The UAEBBY on ‘Promoting a Culture of Reading’

From June 8-12, 10 emerging writers participated in a new session of the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY) project Books Made in UAE. ArabLit’s Hend Saeed was there, and she spoke with UAEBBY Program Manager Eman Mohamed:
The interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.

Hend Saeed: We’re here today for a UAEBBY project – Books Made in UAE. Can you tell us about the project? And what other projects does UAEBBY run in the UAE?

Author-facilitator Fatima Sharafeddine

Eman MohammedEver since the establishment of the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY), the local branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) in the United Arab Emirates, we have initiated a number of projects in support of our mission to promote a culture of reading among children and young people.

‘Children’s rights and safety’ was the subject of the 2019 edition of ‘Books Made in UAE’. Fatima Sharafeddine, an award-winning author of books for children and young adults, conducted the workshop. She took the participants through the fundamentals of writing for children and young adults, focusing on children’s rights and safety. The participants were exposed to various issues regarding the techniques and art of creative writing, as well as to children’s rights, based on the Wadeema law and on the UN resolution on children’s rights. They also worked on their own stories individually under the trainer’s supervision. Many discussions and writing exercises were held to help the participants discover their writing voice.

Some of UAEBBY’s other projects include: the Etisalat Award for Arabic children’s literature; the Warsha Program; Kan Yama Kan; and Read, Dream, Create.

HS: How do you see the role of the UAEBBY? To what extent is it about promoting Emirati books, and to what extent Arabic children’s literature in general?

EM:As I said, UAEBBY’s primary objective is to promote a culture of reading among children and young people. This includes literature from around the world.

One of the objectives of UAEBBY include the encouragement of the publishing and distribution of quality children’s books in the UAE, providing authors, publishers and illustrators with networking, knowledge exchange, and capacity building opportunities as well as promoting international understanding through children’s books.

HS: Do you think that, if BBY organizations around the region could better work together, it would make a difference? 

UAEBBY fellows with Eman Mohammed (back left) and Fatima Sharafeddine (center).

EM: There is no doubt that a collective effort will always be more effective than an individual one, and it was with this in mind that UAEBBY launched the “Guest of Honor” program in 2015, which seeks to cultivate new relationships with different IBBY sections, allow local talent to learn from the experience of international experts, and encourage reading among UAE’s diverse communities. It is well-known that the UAE is a multicultural country and this initiative hopes to embody this spirit.

Every year in April, during the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, the UAEBBY hosts a different IBBY section. As part of their visit they have their own section in the UAEBBY’s stand to display their work and do readings, workshops, and more. The guests include a writer, illustrator, and representative of the IBBY section.

In addition, the IBBYs meet every two years at the IBBY congress and discuss more potential collaboration between us. The congresses are excellent occasions to make contacts, exchange ideas and open horizons. On each occasion a different National Section hosts the Congress. Several hundred people attend the lectures, panel discussions, seminar sessions and workshops on current congress themes.

An IBBY International Congress also serves as a frame not only for the General Assembly and other meetings, but also for the presentation of different exhibitions and celebrations such as the Hans Christian Andersen Awards and the IBBY Honor List.

HS: What sorts of projects would you tackle if you could get BBYs in different Arab countries to work together? 

EM:The IBBYs do work together on projects from time to time. In addition, UAEBBY has initiated some very noble projects such as the fund for children in crisis in the Central Asia and North Africa (CANA) regions.

This fund was largely dedicated for the development and support of long-term projects committed to reading and that target children in post-crisis situations as well as children living in precarious conditions in the region.

To date, projects have been funded in six countries. It also supported the regional meeting of CANA members in Sharjah in 2013 and enabled CANA members to attend the IBBY World Congresses in London, England in 2012; Mexico City, Mexico in 2014; and Auckland, New Zealand in 2016.