A Whole New World: Day 1 of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (2017)

I came to Sharjah eager to share of myself and Philippine children’s literature. Five days later, I flew back home, my mind and heart filled with wonderful and shiny new treasures. Attending the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, I unexpectedly became a richer individual than I had been five days before — in terms of inspiration and insights.

Day 1:  My flight was late. We touched down at around 5:00 AM, almost an hour late. When I finally got out of the airport the sun was just coming out.

By the time we’d turned into Corniche Road where the Hilton was, the sun had already risen (below). I come from a country very famous for its sunsets. Only then, I realized that I had for years been programmed to look westward and at the end of the day, to look at the sun; I had never seen the sun at sunrise as immense as magnificent as this. It felt like a warm hug. It truly seemed as if God was smiling at me. What a beautiful greeting Sharjah gave me. Sadly, my phone cam did not do it justice at all.

Despite the lateness of my flight, it looked like I arrived too early for the festival. The  SCRF 2017 booth at the Hilton lobby had not even opened yet when I checked in. In my room, I napped for a couple of hours and then freshened up, then went down again to check the booth again to get my guest badge and inquire about transport to the opening ceremonies of SCRF 2017.

I got this box of cute doodads as a welcome gift from the Sharjah Book Authority (below).

It had felt so surreal, to be in the United Arab Emirates. The place is so unlike anywhere I’d ever been. But even then, within the UAE, the contrast between the emirates of Dubai and Sharjah seemed so marked. You will notice this in the architecture of the skyline. While Dubai is all modern, cosmopolitan and shiny, Sharjah’s sand-colored cityscape is proud, elegant and genteel, designed to complement the changing colors of the sun. Both are fascinating gems in a crown setting, each uniquely beautiful in its own way.

On the way to the Expo Centre, we passed by the iconic Eye of the Emirates (below).

It wasn’t  a dream after all, as I checked my FB news feed. In just a few hours, I was already going to be in my first SCRF event, a panel discussion on “Illustrated Stories and Its Status”. The Sharjah Book Authority had already announced it on social media (below).

The entrance to the Sharjah Expo Centre, venue of the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (below). The theme for SCRF 2017 is “Discover Beyond”.

A handy guide to the activities and a map to help you locate these in the huge venue (below).

Had to pinch and tell myself again that this was really happening.

Cute preschoolers in very colorful costumes hold up hashtags in Arabic (below). It was only my very first few minutes in the Expo Centre, so I’d been unable to ask anybody for a translation of the signs.

Very young schoolchildren waiting for the Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi to open the festival gamely pose for photographs (below).

A typical panel discussion that simultaneously happened around the venue. This featured two very young talents (below). One was a published writer who wrote her own stories in English while the other one was a storyteller who specialized in interpreting traditional Arabic stories. The forum was  bilingual and the rapt audience was composed of middle schoolers.

(Below) Our panel discussion entitled “Illustrated Text:  Illustrated Stories and Its Status”, facilitated by Linda Abdel Latif (Egypt) and co-paneled by  Sheena Dempsey (UK) and myself (Philippines).  The questions were in Arabic. Sheena and I and the audience were provided headsets while a translator in the booth interpreted the questions and answers alternately in Arabic and English–in real time. So cool.

Sheena discussed the importance of the various roles the illustrator plays to meet the changing needs of the child readers in their various developmental stages,  “Illustration plays different roles in different genres of books. In picture books for instance, the illustrator co-invents or co-authors the book, while it is seen playing a slightly different role in fiction where the illustrator responds to the author’s text – something I did for Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow,” said Dempsey.

I talked more about the expanding definition of literacy, beyond reading and writing, to include the visual as well. “In the college that I used to teach back in the Philippines, we have pushed illustration to include the visual metaphor, the visual pun, and visual analogy — traditional terms normally used in the formation of text — and applied these to visuals. There is a similar movement in visual arts schools in the US toward visual literacy. In a media-dominated world, we not only read books and magazines, but film, internet content, TV shows, and we need to learn to respond to these critically.”

Linda, Sheena, and I pose for posterity (above).

My lovely host, Ms. Cool-under-pressure Qurrat of the Sharjah Book Authority and I finally meet, and of course, we celebrate our first meeting with a selfie.

What an incredible first day!

On the way back to the Hilton, the glittery Eye of the Emirates winks at me.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 5.32.22 PM

The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is a cultural celebration attracting not only children, but extending the joy of learning to parents and adults in a family- friendly atmosphere. SCRF encourages learning and self-education from a young age, helping raise a generation of leaders, scholars and professionals who will contribute to the development of their society.

SCRF is held annually under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Muhammad Al Qasimi.

 

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