The ninth annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival kicks off in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, April 19 and runs through April 29. It is the largest reading festival catering to children in the Gulf, with more than 120 exhibitors and some 2,100 events. Last year’s event drew 254,000 visitors.

This year’s theme is “Discover Beyond” and the programming has put a special emphasis on innovation and creativity. To that end, the SCRF has instituted a new “Little Innovator’s Café,” which offers a program specifically for accomplished children and teens to interact with festival guests and explore their interests in literature, sports, science. and art.

“The festival will educate and entertain,” said Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, which oversees the festival.

Among the festivals’ highlights this year is “Brain: The Inside Story,” an installation held in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which allows visitors to journey visually through the organ in question.

Al Ameri noted that children and families remain interested in print books and the festival emphasizes illustration as a key element of storytelling for children. Like Bologna, Sharjah hosts an annual exhibition of children’s book illustrations, which this year featured 303 works by 90 different artists.

Among those participating in the festival are nearly 200 foreign guests from some two dozen countries. Six countries—China, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Morocco—are represented for the first time. Americans giving presentations include Gayle Forman, author of Just One Day; Amy Plum, author of Die for Me; and Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander, author of He Said, She Said.

“We want to build, enhance and promote knowledge among the new generations,” said Al Ameri, who is also overseeing the launch of Sharjah Publishing City, a 200,000-sq.-ft. facility in the city offering an administrative base for publishers to work in the Gulf. “Knowledge cannot achieve its objectives and play its pivotal role in our lives without the adventure of inquiry, the pleasure of research and the joy of discovery. When our children are armed with knowledge and fortified with intellect, they are protected against all forms of ignorance.”