Each year, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival takes place in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. The event features book seller and publisher stands as well as a range of activities and talks for children, families and parents spanning all types of culture, from music to animation. This year, the Music Workshop Company’s Artistic Director, Maria Thomas, was there delivering music workshops. In this post, she reflects on her experience of the festival. 
Image: Maria prepares to deliver a workshop at the festival's School of Talents. 

Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 

From 1st–12th May 2024, the Sharjah Expo was turned into a place of adventure for children and young people for the 15th annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, run by the Sharjah Book Authority. The theme for this year’s event was “Once upon a Hero”, encouraging children to read but also to be the hero of their own story. 
Across the Festival there were more than 1,400 activities run by 190 guests from 25 countries. 
Each day there were dozens of workshops and activities for children and young people covering author talks, cooking, science, maths, climate change, social media, music, comics, crafts, illustration, film, storytelling, fashion, yoga, and keeping fit. Alongside the children’s programme of events, there were talks for parents on screen time, the benefits of yoga for families, bringing up confident children and developing self-esteem, supporting children’s talents and how technology can help support learning. 
Alongside the workshops, there were performances and roaming shows including a marching band and dance displays. The event also featured the 12th edition of the prestigious Sharjah Children’s Book Illustration Award, designed by the Sharjah Book Authority for festival, which received 507 entries from 48 countries this year. 
Over the weekends, attendees were families and on weekday mornings, school groups visited the festival and took part in the activities. 
Khawla Al Mujaini, the General Coordinator of Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, when introducing the festival said:  
“The 15th edition of SCRF will unfold under the theme ‘Once Upon a Hero',’to impress upon the influence that the written word has in sculpting the futures of our children. The act of reading can be easily likened to a journey into the depths of our own beings that ultimately ends in cultivating our imagination, forging our character and shaping our lives. Through this festival, we nurture generations who recognise the true potential of reading as the key to change and development. We are shaping young minds who strongly believe that they are the heroes of their own stories, capable of limitless creativity and innovation.” 
As we at the Music Workshop Company know all too well, music has a similar power, so we were delighted to be involved in the festival. 

Sharjah Animation Conference 

Alongside the Reading Festival, the second Sharjah Animation Conference took place from 1st–5th May in the same venue. It hosted 60 events, covering 30 workshops, 20 panel discussions, 5 talks, and 5 music concerts, led by 71 speakers from 12 countries.  
The conference included presentations by directors and artists from major global companies such as Disney, Warner Bros and Sony.  
Highlights of the conference included the celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Lion King with Andreas Deja, the renowned animator/director who created “Scar” for the film as well as many other Disney characters. Andreas premiered his new short film Mushka as well as hosting an intensive training course run by Aardman Academy. 

Inside the School of Talents 

Maria worked with a collective of musicians and artists who were brought together to deliver workshops for the festival. Maria was based in the wonderfully named “School of Talents”, one of many creative workshop spaces built for the festival. 
For four days, Maria delivered singing and percussion workshops, working with participants aged between 4–16 years old. The workshops featured popular songs for the younger participants such as ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, the Ghanian chant ‘Kelele’ (a particular favourite with the workshop assistants!) and rhythms from Brazil. 
Maria was featured in one of the many Instagram reels created by the festival as well as being interviewed by a range of media outlets. 
Maria said of the experience: 
“The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is a wonderful event, introducing children and young people to arts and culture from around the world. As an avid reader myself, it was a joy to see children exploring books. It was wonderful working with a wide range of participants including from 4 years old, exploring instruments for the first time, to a school group of teenagers with special educational needs. I enjoyed attending workshops and talks including a fashion design workshop and a talk on the benefits of yoga, as well as meeting workshop leaders from countries such as Ukraine, Tunisia and Lebanon.” 
Maria with fellow workshop leader Azza 
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