What Should be the Literary Staple for Developing Children’s Tastes?

  • Panel discussion at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival shares valuable insights           

At the Sharjah Children’s Festival (SCRF 2017), which is an 11-day undertaking by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), to develop children’s taste for literature; the role literature and books in general play in shaping young minds and developing tastes that last a lifetime was taken up as a discussion by a panel chaired by famous regional and international children’s authors and illustrators.

The way in which books contribute to the development of children’s verbal and visual vocabulary and preferences, and the role they play in shaping the emotional as well as practical sides of their personalities, was discussed at ‘Our Children – The Role of Books in Developing Children’s Taste’, which was one of the festival’s myriad cultural activities.

On the panel were Anushka Ravishankar, a children’s author from India; Jason Ford, a UK illustrator; Heba Ismail Mandani, writer from Kuwait and member of the Writer’s Association; and Dr Wafa Al Shamsi, writer, poet, theatre expert and academic from the Sultanate of Oman, who shared valuable insights on the way words, ideas, images, and other creative elements in books integrate to stimulate a child’s or young adult’s imaginations, and leave a lasting impression in the way they establish their preferences and even perceive the world as mature adults in society.

“Books are paramount in developing a child’s taste. When we say taste, we are actually referring to the power of a story in creating a lasting impression on a child, which they carry into adulthood. From my own experience as a young boy who was fascinated by Tintin and Marvel comics, much to my mother’s disappointment, I believe was one of the earliest triggers that shaped who I am today,” remarked Ford whose 8-page Superhero Comic Kit was launched recently.

Sharing her experiences as an author who has written over 25 books for children, as well as a publisher, Ravishankar observed: “I think this is true everywhere that when a publisher brings out a book, there are two issues to be addressed. One is to develop the taste of the young reader in a certain way, and the other is to cater to the perceived tastes that already exist. Often, because the world of publishing is a commercial enterprise, you look at what works and produce that. This, sometimes leads to a conflict between what the author and publisher wants.”

Dr Al Shamsi recounted her experience as a poet and theatre specialist in Oman who pioneered the introduction of theatre training in the country’s school curriculums to teach children coordination, teamwork, trust, time management in addition to sparking their imagination and creativity. These qualities, she said are the prerequisites for developing the right tastes.

“As authors, we try to establish an instant connect the creative source with their receptors. As human beings, our eyes always search for beauty. In books, this is captured in illustrations. Children develop their ‘visual taste’ in the process of reading illustrated books. Illustrations are a way of attracting children to the beauty of words,” said Heba encapsulating the role of illustrations in shaping preferences of young readers.