TOP PAGE TURNERS FOR THE SUMMER
Spotlight on Year of Reading
W e’re already over half way through 2016, and before time runs away from us completely, it is important to stop and reflect on the UAE’s Year of Reading, an initiative declared by the government as part of an effort to address a crisis in the Arab world.
Summer holidays begin next week and kids will have plenty of spare time on their hands. But how many will turn to literature? Reading is a passion for Isobel Abulhoul (OBE), festival director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation.
Here Isobel gives her thoughts on how to get kids interested in reading…
CREATING THE RIGHT CULTURE
It’s not easy to be honest. If you grew up surrounded by family who enjoyed reading, it’s almost that you catch it, it’s viral.
When you are very young and you have been exposed to this attitude, the unwritten message has been imprinted on you; books are enjoyable and a book is something to be valued - a treasure. Whether reading under the covers with torches, or trying to prove that you’re old enough to read a book by yourself. These are very special times. But it is not easy if you are in a culture where, potentially, there is not a habit of reading to babies.
And nowadays books are fighting with all manners of things. But really there is nothing quite like a book.
By starting with the youngest members of society, they are a blank canvas and we can give them the experience that then becomes enjoyable. So we have to look at parents, carers and teachers who have the access and the ability to show how wonderful it is to read for pleasure. That is where a lot of the focus of the Emirates Literature Foundation is going - giving as much education and support time and time through toddler groups and nursery schools, parent groups and wherever we can. Just reminding everyone of the basics. If you allow a child to discover reading is enjoyable, they won't forget it.
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
There really is no pleasure greater than having a one-to-one with a writer, and that’s what reading is. It is an intimate relationship. It’s quite incredible I can read a book and see the same characters completely differently to the next person who reads it. We all take away different points and different things the writer was meaning to say. I have interviewed writers and mentioned fantastic little bits from books I found special and it’s amazing the writers have never noticed those particular pieces! Books play on our experience and it is this meeting of minds where authors allow us to paint a picture of something they have written. You vividly see things from books you have read. You don’t want to see the reality because that would ruin your vision.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
The government realises that this is a process and you cannot just click your fingers and suddenly everyone is picking up books. From that point of view it is not a year of reading, it is more like 10 years or 100 years. The government has made a stand to say reading is vital for our population, that they want to have a nation of readers. And in the long term, it is easiest to create readers from children. They will pick up the habit of reading for pleasure and for me, that really is the crux of the matter - reading for pleasure. If you are someone who reads for pleasure and values books, you will go back to them time and time again. But if you do not enjoy reading that is not where you are going to start. My worry and focus is always on those who do not read for pleasure.
WHAT’S THE STORY? The UAE’s children enjoy the litfest and, inset, Isobel Abulhoul with author Meera Syal