Guadalajara: Children's literature produced in the UAE and Mexico took centre stage at the ongoing Guadalajara International Book Fair during a panel discussion that brought together Emirati author and illustrator Alya Alshamsi, and Mexican author Erica Olvera, at the Sharjah Pavilion, as part of the emirate’s Guest of Honour programme at the 36th edition of the book fair.
During a session moderated by Mexican author Paulina Delgado under the title 'What Distinguishes our Picture Books in the UAE and Mexico?', Alshamsi shared her experiences in children's literature and her conviction of the power of arts to safeguard and support children psychologically as well as ensuring a healthy upbringing.
Alshamsi explained: "During the pandemic, my child and I used to feel anxious, and I started experimenting with art therapy and drawing activities to lower anxiety levels. I had an idea to implement these techniques into tuition, and my school requested that I make a book to distribute to parents. From that experience, my silent book ‘Night and day’ was born."
She commented that the children's book industry in the UAE is advancing rapidly, especially in the illustrated children's book genre. Alshamsi children's books in the UAE have a distinct identity that can be appreciated as soon as you pick up any of her works.
Speaking about the challenges of building young generations of readers, she explained that the main challenge lies in parents who do not read, because it would be hard to instil the habit of reading in their children if they didn’t have role models at home in this regard. She pointed out that children in their early years mimic their parents' behaviour, including reading.
Commenting on the development of children's literature in Mexico, author Erica Olvera said: "There are a lot of challenges in this field, including the lack of a large selection of books, especially in public libraries and bookstores." She pointed out that children only have access to their parents’ books, typically from the Mexican literary scene.
She said the lack of reading habits in Mexico is a pressing matter that is being tackled individually by publishers, authors and intellectuals. She asserted that parents who do not read would result in younger generations not knowing the value of reading either.
Olvera indicated that the Mexican children's book market is large and includes prominent artists and publishers. However, she said it sometimes lacks high printing quality and faces distribution problems. She partially blamed the origin of these challenges on official cultural institutions and their declining role in catering to the youth.