Experts and publishers of children's books converged on Beirut to discuss "Politics in Children's Literature" and look for ways to infuse Arabic publications with lessons about citizenship and social values.
Specialists from Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and Mexico attended the June 16th and 17th conference.
Organised by The Lebanese Association of Women Researchers, the conference addressed the need for children's literature in the Arab World to incorporate current events as well as lessons on tolerance, respect, democracy and equality.
"The conference provided space to discuss the importance of politics in children's literature in fostering political and social maturity among young readers," said Rania Zugheir, a writer, publisher and co-founder of the association.
The conference highlighted the need for individuals who produce children's literature to share expertise and address contemporary issues, Zugheir said.
"Writers and illustrators complain about a lack of interaction with international [experts] and a lack of studies and reference [groups] in their field of interest that can be referenced both academically and practically, and the absence of discussions about contemporary issues in children's literature," she added.
"This absence hampers the development of writing for children, in addition to the absence of a rubric for dialogue between contributors to children's books, including writers, illustrators and publishers," she said. "The conference sought to establish communication between them, expose them to successful global experiences and identify obstacles to progress in children's literature."
Ghada al-Zayat, an Egyptian illustrator and researcher in children's literature, said there is a need to address current events in the Arab world in children's books.
"The inclusion of politics in Egyptian children's literature under the current circumstances is very important given the many questions they are asking about ongoing events," she told Al-Shorfa.
Children's literature in Egypt is currently stalled, she said, although several books published in the past decade sought to educate children about their political rights, the principles of freedom and democracy, and respect for the law.
"The revolution produced other issues to discuss with children, and we ought to address these issues in their books," al-Zayat said.
Bayan al-Safadi, a poet, writer and specialist with the Syrian General Organisation of Books, said Arab children are already exposed to politics. The degree to which they are immersed in politics varies depending on conditions in their countries, he said.
"Politics entered Arab children's literature a long time ago, albeit in a distorted and superficial way as dictated by Arab regimes, which produced literature that conformed with the authorities' narrative," he said.
During the conference, al-Safadi discussed the development of political writing in children's literature since ancient times. He called for "genuine children's literature" that presents politics in depth but takes the child's needs into account and does not overwhelm the reader in the labyrinth of politics.
He said anyone who writes a book with a political theme has the responsibility to base it on sound principles.
"A true writer of children's literature has a deep and humane understanding of politics and presents the child with a world that does not discriminate between people," al-Safadi said. "The mind of an Arab child should not be underestimated. He is intelligent and is aware of the ins and outs of things while we consider him to be naïve. Today's literature is superficial and embroils the child in fictional and trivial battles. We should provide him with genuine and profound subjects."