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.