Renad Qubbaj: ‘With Utmost Respect for the Child’s Intellect’

Renad Qubbaj has served as General Director of Tamer Institute for Community Education since 2006. She holds degrees in Physics, Electrical Engineering, and Atomic Physics. 

A visionary in youth education and literature, Qubbaj has presented globally on oral history, informal learning, and Tamer’s emancipatory approach. Under her leadership, Tamer won the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

She has led Tamer in promoting reading and arts for youth since 2006, including directing the National Reading Campaign engaging over 35,000 children. An advocate for children’s rights, Qubbaj believes quality literature can drive social change.

In response to the first question about the challenges she faced and how she adapted, Qubbaj wrote: 

“I have observed significant changes in children’s and young adult literature, particularly in the last four decades. The societal perception of this literature has evolved, moving beyond its exclusive educational role to encompass multiple dimensions. It now addresses social, linguistic, educational, and psychological aspects, celebrated for its creative impact on shaping the cultural landscape, especially for children and young adults. As an organization, our constant endeavor is to provide meaningful experiences by offering high-quality children’s and young adult literature in Palestine and the Arab region, with utmost respect for the child’s intellect.

“We have also embraced global experiences by participating in international exhibitions such as the Bologna Book Fair and translating select publications into Arabic. These endeavors serve as exemplars for young readers and the creators of children’s books, including writers, illustrators, designers, and publishers.

“In Palestine and the broader Arab region, the ability to purchase children’s and young adult books has declined, due to decreasing reading rates outside educational settings, a lack of government support for children’s literature, and economic crises. As part of our commitment to disseminating knowledge, we distribute a portion of our annual publications freely to community and school libraries in Gaza and the West Bank.

“However, we face challenges in the region, as there is resistance against unfamiliar books perceived as a threat to traditional conservative culture. These accusations arise from shifts in thought patterns and the influence of radical ideologies on our social fabric and authentic Arab-Islamic culture. In response to these changes, our foundation nurtures values that encourage critical thinking, curiosity, questioning, and the fostering of imagination – all vital aspects we aim to support through our publishing unit, engaging in patient and responsible dialogue while seeking practical solutions.

“Recently, the foundation has witnessed a vast expansion of digital products in our daily lives, significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions. This prompts us to explore digitization and find alternatives alongside physical books. Our experience with the digital library involves transforming a considerable number of our publications into animations and creating an accessible audio library for children with disabilities. Additionally, we have initiated the process of translating some publications into Braille to cater to children with visual impairments.

“Through flexibility and adaptability, we strive to navigate the numerous consecutive changes occurring in Palestine and the world. Our commitment remains steadfast as we fulfill our roles, beliefs, and aspirations.”

As for the second question about what brings her happiness, Qubbaj responded: 

“The source of my happiness lies in the spaces provided by Tamer Institute to produce thought-provoking books. These books go beyond the familiar realms of our daily experiences, offering a fresh perspective on self, environment, and the world. They enable us to connect emotionally and intellectually with diverse characters and transport us to a safe and engaging place that transcends physical boundaries. These literary works have a lasting impact, penetrating our hearts and minds, and ushering us into a more expansive realm that shapes our evolving human identity in a world characterized by freedom and liberation.

“A thought-provoking book accompanies children and young adults on their journeys through life’s challenges. It shapes characters and events according to young readers’ perspectives. What characterizes such a book is the space it provides for young readers to question and contemplate various aspects of existence, from self and family to love, homeland, death, war, loss, and faith. By embracing critical thinking and rejecting complacency, such books break down barriers and encourage intellectual engagement.

“Tamer Institute for Community Education stands out for its fruitful partnerships with community libraries and schools. By distributing its publications and fostering discussions with children, the institute sparks interactive dialogues and dynamic activities. Witnessing the intelligent and heartfelt reactions during these sessions fuels our hope to continue delivering high-quality books to Palestinian children and, more broadly, to Arab readers.

“The process of book production, from the initial submission of texts to their meticulous preparation for publication, is an exceptional and personalized journey for each writer, artist, and work. Each book carries its own narrative, challenges, and moments of joy. The foundation engages in thorough reviews, working closely with creators, including children, who contribute their perspectives and suggestions for refinement. Even with complex texts, children display remarkable insight, shaping the review process and contributing diverse interactions and observations. The publishing team exhibits unwavering dedication and a constant drive for learning from others’ experiences.

“Recently, the institute proudly introduced a new work titled Al Khazan by Aya Al-Barghouthi, a talented undergraduate student at Birzeit University. This comic book, inspired by Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun, marks her debut but foreshadows a promising future. Through its available production opportunities, the institute creates spaces for emerging artists in the publishing industry, challenging conventional roles, market pressures, and rigid professionalism. We view these initial experiences as pivotal moments for artists to reflect and grow alongside their readers, tracing their development through multiple publications. Ultimately, these works become a source of pride, transitioning from the institute’s platform to the international stage through translations by publishers with a global reach.

“It is important to highlight the institute’s extensive and noble experience in providing books to camps, villages, and cities through community and school libraries. This, coupled with its Arab and international connections, strengthens its publishing capabilities related to writing, illustration, and production. Regularly hosting diverse international experiences, the institute fosters a fruitful exchange, collaboration, and the development of expertise in the field of children’s and young adult literature. Through continuous exposure to individual and collective experiences in this literary realm, we strive to refine the art form and contribute to the growth of Arab readers’ critical acumen.

“In conclusion, Arab literature boasts a prodigious output that rivals its global counterparts in terms of diversity and thoughtfulness. We earnestly hope that this rich Arab production will be met with rigorous and nurturing literary criticism, fueling its development and fostering a discerning readership within the Arab community.”

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