Is a strong reading culture among children emerging in the Sultanate? With multiple efforts at diverse levels, it seems so. The increasing crowds at the children’s book stalls at each edition of the Muscat International Book Fair can be a pointer. With the Children’s Public Library, Qurum, set to add all the new children’s books at the book fair, youngsters will get to access a wider choice of local, regional and international books.
The Let’s Read campaign and the mobile library project by Dar Al Atta’a together constitute a major drive to enhance children’s reading habit in Oman. Various local libraries, general and charity bookshops and more importantly writers and illustrators are all contributing in various measures to build a vibrant young reading community in the Sultanate. Dedicated publishing houses for children’s books can be the icing on the cake.
The recent effort by Alila Jabal Akhdar to promote reading by launching a wonderful children’s book titled Tales from Jabal Akhdar: The Mountain That Touches The Stars — written by Azhaar Ahmed and illustrated by Ibtihaj al Harthi that presents ancient tales cherished by generations in the region’s villages — could be the beginning of the corporate world’s entry into the children’s world of books.
And there are books written by children themselves. My Father’s Handcrafts, by Amjed al Busaidi; Rocky and the Cold Hard Truth, by Anwar al Mashani; and Together We Can Make a Change, by Faris al Toubi are books written by children for children (and for the kid in every adult). They explore various issues such as environmental degradation, public littering, and heritage with a strong focus on Oman.
But what constitutes a good book for children? Most agree that it must be informational with or without a moral angle. It should also in some degree have a social consciousness. Today’s children’s books don’t shy away from touching on social, environmental and cultural issues too. Tolerance, protecting the environment, respecting one’s culture and heritage, discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, creed or nationality all find expression in today’s children’s books.
Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, and Cece Bell’s El Deafo are good examples, among many such works with a socially conscious content.
Another argument is put forward by renowned psychologist Bruno Bettelheim who defines a good book as one that would promote the child’s ability to find meaning in life. Not only it should fire up his or her imagination; but should aid in the development of the child’s intellect and connect with his/her emotions, anxieties and aspirations. It should also recognise the difficulties life throws at them, even as suggesting solutions to life’s problems.
Also, children love to be intellectually and emotionally challenged, and they seem to cherish books that stimulate their thinking and make them a little wiser by allowing them to experience or engage life from a refreshingly different angle. But is it possible to write a book for children that meets all these sublime goals? Not quite sure, but a try is truly worth it.
We may never find a consensual formula that defines what makes a good children’s book. But the Sultanate, with all its enchanting natural diversity and cultural heritage that spans thousands of years, is a highly fertile land for the imaginative minds to explore story ideas that enchant young minds. The amazing work ‘Mah and Me’ that scores high on storyline and illustration — both by Ibtihaj al Harthy, for instance, and the concerted efforts of various
stakeholders in the writing and publishing industry show that the children of the Sultanate can look forward to exciting reading times.