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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Ibby’s Silent Book Exhibition now showing in Sharjah

The Silent Book Exhibition in Sharjah is for all ages

Joshua Dunning, Executive of Internationals Projects at UAE Board on Books for Young People. Pawan Singh / The National
Joshua Dunning, Executive of Internationals Projects at UAE Board on Books for Young People. Pawan Singh / The National

Words are sometimes unnecessary when comfort is what’s needed. Such was the case in Lampedusa, the Italian island that once acted as the entryway to Europe for boats overflowing with refugees in 2012. Those on board were trying to escape conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.

At the time, wordless picture books were able to give comfort to the many traumatised children accompanying their families on the journey.

It was the way in which the books helped the refugees cope that prompted the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) to launch an international drive promoting the benefits among these vulnerable communities.

“The language of pictures is universal, and can be more powerful in their communicative abilities than spoken language or the written word,” says Marwa Al Aqroubi, president of the UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY), the country’s arm of Ibby. “We have seen how wordless books in Ibby’s silent-book collection have been presenting young refugees with the most fascinating opportunities to share experiences with each other, get educated, have fun and alleviate the emotional and psychological stress they underwent during their trip.”

After a successful showing in Rome in 2015, Ibby’s Silent Book Exhibition has taken up residence in Sharjah for the next two months at the Flying Saucer building.

Scheduled to run until September 30, the exhibition features 54 wordless picture books hailing from 21 countries, three of which are from the Arab world.

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The need to increase the publication of silent books in the region is one of the reasons the organisers pushed to bring the exhibition to the emirate.

“We wanted to bring professional illustrators, designers and publishers together to spread awareness amongst the industry about silent books,” says Joshua Dunning, UAEBBY’s executive of international projects.

“Then there is the secondary target, which is the general public. We want them to know what silent books are.” This means breaking down some of the existing preconceptions in the community that picture books are just for children.

Dunning recalls reading his first silent book, 2007’s award-winning The Arrival by Australian illustrator Shaun Tan, which follows the tale of a man who leaves his family behind to look for work in a futuristic land.

“I didn’t feel like this book was for children,” Dunning says. “While I was entertained by the book, the point of the story was a little unclear, and it took a fair bit of creative thinking to understand what this story is trying to say.”

Not all silent books are challenging, he says. Where some are impressionistic and open to interpretation, most of the books in the Sharjah exhibition are more straightforward and easy to digest.

Take, for example, 2013’s Puu by Finnish author and illustrator Emmi Jormalainen – the central character is a tree that hosts a community of birds.

Then there is the retro-graphic style of 12 hours with Oscar (2012) by Czech author Eva Maceková, which follows the friendship between a 5-year-old boy and his tomcat.

In 2014’s award-winning La Chasse (The Hunt) by France’s Margaux Othats, a young girl attempts to build a sculpture from rocks, only for it to be shot by a pair of hunters. The girl’s eventual triumph serves as victory for perseverance and offers a rather subtle rebuke against the use of violence.

The three books on display in Sharjah that are from the region include the Jordanian-produced Beit Sitti (My Grandmother’s House) by Rania Turk and Haya Halaw, published last year, and 2014’s Ayn (Where) by authors Aya Khairy and Turk, once again, with illustrators Hala and Dima Tahboub. Rounding off the trio is 2005’s Ma Haza (What’s This?) by Lebanese illustrator Hryary Moskvian.

Dunning says that visitors will be fascinated at how the visual details of the books reflect the countries they originate from.

“There are lot of books here that do represent the cultures from where they come from,” he says.

“It also depends on your background. If you are from the United States, you may tell the book is from that country based on the illustration. For example, the image of the main character could look like a normal American. While some of the books from South Korea could have a different look because they represent their own people and culture.”

This highlights the need to encourage the creation of silent books within the region, because not only will they help Arab refugees on foreign soil, but also children in the region caught up in the whirlwind of globalisation.

“Children need books and characters that allow them to relate. They need to see themselves in these books,” he says. “There is a benefit to books published here, because readers from the region can identify with characters and morals of the story.”

The Silent Book Exhibition by UAEBBY is on in the Flying Saucer building, Sharjah, until September 30, from 10am to 8pm Saturday to Thursday, and 4pm to 10pm on Fridays