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HBKU Press launches literary workshops with Tell me a Story

Doha, Qatar: Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press launched the first of a series of three literary workshops on March 26th, 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 around 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.

“Books are published for two different reasons: to entertain and/or to inform,” explains Aljassem. “It’s easy for teachers and librarians and coordinators to choose books that will entertain their students; but how do you choose the right book to explain, for example, a death in the family? Or the immeasurable bonds of family?

“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.”

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.

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 verbalize and comprehend for young children.

Majida Mustafa Al Waraq, an Early Childhood Educator from Al Israa Primary Independent School for Girls, attended the conference in the hopes of learning how to deal with the various types of students in her class when it came to storytelling.

“I came to this workshop to get ideas about how to tell a story in and interesting and engaging way,” Al Waraq explains. “Not all of my students are interested in reading or listening to stories: some of them tend to be more visual, others like to listen, and some are very active and like the story to be acted out in order for them to be engaged. I came here in the hopes that I could get some ideas on how to continuously engage the different types of students in my class.”

Many other attendees shared the same reasoning for attending the workshop. Al Waraq’s colleague, Aisha al Mansouri, a second grade teacher of Arabic literature positively praised the outcome of the workshop on all different levels.

“It was a very beneficial and enjoyable workshop. I learned how a story should be chosen and told to certain age groups, and how to determine what stories work for what age groups” she explains. “Not only that, the workshop was presented very well. Rather than simply reading off of slides, the presenter was very engaging which kept the audience interested for the whole session. I learned a lot and I am glad that I came. I look forward to the next in this series of workshops.”