Three facts about LitFest’s groundbreaking education strand

‘Journeys’ is the theme of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2017 and, for children, learning to read and finding pleasure in the worlds within books is the most satisfying journey possible. Flora Rees, Head of Education, Training and Publishing, at the Emirates Literature Foundation, tells Vision about bringing authors and students together, and making books come alive

1. LitFest authors lead by example

All authors attending the Festival are invited to join LitFest’s education days, and this year more than 80 will take part in talks, workshops, Q&As and demonstrations in cookery and science exclusively for schools and universities. The programme is expected to reach 23,000 students from 150 different schools, in Arabic and English, offering a huge range of topics and appealing to all ages.

In live events like these, the children see the authors’ passion for what they do, understand the value of writers and writing, and hear new and exciting ideas that help them in their own journeys. Among the authors kindly taking part are The Green Sheikh His Highness Dr Abdullaziz Bin Ali Al Nuaimi, Christina Lamb and inspiring young Syrian woman Nujeen Mustafa, author of IPAF-longlisted The Smiles of the Saints Ibrahim Farghali, Francesca Simon, the creator of Horrid Henry, and Mr Gum series writer Andy Stanton.

2. Children are encouraged to embrace their competitive spirit

We approach the mission of encouraging reading in many different ways. One of our most popular competitions, for example, is the Chevron Readers’ Cup, where schools put forward teams of four to be quizzed on a selection of books in Arabic or English. This year over 2,000 children entered and the finals, taking place during the Festival, promise to be highly competitive and enormous fun.

We will also hold the final of the Qasidah par Coeur competition, where our judges will be enthralled by students’ poetry performances. We’re honouring the winners of our writing competitions as well – both the OUP Story Writing Competition and the Taaleem Award for poetry saw a big rise in entries in Arabic and English this year, and we’re delighted with the quality of the winning entries, all based on the theme of ‘Journeys’.

3. The Emirates Literature Foundation’s creativity goes beyond books

We want to celebrate the written word in all its forms, so through Digital Theatre Plus we’re showing live filmed theatre to students, and in Festival City Mall is the Art Exhibition – a wonderful collection of student artwork based on authors, illustrators and this year’s theme of Journeys. During the Festival itself, storytellers will be spinning tales in our story corners, and outside the InterContinental and in Dubai Festival City Mall many children are performing in the Festival Fringe.

We hope that the education day visits inspire children to bring their families to the Festival – with a vibrant and exciting children’s programme of talks and workshops, there is so much to choose from. For me, part of the power of literature is that emotional journey a good book takes you on as the characters change through their experiences. It’s difficult to pick just a few of the many authors I’m looking forward to seeing at the Festival, but my wishlist includes Piers Torday’s talk on his new book There May Be a Castle, which takes its hero on a journey like no other; Nujeen Mustafa’s extraordinary flight as a refugee, told so powerfully with Christina Lamb; and any of Leila Aboulela’s sessions!

The 2017 edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature takes place from 3-11 March. For more on the festival visit www.emirateslitfest.com