Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The children and the storyteller

The Kids Read event at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina aims to encourage young children to read throughout the year, writes Ameera Fouad 

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many parents find it hard to harness their children’s energy in useful but entertaining ways over the summer. Sport can be a great distractor on warm days, but there are other motivating activities children could try.

What about discovering your child’s talents, his or her hidden expertise, by helping him or her develop in a field he or she loves?  What about reading not only for study, but also for pleasure – reading for the love of reading?

The Kids Read project at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina helps to develop young people’s reading skills and love of reading, promoting reading for pleasure inside and outside the classroom, says director of the British Council in Alexandria Nevine Abaza.

It is a British Council project that started four years ago and is aimed at children from the ages of six to 11 years old sponsored exclusively by HSBC Bank. It takes place at Alexandria’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina and is hosted by the library’s Children’s Library as part of its summer programme.

This one-day event targeted children from diverse social and educational backgrounds. All library members could take part. The project has also reached 24 government and Al-Azhar schools across Egypt and extends across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It has reached over 5,000 children. HSBC has also provided the resources to set up libraries in the 24 schools.

 “The event in Alexandria is one of the four annual community events with different themes agreed by the British Council and HSBC in line with their corporate social responsibility and our priority areas,” Abaza said.

 The skills the children acquire through the project are also not confined to reading. Listening, speaking and writing are also involved. The children taking part were by and large extremely excited when they came to the storytelling part of the day, when Nazih Girgis, a storyteller, writer and publisher, helped turn the day into a playful artistic and musical event.

Girgis, one of Egypt’s important cultural figures, has written many children’s books that help to raise children’s awareness about important causes in society through literature, poetry and the world’s classics. He is a legendary in helping to turn things that may be complicated or troubling to a child into things that are easy to learn about and understand.

Major issues such as environmental protection and the protection of water resources are dealt with in his books, as are musical appreciation, road safety and traffic regulation, and health and the impact of obesity. Girgis has translated many children’s classics into Arabic, including The Carnival of the Animals, Peter and the Wolf, and The Dolphin Park.

His own passion for children’s literature began at the age of 12 when he heard Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s masterpiece Peter and the Wolf. Possessing a musical ear like few others, Girgis became obsessed with everything related to music and how it appeals to the senses. Only in 1995 did he realise his dream of translating Peter and the Wolf into Arabic, however.

He then realised that this was only the first step towards translating other world classics. Children became his prime concern and his realisation of himself as a writer and publisher.

“When I am asked to do a simple thing like getting along with children and narrating stories to them, I cannot pause for a moment to think about the offer. It is simply what I have been aiming to do all my life and what I have most enjoyed achieving,” Girgis told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Children adore animals. You cannot imagine a child without a pet. You cannot see a child in the street without watching him follow cats, feed birds, play with dogs or catch fish. Mixing music with animals for children is one of the best things the world has to offer.”     

“Kids also have musical ears. They can learn anything by playing it. That’s why I chose the particular classics for children that I did – because animals are in them on each and every page. These stories are also performed across the globe, and they are conducted by renowned composers, played by top musicians, and performed by celebrated singers. That’s why they are successful wherever they are played,” Girgis added.

“I feel I owe Egyptian children more, so I’m conducting as many sessions as possible and participating in as many workshops as possible to reach children in all parts of the country. Children should be credited with reading for pleasure and reading for self-nourishment,” he says.

“Look what my adoration of Peter and the Wolf did for me at a very young age. Look at the impact reading can have on any young child,” Girgis concludes enthusiastically.

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