Advocating for children’s book publishing
A country cannot prosper without investing in its human capital. This investment should start at an early age. It should emanate from the culture in which the individual was born and that counts as “a light of consciousness,” without which one could by no means be constructive.
Therefore, aspects of children’s culture, whether literary, scientific or linguistic, should be the main concern for any society aspiring to progress.
Mohammed Jamal Amro, chairman of the Children’s Literature Committee of the Jordanian Writers Association, a poet and author of children’s literature, said the Arab world is in dire need of better children’s culture.
“Nowadays, Arab children are learning from several sources. They grow affected by cultures and values that are different from ours,” Amro said during a visit to Egypt.
“These sources lure them because they offer things that are missing in the Arab children’s culture and therein lies the danger of such sources. There is an urgent need to create and offer cultural and literary content that is appropriate to Arab children.”
He said that one of the threats facing Arab children’s identity is that educators and parents often make children keen on languages other than Arabic. They might, for instance, speak with them in English, just to show off or out of plain imitation.
This reduces the children’s respect of Arabic and drives them away from it, which could lead to many problems, including the decline in reading in Arabic and weaker promotion of Arabic books.
Amro said: “Those in charge of Arab children’s literature have failed to create characters that might be role models for today’s children at a time when children can find attractive characters in other languages and cultures. Arab children have grown attached to those characters. They might even follow their paths and aspire to resemble them.”
“The failure to create attractive Arab role models for our children is paradoxical because our history and civilisation teem with great leaders, scientists and witty figures, who cannot be found in other civilisations,” Amro said.
He pointed out that “the responsibility for this failure is borne by parents, educators, textbooks and curriculum designers, as well as those in charge of cultural bodies concerned with Arab children.”
Amro stated that “the relationship between the various parties involved in the sector of books and media intended for Arab children needs a serious overhaul.
“A new relationship is needed between authors and publishers, on the one hand, and between publishers and readers, on the other hand,” he said.
The Jordanian writer pointed to increasing complaints from writers about what he called the “enslavement contracts” that govern their relationship with publishers and through which they should either comply with the contracts’ terms or refrain from publishing.
In the same vein, publishers often complain about the low demand for children’s paper books. All stakeholders should consider the children’s interest first and work to overcome obstacles and offer a variety of quality media products.
Amro said there were developments that stimulated the children’s literature publishing in the Arab world. This change, however, has yet to rise to the required level.
The Jordanian writer explained that among the factors that have incentivised the publishing of children’s literature was reading competitions, such as the Arab Reading Challenge initiative begun by Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. It has prompted significant reading dynamics in Arab countries and created the need for more children’s books.
“Yet the Arab children’s books published so far have remained meagre in terms of form, content and quantity,” Amro said.
He also said electronic publishing has taken up quite a bit of market usually allowed for paper publishing. Each day, more internet sites dedicated to children’s literature spring up, which has improved the attention paid to its form and content.
Amro has written approximately 250 children’s books, including poems and stories. His books have been published in Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He has won several awards, including the King Abdullah II Prize for Creativity in 2012, Anjal Hazza Bin Zayed Award in 2001 and Abdul Hameed Shoman Award in 2007.