Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press launched the first of a series of three literary workshops on 26 March 2017, as a part of its community outreach campaign to help promote local literature, literacy, discovery, scholarship and learning.

The workshop, which was led by the Arabic Editor at HBKU Press, Jameela Sultan Almass Aljassem, was held in the Student Center at Education City  and included teachers, librarians and academic coordinators from schools across Qatar. The theme, Tell me a Story, explored the art of storytelling and how to choose books for children that address sensitive issues and emotions, modelled after children’s books published by HBKU Press.

Aljassem explained:

The goal of this workshop is to provide these administrators with the tools they need to be able to identify the power that literature has in informing and opening up a dialogue with children about sensitive issues.’

Among many HBKU Press children’s titles, La ya Tarek’s shows children that a mother’s love has no bounds; Ana w Mah sensitively explores how to deal with the loss of a loved one; and Khayal Manal challenges the perception of children with disabilities. Each book is a shining example of how children’s literature, when done right, can inform their audience about issues that are otherwise difficult to verbalise and comprehend for young children.

Criteria to consider when choosing literature

According to Aljassem, the three criteria to consider when choosing literature that helps inform children include the age group, the content level and the physicality of the book.

First and foremost, it helps to know the audience that you are targeting and understand their comprehension level. Books should be chosen as per a certain age group’s level of mental comprehension which will be reflected in the language and picture choice.

Aligning the age group of the book to the target audience will help with the next point which is content choice. The best books can relay messages to children clearly while inspiring them to identify and question concepts and lessons learned. If a story has the child asking questions about the plotline or characters, chances are it is too complex.

Finally, the physicality of the book is almost as important as the content and age group. For younger children, sturdy, cardboard books provide children will limited dexterity the ability to grasp the book by themselves; while older children will manage just fine with thinner paper and paperback covers.

In addition to these criteria, Aljassem went on to detail how the actual storytelling also affects a child’s comprehension of and interest in a book. The idea is that the storyteller can use different tactics to engage a child, like changing their voice for different characters or varying volume levels, intonation, pitch and enthusiasm to reflect the mood of the story. Aljassem provided examples of how books published by HBKU Press meet these criteria and are able to tackle difficult issues for children in a sensitive, yet informative way and explained how one could vary the presentation of each story to be as effective as possible.

For more information on the Literary Workshops of HBKU Press, visit their website at books.hbkupress.com.