By Dennis Abrams
At this year’s Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, running April 23rd through May 4th, attendees have the opportunity to attend Cultural Programs covering a wide range of topics, including “The Absence of Arabic Childhood Protection and Strategies to Bring it Back,” “Arab Children’s Magazine – Between Prosperity and Decline,” and “Creating a Fantasy World for Today’s Children.”
On Thursday, April 25th, panelists from Britain, Australia, Tunisia, and Morocco examined the subject “The Important Elements of Childhood,” each bringing to the panel their own unique perspective.
Abdulrzaaq Kamoon of Tunisia author, storyteller, and founding member of Safaqis Children’s Book Society, after reminding authors and parents that “what you have in your heart is a child,” and discussing the changing roles of school, parents, family and books, placed special emphasis on what he called the three essentials: milk, kindness, and stories.
Taghred Chandab, one of the original Arabic-speaking Muslim reporters in Australia, whose work to close the widening gap between Muslims and non-Muslims in her country includes the writing of two critically acclaimed books for children and young adults, The Glory Garage: Growing up Lebanese Muslim in Australia and The Perfect Flower (both Allen & Unwin), spoke movingly about her experiences as a blonde-haired blue-eyed Muslim. She also emphasized the need to teach acceptance, not tolerance, saying “I will not just be tolerated,” while explaining that toget this message across you have to start with the kids.
Dr. Abdulrahman Jeeran, writer, critic, professor, and language department head at Abdul Malik Al Saadi University in Tetouan, Morocco, approached the question from academic point of view, arguing that there is really no child’s culture, that culture is made by society and the only real question is how to integrate children into their own culture.
But it was perhaps British author Terence Blacker, best known for his Ms. Wiz series of books (Fantastic Fiction), who came closest to most directly answering the question at hand. After reminding the audience that people who write for children are “slightly odd,” he quickly honed in on what he saw as the five elements that are most important, both in stories and in life.
- Power. Children should know that they do have power.
- Self worth. Children need to know that they are not alone, that who they are matters.
- Humor. Even if, and perhaps particular if serious, a little bit of humor is essential.
- Kindness or love or hope. If you’re not teaching children that, either as a writer or parent, you’re not doing your job.
The rapt audience seemed to thoroughly agree.