because there have been moments for singing, the violin, the harmonica, the piano, the maracas or the saxophone and also for taekwondo, kung fu, boxing, self-defence, fitness, zumba and yoga.
Because learning to cook and getting to know the main dishes from countries such as Italy, Lebanon, Japan, South Africa and France from the hands of outstanding chefs has been as interesting as boosting memory.
Because the robotics workshops, with drones and electric cars, have been as exciting as the world of social networks, their followers, the possibility of taking good photos and videos or delving into their advantages and disadvantages.
Because mixing the tradition of the old storytellers and their marvellous stories with modernity and the digital world and designing, for example, avatars has been very curious.
Drawing with pencils, watercolours and hands, making candles or discovering the Japanese technique of paper has been as unique an experience as getting into the world of electronics or the functioning of water systems.
Because the teaching of protecting our environment for a better future has been as good as remembering the old troubadours and reciting aloud.
Because knowing what renewable energies offer us has had as much effect as sitting down to read a book or enjoying it while it is being read to you.
Because listening to a concert of our favourite heroes, Spiderman, Batman... going to the theatre or watching the famous Ugandan children dance, Masaka Kids Africana, has been as exciting as doing scientific experiments.
Because shopping from an early age can be as original as making perfume... And because the love of reading, the essence of this festival, cannot fail to emerge among the thousands of works on display.
Meetings with prominent writers
Workshops to learn, to browse, to have fun, to explore... and meetings with the authors of the most varied adventures to dream about. Because the fact of being able to meet and ask questions to their favourite writers from different parts of the world has been unique. They shared their experiences, their fears, their hopes, their beginnings and their characters. Ross Welford, Khyrinnisa A., Sharon Cameron, Cheri J Meiners, Humza Arshad, Samah Abu Bakr Ezzat, Fatima Al Lawati... came to Sharjah.
The programme also offered more than interesting debates for parents on current issues affecting their children, which have an impact on their growth and education, and on society. Thus, experts in different subjects have analysed and talked about the future of books and audio books, social networks, artificial intelligence, preparing children for the economy, depression and other psychological illnesses in childhood and youth, autism and ways to act in schools, the importance of new generations being trilingual, sustainability and the need for a greener world, tools for children to grow up happy, curricula, manga and animation in literature, Arab popular culture, imagination or humour in children's books...
And let's not forget how much fun it was to wander through the aisles where something surprising could happen. The English artist Keira Rathbone left the spectators open-mouthed as she made her spectacular drawings with a typewriter; the Mobile Gallery and its art walks showed the worlds of Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh with their paintings Field of Poppies and The Sunflowers; the French troupe Les Vaguabondes brought their Spirit of the Woods, acrobatics to convey the importance of conserving nature; British circus performers Jason Maverick and Laura Davis became real blue humanoids whose mechanised movements were imitated by the children; a family of flowerpots walked happily through the festival... And, of course, there was no shortage of mascots Wanda, Shuaá, Qalam and Nuqta, who never stopped surprising and taking pictures with children and adults alike.
Theatre also had its place. Alone at Home, a production between SBA, UAE's Nujum and Kuwaiti Panther Media Production, which featured prominent actors, was warmly applauded by the audience.
Sharjah closes its Children's Reading Festival, an encounter where learning has been a lot of fun.