Books build empathy and acceptance in children and make them better adults, say young adult authors at SCRF 2023
Panel session at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival highlights that reading is an essential to building the younger generation’s ability to accept the others with tolerance and compassion
Sharjah, May 6, 2023
Books and reading play a vital role in children’s development and in their social awareness and education. A panel of prominent children and young adult writers from around the world discussed this at the on-going Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2023), touching on the impact that books have on youngsters and how it in turn leads to their contribution to society as sound and well-rounded adults.
American New York Times-bestselling author Jasmine Warga, Scottish novelist Ross MacKenzie of The Nowhere Emporium fame, and Emirati short story writer Nadia Al Najjar spoke about how reading fosters growth and acceptance in children, and the challenges of getting them to read, specifically in the digital era.
“Novels are introspective art forms, and let children explore ideas and emotions that are not just about them,” said Warga. “They offer a space to explore and grow emotionally. Lots of studies in the US show that kids who are voracious readers are more empathetic as they learn about and identify with other people’s emotions and opinions.”
“Books are such an important part of a child’s development. When children start reading novels on their own for the first time, it is often the first time they are exposed to evil or tough emotions, which is essential for their learning and growth,” said MacKenzie.
Books are the gateway to discovering the world, for youth and children, and to feed their curiosity about it, said Al Najjar. “They have questions for which they look for answers, and many are found in novels. They get to know about far off places and people, becoming more empathetic and learning to accept differences and become more tolerant,” she said.
“Life is a series of stories and events, from which they can learn how to deal with specific situations. For example, if they learn about bullying through stories, they sympathise with the victim and that it is not considered acceptable,” she added.
The authors also spoke about the challenges around reading in the modern age of distraction surrounded by devices and social media. “This is where festivals like SCRF play a vital and fun role,” said Warga. “All kids can love reading. It’s just about unlocking it and matching them to the books that speaks to them.” Attesting to that, MacKenzie said, “Matching the child to the book is crucial. At 9, I was not a reader whatsoever. Then my teacher read out the book that changed my life, The Witches by Roald Dahl. I wanted to make people feel how that book made me feel, and that is how I became a writer.”
Reading must become a lifestyle for children, pointed out Al Najjar. “That is why these festivals like SCRF are important, to enrich reading – it’s the very foundation of a cultured society and the one on which children grow up to be solid, kind adults who contribute to their communities.”