Sheikha Bodour’s participation is in line with her continuing efforts in the publishing industry locally, regionally and internationally, and reflects her keen interest in highlighting the importance of reading to children, young adults and youth. Her presence in a high-profile publishing event stems from her unfailing support for initiatives that aim to facilitate children’s access to books, especially in disadvantaged regions, as well as her role in developing and improving the quality of books for children and young people in the UAE and Arab world.
Among the participants at the session were Gita Wolf, writer and founder of Tara books; Monica Malhotra Kandhari, Managing Director of MBD Group; Karen Pansa, Founder and publishing director of the children’s books publication, Girassol Brasil Edicoes; and Mingshu Zhang, General Manager of China Children's Press & Publication Group (CCPPG).
Discussions on how to motivate younger generations to read ensued, and practical steps from governments, institutions and publishing houses to achieve this goal were listed.
Sheikha Bodour said: “The UAE puts future generations, including children, adolescents and young people at the forefront of nation building efforts. It is imperative to provide youngsters with books and encourage them to read, as books are an endless source of knowledge and will empower the youth to participate actively in their country’s development and further the accomplishments made by the UAE in every field.”
She underlined the great efforts made by the UAE government to foster a culture of reading in the Emirati community – an approach clearly manifested in major cultural exhibitions and festivals, such as Sharjah International Book Fair, Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, among others. Sheikha Bodour also referred to the landmark initiatives launched by the UAE, like funding public libraries, distribution of home libraries, and honuoring distinguished authors and publishers, which have contributed to the adoption of reading as a lifestyle by all members of the Emirati society.
“I believe in the right of each child to read and have access to books. In order for nations to build their future, they have to provide their children and youth with inexhaustible sources of knowledge. Our ambitions and aspirations are directly related to the kind of knowledge and education we provide the future generations with. However, building a generation of readers is not an easy mission, especially in view of life changes and technological advances. Facing this challenge requires all of us, governments, organisations, schools, parents, and publishing houses to work together.” Sheikha Bodour said.
Tackling the first question of the panel, ‘how are we creating readers of the future’, Gita Wolf said: “What we do to create readers of the future is a far more complex question today than it was when I was growing up because we didn’t have many other windows to the outside. If we wanted to step out of the world in which we were, we read. It is very different now. Several distractions are vying children’s attention today, and we need to put a lot more effort to get them to read.”
“If you are successful in making a child a reader at a young age, the fact that he or she will remain a reader for life is undisputed. Books bring with them a certain pleasure and help readers discover new meaning in their environment, which is a quality that keeps. Here, I emphasise the importance of illustrated books, which must be promoted as they make an instant connection with young readers – even babies who haven’t yet learnt how to read, ” she added.
Monica Malhotra Kandhari, Managing Director of MBD Group, observed: “Reading is definitely very important. But what we infer out of it is even more important. I agree with Gita Wolf that starting early is crucial as young minds can be nurtured easily, but they must be allowed the time and be given essential tools to understand what it is they are reading, the essence carried within each book, and how these messages figure in their individual lives.”
“Whether the medium of reading is a virtual or a physical book, we as publishers have to understand that our basic responsibility is to provide good curated content, well researched and high quality materials that will truly benefit young readers. Creating a culture of reading is key, we have to adapt whatever medium of approach the market wants at a given point in time,” she added.
Karen Pansa brought the Brazilian perspective into the discussion, describing how their government has placed education and reading at the heart of national development. She said: “In Brazil, we have about 13 million illiterate children, young adults and adults as well. The government is engaged in trying their best to help these people receive an education, learn about their culture and environment. Since 2006, Brazil has started a book initiative under which they have set up these mini libraries where children can come, spend time and read with their parents. This has been done to establish contact between the youth and books, where they can bring a book home and develop their ability to not just read but understand literature and the messages contained within books – learning that they will carry with them their whole life.”
Mingshu Zhang stressed on the importance of books in creating well rounded individuals, saying: “The Chinese population accounts for one-fifth of the world’s population. I am one face, which represents this rather overwhelming statistic. In China, almost until 15 years ago not so many people would understand the importance of reading among young readers. But from the grass roots, numerous volunteers – parents or teachers, authors, librarians – came to understand the importance of reading to children. I am from the poor countryside in China and could not have imagined sitting here at this prestigious event if I did not take to reading. I am one of the strongest believers in reading.”
“Having been associated with IBBY, I have learnt that every country has their own way of approaching reading and a unique set of challenges. The act of promoting reading, thus, cannot be standardised. We are, however, united by our desire to read,” he added stressing on the importance of promoting tolerance and understanding among cultures from an early age through reading.
The International Publishers Association (IPA) is the world's largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers' associations. Its membership includes 70 organisations from 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. Through its members, the IPA represents thousands of individual publishers from around the world who provide publishing services to markets containing more than 5.6 billion people.