Doha Dispatch: The International Language of Art

Sirene shows the group how to draw Fafa.

Usually, I am prejudiced toward words. I love words. I love them in Russian, I love them in Arabic, I love them in Spanish, I love them in English, and I love them in languages I don’t understand.

I want everyone to love them just so.

But today showed me that with an audience of perhaps-reluctant readers, one way to get them to enjoy a story—and to feel that they, too, are author/creators—is to get them to enjoy and experience the process of illustration, and to feel a sense of mastery over it.

She gets out into the crowd to check their work.

There have been reports about the Death of the Picture Book (which, like the Death of Arabic, one imagines to be greatly exaggerated). Dead or no, children love pictures. As do adults: What else could explain the rising popularity of graphic novels?

And everyone loves to pick up a pencil and try to create a character. Even, well, adults.

Not everyone liked me taking pictures over their shoulders.

U.K. author Sally Grindley and Lebanese illustrator Sirene Matta were the first act at the (first) Doha International Children’s Book Fair, and had the challenge of presenting a preschool-oriented book (based on the Fafa TV series) to a large, mixed-age, mixed-gender crowd sitting in VIP chairs.

At the Bloomsbury stand, kids meet Fafa.

Grindley, the author of the newly launched books, spoke first. She told of how she’d turned a preschool TV show—which lacked story lines and differentiated characters—into a series of four books.

“[On the show], there’s a lot of singing, there’s a lot of dancing, and not really much else happens.”

She had to give personalities to the characters and invent a beginning, middle, and an end to each story. The audience was as attentive as you could expect of such a big group, but they really started to engage when illustrator Sirene Matta stepped in with a presentation on how to draw the turtle-like cartoon character. Children of varying ages picked up their pencils and drew.

How do you draw an owl? Well, you start like this.

Later in the day, author/illustrator Debi Gliori read from her books and taught the visiting schoolchildren, step by step, how to draw the characters. Gliori seemed genuinely enthusiastic about all the different bunnies and owls the group created.

And, in the end, the children—although the books read to them may not have been geared to all their ages, and some of the words may have been lost in the translation—were enthusiastic about their artistic projects.

Perhaps, for some of them, being able to create a character will inspire them to tell stories about it, and write.

Children show off their owls.

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