As part of its Reading Month initiatives, the Ministry of Culture and Youth hosted a talk session on its YouTube channel on Wednesday, 16 March. The conversation about the importance of bedtime stories with Isobel Abulhoul, CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation and Ibtesam Al Bayati, children’s book author, was moderated by Youssef Abdel Bari. The speakers discussed the impact of reading to children and how it can be made a part of daily routine.
The speakers praised the UAE’s efforts in fostering a culture of reading at a young age and involving families in making reading a part of their daily routine.
“It’s a huge endeavour on the part of the UAE to encourage reading by dedicating a whole month to various reading initiatives. The various book fairs in the country are a testimony to our leadership’s commitment to promoting reading among communities. It is important to introduce children to books at a young age. Parents should start reading to their children and continue to read even when the children are old enough to read on their own. Reading is a great way to bond as a family,” said Isobel Abulhoul.
She added that children should be encouraged to choose the topics they like, not all children like the same books or have the same interests and a diversity in books should be encouraged.
It has been scientifically proven that reading is a relaxing activity and it’s a great way to engage your mind in before sleeping.
Ibtesam Al Bayati agreed that the love of reading should be inculcated at a young age and the onus lies on parents to introduce books to their children.
“You can achieve so much at home in terms of learning. The UAE is on the right track by the way it has made reading a part of the school curricula. There are so many activities that we design around children’s storybooks which makes early learning fun,” she added.
Youssef Abdel Bari held a conversation with Isobel Abulhoul and Ibtesam Al Bayation the Ministry’s YouTube channel to discuss the positive impact of reading to children
The moderator asked about ways to keep children from using phone and iPad. It’s an easy way to calm a child to allow them to play on the phone, he said but what is the way out of this?
Abulhoul pointed out: “Start reading a story and the child will crawl up to listen. Do not allow children under the age of two to watch content on phone or iPad. The best way to engage a child is to read to them. Just curl up in bed with your children and read together.”
She spoke about her how she fondly remembers her father who used to read to her when she was little, adding that those memories she cherishes to this day. Reading together fosters bonding and makes memories that are irreplaceable.
Al Bayati added that being a role model to children is very important. Teach the kids how books make excellent friends. Children learn empathy, social skills by reading about others’ experiences in their favourite books. Storybooks also aid special children to express themselves even if they cannot speak.
The moderator then asked how books could be used to foster openness and tolerance.
Abulhoul quoted an Emirati author who said that books should be a mirror and a window to a child.
Books help the readers have a deep understanding of other people’s lives and gives them a new perspective. Through various fictional characters children learn about what others are experiencing and develop empathy for them and learn a great deal about how to tackle challenges in their life.
Illustrations are a very significant part of children’s books and enhance their appeal and value to the reader.
When asked about the how characters in storybooksinspire the young readers, Al Bayatigave the example of books about the UAE’s leaders. Children see them as heroes in these books. Such stories are inspiring and also fascinating for young readers.
As a public speaker Abdel Bari said that he is often asked how to master language skills.
It has been scientifically proven that reading is a relaxing activity and it’s a great way to engage your mind in before sleeping
Abulhoul said: “Reading books is the best way to hone your language skills. Reading the Holy Koran helps to master the Arabic language. There is a life lesson for young people out there who want to do something in life. Find what you truly like to do and work hard, invest your time and energy in it to master it. There is no shortcut to success.”
Al Bayati continued that one should not give a timeline to achieve goals.
“Go with flow and give yourself time to achieve your goals,” she said.
The moderator then asked the panellists about the challenges on the ground if one was to publish and distribute a book.
Abulhoul said that while the UAE has excellent printers and publishers, the distribution of books is still a challenge.
“We have well-stocked book shops and libraries, but books don’t travel in the Arab world, we need a strong distribution network for local authors to help circulate their books throughout the region,” Abulhoul observed.
Al Bayati added that the UAE offers numerous workshops and children’s events to foster reading and inculcate a love for books.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there to read and explore new books, all we need is to discover these opportunities and tap into them. Parents should proactively engage in these workshops along with their children to encourage the habit of reading,” she noted.
The UAE offers numerous workshops and children’s events to foster reading
When asked whether books need to have age-appropriate ratings, Abulhoul said that it’s always a good practice to read what your children will be reading and it’s easier to monitor that for physical books as compared to digital content.
“You should know what your child is reading, this allows you as parents to monitor the content and also gives you an opportunity to have a conversation about the story with your children, it can be a topic of discussion at mealtimes,” she said.
Al Bayati added that she makes it a point to read every book before she reads it out to her class. “This helps me prepare and plan activities around it and get the kids excited about the story. It’s more interactive and fun to discuss these stories when I have already read them.”
Books are not just one’s best friends but also teachers and give a broader perspective on life. Cultivating a habit of reading from childhood will help raise a more aware and informed generation. The Reading Month is an annual event during which various government and private entities along with educational and cultural institutions participate in a roster of programmes to build a readers’ society armed with science and knowledge and capable of leading the development of the country, as the most important national goals of this initiative. By 2026, reading would become an integral part of the community’s behaviour with 50% of Emirati adults and 80% schoolchildren reading books as an everyday activity. It also aims for students to read an average of 20 books annually and stipulates that at least 50% of Emirati parents read to their children.