“Are we a country that reads?” Khalil Gizawa, an Egyptian editor and novelist asked the curious audience attending “The Love of Reading: Love of the Book,” -an entralling panel discussion which took place at the 32nd Sharjah International Book Fair.
Meticulously moderated by Fadhiya Alnmar, the session focused on strategies for nurturing a passion for literature among children in the current digital age in which books compete with television and mobile devices for attention. Participating along with Mr. Gizawa were Alice LaPlante, Stanford University professor of writing and author of bestselling novel Turn of Mind (Grove Atlantic, 2011), and Melanie Watt, a French-Canadian illustrator and author of more than 20 children’s books
Referencing Egyptian literary giants Taha Hussein (The Days) and Naguib Mahfouz (The Cairo Trilogy), Mr. Gizawa explained that in the past, educational institutions valued students’ memorization and recitation of important texts and poems. He also noted that many people read on a superficial level, skimming for quick amusement or information. Highlighting the significant illiteracy rate in his home country of Egypt, he concluded his statement by calling for parents and educators to encourage young people to become interactive and deep readers.
Alice LaPlante opened her statement with a disheartening statistic: “More than 50% of American adults are not competent, regular readers.” As the mother of a teenage daughter and professor of Creative Writing at one of the USA’s top universities, Ms. LaPlante was able to offer extremely practical advice for nurturing a love of books among the younger generation. Her pointers included having a daily “technology free” hour in the home during which the entire family disconnects and reads for pleasure. She also urged parents to keep plenty of interesting reading materials around the home, to refrain from bribing kids to read lest they begin to think of reading as a chore rather than a pleasure, and finally to lead by example and become bookworms themselves.
Melanie Watt introduced the audience to several loveable heroes from her illustrated children’s books, including “Scaredy Squirrel.” Originally a designer by training, Ms. Watt became a full time author because she believes in the importance of keeping children interested in reading. She shared that “The most rewarding thing about my job is when I receive a letter from a child who says that one of my books inspired them to want to be a writer when she grows up.” Using practical examples from her own work, Ms. Watt stressed the importance of educators and parents reading children books with themes that encourage discussion and increase communication
Thanks to the panelists’ expertise, the audience of educators, grandparents, and parents left the session armed with theories and practical strategies for cultivating a love of reading among the young people in their lives.