Friday, 17 May 2013

Sharjah Children's Reading Festival 2013. Part one.

As everyone knows, Sharjah is to Dubai as Hove is to Brighton- a slightly more sober neighbour, just as important ( yeah right) and a bit less glitzy. When I was asked to attend the festival and told I would be flown out business class and put up at the Hilton, I thought long and hard for a split second and decided I would go for it, after all, it would be a culturally enhancing experience.
 The flight was great fun, a seat that turns into a bed, proper china for meals and everything!


Looking down as we arrived it was hard to believe that Dubai was a small fishing community just forty years ago and now six million people live there.
Here's the view of Sharjah from my hotel window, building is still going on everywhere.
At the hotel there were stars of the children's book world at every turn. I just managed to have a quick chat with the brilliant Dave Shelton, who was on his way home and fellow World Book Day attendee Cathy Cassidy. Here she is being attacked by a palm tree in the lobby.
I had arrived at the same time as Nick Toczek, poet, journalist, magician and John Row- poet and story teller both all round interesting people, more accustomed to the globe trotting life of the troubadour than me. Nick is an old punk, scouser, mate of John Cooper Clarke and is so hip he even had one of his poems ripped off by Babyshambles. We had great fun being wild young things hanging out together and exploring the souks searching for exotic tat for pining wives and children. Here we are having a wild party crammed into a tiny shop in the souk .
Exploring with John Row was quite an experience- people would stop him in the street to get their photo taken with him. What's the mater with them- have they never SEEN Santa before?
I had an event at Victoria International School- I didn't know how many children would be turning up - quite a few in the end!
I got them all to make up their own animal character- like this elephant by Aptin, I always like a good elephant picture.
There was an interesting exhibition of children's book illustration from around the world at the festival. I liked this giraffe by Miguel Tanco (Spain),
this by Kyoko Dufaux, Japan
and this by Salah Elmur, Sudan.
The Festival had a lot interesting panel discussions going on.  Academics, authors, teachers and publishers were discussing the state of children's books in the Gulf right now.
The impression I got was that the education system here is quite old fashioned and there is an appetite for making it more fun and appropriate to a rapidly changing world. How do you do that without buying in the Western approach wholesale and how does each country maintain it's own cultural identity?
This certainly came up in the panel discussion I was on with Nick Toczek and Amal Attalah.
The theme was "The challenges of writing for children".
It was more of a twenty minute speech by each panel member than a discussion, maybe for translation reasons but there were questions after each speaker. The translator did a remarkable job. I won't go in to what everyone said, here's an article in the Khaleej Times which sums up some of the points (the picture makes it look as if I'm singing my bit).
 I'm going on a bit so I'll do part two as another blog post.



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