When Isobel Abulhoul first mooted the idea of a literary festival in Dubai, she never imagined it would capture the public’s imagination as it did. ‘All the pieces fell into place, as these things sometimes do, and we were caught up in a wave of enthusiasm and passion to have this in Dubai,’ she says. The Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature (EAIFL) will run from February 26 until March 1 and, with a dazzling array of talent – authors such as Margaret Atwood, Wilbur Smith and Louis de Bernières will be Dubai-bound at the end of this month – it promises to be a celebration of literature in all its forms.
For kids, there’s a great selection of children’s writers including Lauren Child of Charlie and Lola fame, former Children’s Laureate Anne Fine, as well as Anthony Horowitz and Jeremy Strong.
While us mums and dads hotfoot it to hear Kate Adie talk about risking it all, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ account of Living Dangerously and the Arabic authors’ readings (which will be simultaneously translated into English), the little ones are not left out either. In fact, one of the primary aims of the festival is to help make reading more accessible to children.
The festival has lent its weight to the UAE’s pledge to eradicate illiteracy completely by 2015 (the Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organisation, Alesco, says 100 million people across the Arab world can’t read or write), and it wants to secure the long-term future of reading by encouraging kids to find simple pleasures in a good yarn.
‘The first book I read on my own was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett,’ remembers Abulhoul. ‘That was the first time I discovered the joys of being able to escape to a different place and get involved in other characters. The amazing thing is that the image is as strong now as it was 30 or 40 years ago.’
In today’s world of 24-hour television and video games, kids often associate books with learning or hard work, a view Abulhoul hopes will change at the festival. ‘For many children, their first experience of books is the textbooks they use at school,’ she says. ‘We have to see beyond that and make them realise that books are fun. I want to take kids to a different place where they will find books enjoyable and not be faced with an exam.’
With more than 60 events across the four-day festival, including a packed fringe scene involving scores of local schoolchildren, there’ll be plenty for all the family to see and do, including storytelling, arts and crafts, musical performances, debating and much more. Says Abulhoul: ‘I would urge everyone to block that Thursday, Friday and Saturday in their calendar and be there from morning until night – there’s so much going on you won’t want to miss it.’
Here’s our kids’ guide to EAIFL
3.30pm Babies Need Books in Al Merkaz Ballroom One. 6pm Hear author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, best known for the Alex Rider series and creator of television series Foyle’s War, Murder in Mind and Midsomer Murders in Al Khayma Ballroom Three.
Opening ceremony includes international costumes and flags, national dress parade, dancers and book character portrayals. Arts and crafts at the Kidzone (Marina Terrace) as well as all-day dress-up storytelling by Letterland, the child-friendly phonics firm which teaches kids to read, write and spell.
Winners of the EAIFL creative writing competition announced. Performances by local schools including music, dance, poetry recitals, mime, dramatisations, talent contests and puppet shows. Storytelling for four-seven year olds by local authors Julia Johnson and Virginia Raymond.
Samba band and drumming.
Lauren Child, author, award-winning illustrator and creator of Clarice Bean and Charlie and Lola gives an illustrated talk about her writing life. The ardent campaigner on behalf of excluded and deprived children will also discuss her work with UNICEF. Suitable for kids aged seven and above and their parents. Held in Al Khayma Ballroom Three.
More from Anthony Horowitz.
Be entertained by musicals, dramatisations, solo and choir performances. Inter-school debates every hour. Art and creative writing displays. Arts and crafts in the Kidzone. Letterland’s storytelling all day.
More poetry, songs, music, dance and inter-school debates. Local authors Chrissie Jenkins, Una Rawlinson and Fran Labonte discuss their books in the Kidzone alongside arts, crafts and a puppet show.
There’ll be Irish dancing, samba band, rock band plus a harp and guitar performance.
Expect lots of laughter when Jeremy Strong takes to the stage for his ‘Beware! Killer Tomatoes’ talk. The author of almost 100 children’s books has had jobs ranging from putting the jam into doughnuts to headteacher – but his best job has always been writing. Held in the Igloo.
Hear Anne Fine, writer of fiction for both children and adults and the Children’s Laureate from 2001-2003 in the Igloo.
Folktale readings and music, plus a puppet show and more storytelling from Lettlerland at the Kidzone.
Storytelling by Julia Johnson, Debi Evans and Marilyn Sheffield, plus singalongs, arts and crafts at the Kidzone.
Dramatisations, Indian dancing and closing ceremony.
Sunday March 1
Education Day. EAIFL goes ‘on the road’ to Dubai’s schools and colleges.
All events are being held at Dubai Festival City (workshops will be held near the ballrooms at the Intercontinental Hotel); please check www.eaifl.com for details and timings as they may change in the run-up to the event. Tickets for main events cost Dhs35, Dhs65 or Dhs100 and are available from www.timeouttickets.com. Fringe events are free.