UAE-based Children’s Book Artists Celebrate Their Love for Stories, Imagination and Art with UAEBBY

The UAE Board on Books for Young People (UAEBBY), the national branch of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), has concluded a workshop designed to develop the skills of children’s book illustrators and designers in the UAE.

Organised as part of the UAEBBY’s Silent Book Exhibition, the three-day workshop titled ‘How to Create a Silent Book’ ran from 24 to 26 September, and signaled a step in the organisation’s efforts to stimulate the production of wordless picture books, locally.

The workshop was conducted by Finnish illustrator and graphic designer from Helsinki, Emmi Jormalainen, who is actively involved in visual storytelling, children’s books, artists books and drawings. With an MA in graphic design, she has dedicated her craft to illustrating children’s books for the past five years. Jormalainen conceptualises and creates the stories, designs and self publishes most of her works. Her wordless picture book Puu (Tree) is on the Silent Book Exhibition’s Honour List and is showcased at the exhibition.

Marwa Obaid Al Aqroubi, President of the UAEBBY, underlined the importance of conducting such workshops to encourage and train talented artists and illustrators in the UAE, who may then feel empowered to consider illustrating titles of their own.
“Stories told through pictures are of a universal character that transcend limitations of language. One of the prime reasons behind organising this workshop was to enrich libraries in the Arab region and around the world with wordless picture books that allow all children, irrespective of their age, to appreciate them,” said Al Aqroubi.

At the workshop, Emmi challenged participants to look for the plots of their silent books within, instead of turning to the world outside for inspiration. She familiarised them with storytelling methods and techniques involved in the process of making silent books. In the three days, workshop attendees embarked on a novel journey involving the process of first conceiving and then making their own silent book.

“This is my first visit to Sharjah and I am really happy to be here. I love the process of drawing and I feel like every work is a step for the next big adventure. When I create a book, drawing a story instead of writing it comes more naturally to me. I don’t also keep an age group in mind because silent books have the gift of universal appeal. There are several ways to interpret a wordless picture book, and it is fascinating to see how unique the interaction of images, colours, patterns, drawings and messages in the same book is with different users,” Jormalainen said.

“This workshop is a very interesting one and I am happy to see such a great turn out and such enthusiasm among participants to learn and share their experiences. In this workshop, I emphasised that silent books don’t need to be silent. They can scream and shout and be happy or sad. The pictures can talk about subjects that aren’t always nice or beautiful. Participants have the freedom to decide what their story will be about, and what they want to say,” she added.

Highlighting the incredible power of books without words, Al Aqroubi emphasised that silent books present a valuable opportunity to children, especially those who cannot read in many languages or read at all, to unleash their imagination in ways that traditional books may not be able to.

She underscored that there is a pressing need to ensure more and more silent books are produced around the world and are made available for purchase and consumption in book stores and libraries. She added that publishers and storytellers need to realise the great importance of silent books in their power to cross cultural and linguistic lines.

The workshop featured a host of artists, illustrators and graphic designers with experience in children’s illustration and picture books. They picked up several technical as well as soft skills required to produce a silent book, including conceptualising the premise of the book, detailing the sequence of events and finally ending with the book’s layout and design.

The Silent Book Exhibition, which was brought to the UAE and Arab region for the first time, is a prestigious exhibition that has been touring the world since 2015. Through this two-month showcase ending on 30 September, the UAEBBY aims to introduce community members and experts in the Arab world to the silent books and achieve the utmost gains through training art and literature professionals on how to produce this unique genre of books.


Attached photos during the workshop.