A Journey into Visual Literacy at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival
The role of illustrations in shaping children’s interactions with stories discussed   


For immediate release
Sharjah, 20 April 2017


In a day and age where children’s attention spans are decreasing, and their visual consumption of materials is at an all-time high, bestselling writer and illustrator from the Philippines, May Tobias-Papa; and Sheena Dempsey, one of UK’s most exciting illustrators of children’s books got together on the first day of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2017), to enlighten a packed audience on the role illustrations in stories.

To what extent do illustrations help to express the events described in a story? What is the status of illustrated stories in contemporary literature? Are modern-day illustrated books capturing children’s imaginations and leading them to ignore classic texts that only offer prose? These were some of the questions addressed by the panelists while they explained the concept of ‘visual literacy’, and how it is helping today’s younger generations to deepen their interactions with literature.

“Illustration plays different roles in different genres of books. In picture books for instance, the illustrator co-invents or co-authors the book, while it seen playing a slightly different role in fiction where the illustrator responds to the author’s text – something I did for Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow,” said Dempsey.

She observed that while reading an illustrated book, the reader can turn to an illustration where the text ends and vice-versa, and complete the overall reading experience.

“In the college that I teach in back in the Philippines, we have pushed illustration to include the visual metaphor, the visual pun, and visual analogy. So, all traditional terms used in the formation of text, we have also applied to visuals. There is a similar movement in visual arts schools in the US. In a media-dominated world, we not only read books and magazines, but film, internet content, TV shows and responding to these critically. There is thus, a ‘visual literacy’ movement in schools and universities across the globe, which cover areas that weren’t part of traditional reading and writing literacies some years ago,” said Tobias-Papa.

Both panelists stressed on the way illustrations challenge the reader’s creativity and interpretation skills, and promote literacy and education in general. Pictures compliment texts and make words more meaningful to readers. They also pointed out how in most countries authors of a successful illustrated book are the bigger celebrities, and the work of the illustrator is overshadowed.

Dempsey noted how illustrators in the UK are being strongly acknowledged for their literary contributions. She mentioned famous illustrator, Sarah Mclntyre’s Twitter campaign, ‘#PicturesMeanBusiness’ that has garnered huge support in attempting to increase the status of illustration, and get it similar kudos as words get.

Running from 19 to 29 April at Expo Centre Sharjah, the ninth edition of SCRF is being held under the theme ‘Discover Beyond’ and features a line-up of 2,093 activities. A total of 123 exhibitors from across the world are displaying their literature-related products and services at the event.


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Rashed Daouk
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Fadia Daouk
National Network Communications (NNC)
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