The challenges facing children’s book publishing was the topic of a panel discussion held on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.
Speaking on the topic was Amal Farah, a prominent Egyptian children's writer: "People talk about how visual media - the digital media - pose a threat to the children's publishing industry. When you think about it, visual media aren’t new. In the past we had street clowns. These are just excuses to justify the failings and shortcomings of the publishing industry," she said.
“There's a need to bring back children to books and the key to that is for publishers to show genuine interest in that sector and to understand how books works,” she said.
The classic clichés that pertain to children's books, such as using bright colors for certain age groups and fewer words lead to oversimplifying the industry which kills creativity, she said. "The result is that children don't want to read books anymore and hence is less likely to be a reader when he grows up," she said.
The problem is manifested in the commercialization of books and the use of marketing incentives to encourage readers to buy books. "It is as though books need that commercial push to be sold," she said.
Also discussing the challenges facing the publishing industry when it comes to children's books was Kuwaiti writer Latifa Butti who prints and publishes children’s books in Kuwait through the Sidan Media project.
"Before talking about the challenges facing the publishing of books we should talk about the love of books. Schools today offer rigid curricula that are outdated and lack creative stories. They are informative but dry," said Latifa.
She said that while the publishing industry is not lacking in terms of quality of paper and story illustration, the real core issue is the lack of good content. "The text has to be relevant to the world in which the children live in. To make them feel safe and happy," she said.
Another challenge which she said she personally faced was the publishers lack of interest in publishing children’s Arabic folktales. “I like to revive these folktales so that the children remain connected to their own heritage. I was shocked at the publishers’ negative reactions saying that it is only relevant to the local Kuwaiti culture. Meanwhile we have Peter Pan, Cinderella and Snow White - stories that are not relevant to Arab culture at all - translated into Arabic,” she said.