LAHORE: First launched in November 2011 in Lahore, inaugurated by the Chief Minister Punjab Mian Shabaz Sharif and spearheaded by the likes of CEO Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aghai (ITA) Baela Raza Jamil and Ameena Saiyid of the Oxford University Press, the Children’s Literary Festival 2018 made its way in the beginning of the New Year to the heart of the Lahore Fort “celebrating peace, heritage and 70 years of Pakistan” in a two day jam-packed festival. On a bright sunny winter’s morning in the Diwan-e-Aam Garden at the Shahi Qila, the CLF Walled City Lahore in a unique collaboration with the Walled City Lahore Authority, kicked off with its first session on Saturday, January 13, 2018 titled ‘OUP’s Contribution to Children’s Literature in Pakistan’. The panelists examining the topic included names such as Ameena Saiyid, Faisal Bari, Arfa Syeda Zehra, Fouzia Khan and Zubeida Mustafa. The talk was moderated by prominent book writer Romana Hussain who commenced the one hour panel discussion with a brief introduction on the main purpose of holding the literary festival. Zubeida Mustafa, an esteemed addition to the series of Graphic Stories for children, took over the discourse pointing the audience out to Sassi, an eight month old girl crouched on her father’s (Faisal Bari) lap, holding a book in her hand. Zubeida said that eight-month old Sassi sucks the book, fiddles with it and bites on its corners wondering what it might be, and that in itself is enough to open the much needed Pandora’s Box of questions and myths for children close to her age. “OUP Pakistan’s main objective is the advancement of education – education through learning, questioning, thinking about yourself and those around you, as well as thinking about the whole universe,” she added. Arfa Sayeda Zehra, an eminent teacher for over forty years in Pakistan, known for her eloquent command of Urdu and proficiency in the history of Urdu literature, furthered the conversation claiming that she doesn’t only read books published by the Oxford University Press but has in fact so far read all of them. “I have read all books by OUP. The Oxford University Press has also started publishing books in Urdu, and this presents to the larger audience stories in such context that it does nothing but touch the heart.” ‘Children of Pakistan must be encouraged to develop their reading habits by familiarising them with the book culture. This will ensure that their creative thinking is challenged and they are empowered as true learners. All Pakistani regional poets such as Bulleh Shah, Shah Latif, Waris Shah, Sultan Bahu etc. must also be translated into Urdu and English as well as other regional languages of other provinces of Pakistan, in order to make them available to a wider children audience’ Faisal Bari added to the conversation saying: “Children of Pakistan must be encouraged to develop their reading habits by familiarising them with the book culture. This will ensure that their creative thinking is challenged and they are empowered as true learners. All Pakistani regional poets such as Bulleh Shah, Shah Latif, Waris Shah, Sultan Bahu etc. must also be translated into Urdu and English as well as other regional languages of other provinces of Pakistan, in order to make them available to a wider children audience.” Responding to a question, Bari said, “Literature solves current issues with past history. It offers more access to truth than ever could be.” Shedding light on the contributions by writers such as Kamla Shamsi, Mohammed Hanif and Bina Shah, Managing director OUP Pakistan Ameena Saiyid stressed that along with these Pakistani English writers, English classics like Shakespeare, Jane Austin and the Bronte Sisters amongst many others must also be simplified to the younger audience in a simplified and “abridged form”. While reiterating that book reading to children is indispensable because it is not only a means to stimulate and excite their fantasies and imaginations but also a direct means to inculcate cognitive and physiological skills in a developing mind, Ameena went on to say that books “tickle your brains, make you question and open the door to a fantastic world of dreams and miracles.” She argued that “books don’t ever let you be sad”. Zehra brought the house down with her comment: “Iss mulk mein khush hona haram hota ja raha hai.” She further moved the audience with her pearls of wisdom by saying that it’s only books which can encourage children to question the status quo upheld and strengthened by the elders. Questions such as “Ab kya hou ga?” “Aisa kyun hai?” “Aisay kyun nahein hua?” can only be asked in a culture whose foundation is based on the premise of books and the written word. CLF stands to be the first ever national level systematic social movement that has an outreach presence across Pakistan. It is one of its kind and has been held in 45 locations, reaching over a million children, teachers and families across Pakistan – all the way from the North in Mardan to the South in Hyderabad and Jamshoro. The two-day packed program that goes on till Sunday, the 14th of January 2018 features temporary installations of interactive storytelling sessions, talks on promoting heritage and peace as well as children’s literature, workshops and recitals by well-known authors and artists (names include Ali Noor and Adeel Hashmi), tech enabled digital learning and incredible book launches and book stalls designed to accommodate 10,000 children from schools all over the city. According to a press release issued earlier, Kamran Lashari, Director General of the Walled City of Lahore had stated, “We have tried to blend history and literature together so that the younger generation learns history and heritage in an interesting and interactive manner. I think these kinds of activities are important for us to organize so that people especially the younger lot comes close to heritage and culture.” Baela Raza Jamil, founder of the Children’s Literature Festival said, “CLF was visualised as a public service to promote quality learning and critical thinking. This year, with the support of the WCLA, we have been able to engage a larger number of children and schools, particularly within the Walled City itself. The Walled City of Lahore is a treasure trove of heritage, culture and talent-and our pre-CLF activities have reinforced this.” The writer is Assistant Web Editor and In-charge DT Arts and Culture at Daily Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @EeshahOmer Published in Daily Times, January 14th 2018.