Spotlight on Year of Reading

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - Iso­bel was talk­ing with

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…


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.


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.


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

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