The Sharjah International Book Fair

Last summer I was contacted by the Sharjah Book Authority inviting me to submit a proposal to run children’s workshops at their Book Fair in the UAE. This was a complete surprise as I hadn’t realised there were book fairs which cater for schools and families in addition to the publishing industry, and I certainly didn’t expect to be offered flights, accommodation and meals for a workshop job. After a bit of research I recognised a fantastic opportunity and submitted my proposal which was accepted.

The Sharjah International Book Fair runs for eleven days in November with each workshop facilitator attending six days. There were hundreds of book fair guests staying in hotels around the Sharjah Expo Centre, and a large proportion of these were running children’s activities. The fair’s aim is to offer a ‘fun-packed, entertainment filled eleven days of discovery, creativity and excitement’. There were around seven children’s workshops going on at a time in the morning and afternoon plus drop in activities running all day. There was also a children’s theatre, a comics hall with it’s own activities, a huge range of books for sale and lots of other entertainment around the centre. School classes arrived by coach everyday to attend workshops and enjoy the rest of the fair. After school and at weekends children would arrive with their families. I was very impressed that this was offered for free with a view to improving children’s literacy.

The fair was a very intense and wonderful experience. Luckily, I was offered a plus one ticket for my husband who can also draw and can speak Arabic! Even though we had two wonderful helper/translators in our workshop space, having his assistance was an amazing help. At times when we were concerned we didn’t have enough children for the next workshop he would be walking around promoting it, and when we were suddenly inundated with thirty or more children, he would sit down with groups of kids who needed extra support.

We did a whole range of workshops for different age groups including drawing games, character creation, comic/picture book creation, and step-by-step character drawing. Children could attend on multiple days, so it was important to offer variety. The children weren’t just from the local area – there were lots of families who had moved to Sharjah for work so there were a variety of languages spoken, with most of the children being multi-lingual.

We bonded with our fellow workshoppers who came from all over the world including Australia, Mexico and Italy and offered a diverse selection of sessions such as stop motion animation, craft, story telling and writing. We all helped each other at the beginning, when we weren’t sure where to get stationery or where to get a car back to the hotel. It was also great to get to know the very funny writer and cartoonist, Neill Cameron, and to meet author/illustrator Hrefna Bragadottir on our last day (which was her first day).

We had a bit of time between workshops to enjoy the beach and local area including the Sharjah Art Museum and the local souk, and we particularly enjoyed the food! Dubai is very close but virtually impossible to get to when the traffic is bad, so we had to give it a miss. Overall Sharjah was a surprising, intense and wonderful experience and we’d love to go back and do it again.

Explore Arts Award


After training to become an Arts Award Adviser last summer, I was lucky enough to be involved in the Explore Arts Award both as a freelancer and as part of my day job. Bromley and Bexley ran the award for their Chatterbooks reading group members and anyone else who was interested in attending between the ages of 8-12 at four libraries.

The Arts Award is like an arts based version of the Duke of Edinburgh which also has gold, silver and bronze levels to choose from. Explore comes below the ‘Bronze’ level of difficulty and involvement, and gains a well respected qualification from Trinity College. The award takes the participants on a journey of inspiration, exploration of artists & arts organisations, creation of an original piece, and presentation to visiting parents.

I ran illustration workshops at three libraries, based around the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist – part of our Arts Award theme. We looked at the books, learnt to draw ‘Ishmael Mouse’ from Chris Riddell’s ‘Goth Girl’, and then filled in the relevant parts of the Arts Award log books. The children all followed the same step-by-step process which I demonstrated on a flip chart, but produced a fabulous variety of characters. I tweeted some of the photos after the workshop and was delighted to get some lovely comments from Chris Riddell himself, which were passed onto the group.

I’m lucky enough to work at the same library as Lyn Stone, a published children’s illustrator. She ran the workshop at our library which kicked off with the children becoming journalists and asking Lyn some great questions about her career. They made their own picture books using pre-made books of bound coloured paper into which they could collage, draw, write or put together pre-printed sentences. This approach worked really well, catering for the different needs and interests of the group, particularly as we have two children who are learning English. The children use log books to record their Arts Award journey. It’s a pleasure to look through and see the beautiful artwork, information and comments the children have added.

Once all the sessions and the log books had been completed, the Arts Award Advisers at each library went through the work to make sure the criteria had been met and the children had passed. A sample selection were requested by Trinity to be assessed, and I’m happy to say everyone passed. This was a pilot scheme for us and one of the main things we learnt was that a lot more time was needed for the children to complete all the work and for us to plan the sessions. It was hard work, but very rewarding, and I can’t wait to do it again.

 

Southwark Libraries’ Graphic Art Competition


This Autumn I was asked to judge Southwark Libraries’ Graphic Art Competition for the second year. This is a wonderful job and consists of working through the many entries for three age categories to choose a winner, runner up and an entry that deserves a special mention. The competition really inspires young people and gives them something engaging to do over the summer holidays. The entries were diverse and wonderful:

At the awards ceremony in Southwark’s Culture Space, which resides in the fabulous Canada Water Library, I led a Record Breakers comics and GN workshop which tied in with the Summer Reading Challenge. There is such a lovely family atmosphere at these awards, that I always try to get everyone involved in drawing, including grandparents and younger siblings. It was great fun walking round to see the characters that were created.

I was able to meet all the entrants and their families – it was a pleasure to talk about the artwork and to encourage young people to continue in a creative direction. The awards were given out by Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Wingfield.