Silent books speak volumes about crossing barriers

Finnish illustrator hosting Sharjah workshop says images have more universal appeal than words

12:41 September 30, 2017
NAT 170924 Silent Book-7

Sharjah: Silent books, which are wordless picture books, speak volumes about crossing the language barrier, said visiting Finnish illustrator Emmi Jormalainen.

In town to host a three-day workshop on silent books, Jormalainen told Gulf News that silent books transcend borders more easily than regular books because there is no need for translation.

Her comments came on the sidelines of the workshop, which is being held alongside the Silent Book Exhibition, organised by the UAE Board on Books for Young People and hosted by Sharjah Art Foundation at The Flying Saucer last week.

The exhibition, featuring 54 books from 20 countries, itself stems from a project to provide books to migrant refugee children irrespective of their language. The programme was started by the International Board on Books for Young People in response to the influx of mainly Middle Eastern and African refugees to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Jormalainen said she believes she is the only silent book creator in her homeland. She has self-published four silent books so far. Speaking about the appeal of silent books, Jormalainen said: “It’s really nice because I don’t need to translate the books into many languages. The same story can be ‘read’ by people from any language. Of course, there are sometimes cultural differences with images too, but still silent books are more global; they can travel across countries.”

Contrary to popular belief, Jormalainen said silent books are not just children’s picture books without words.

“When I’m doing silent books, I don’t necessarily think they are children’s books. I think about topics I’m interested in and sometimes they turn out to be children’s books; sometimes they are for adults; and sometimes, when they get to their best, I think they work for both adults and children.

“Silent books don’t need to be for something ‘nice and beautiful’. They can be about hard subjects too — there are no limits really.”

Her latest silent book is about an atlas of adventures of travelling to remote islands that she visited in real life.

Sunday’s workshop was attended by a dozen artists, illustrators and graphic designers. Dana Mahfouz, a Lebanese graphic designer at the Kalimat publishing house in Sharjah, said the workshop was an eye opener.

Mahfouz said: “I was nervous before I came to the workshop because I didn’t have a clue about making silent books. I found out there are actually specific methods for creating silent books, which are pretty interesting.”

Jormalainen said the creative process behind silent books is somewhat akin to the nostalgic silent movies of the past.

“I compare them to silent movies because you have to have the same kind of storytelling idea — how to create the story without the voice, without people speaking. It’s just that the media with silent books is different: you just take the extra frames away and you keep the key frames there, like you would in a storyboard,” she explained.