This is the first of two reviews of books originally published by Bright Fingers Publishing House in Damascus. The English editions are published by Darf Children’s Books, an independent children’s publisher in the UK, and both have been translated from the Arabic by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. On my travels, I have come across very few picture books originally written in Arabic that are accessible to an English-speaking audience, so this is a real treat!
The Dot opens, appropriately enough, with a dot, a mere speck in the big broad universe. This dot has sat in the same place for years, although we’re not told why, and one day, for reasons unknown, it starts to move. The dot meets other dots on its journey and together they start to make shapes. And then the shapes join forces and the creative fun continues!
Each short piece of text is accompanied by vibrant illustrations principally in black and white with bright red, yellow and orange accents. As the dots form a square, the double spread becomes a riot of squares of differing shapes and sizes, suspended like decorations from the outer edge of the page, and stacked like boxes, one inside the other, and one on top of the other. A similar illustrative approach is used for the subsequent shapes: rectangle, triangle and circle.
Then comes the shift from simple geometric shapes to more complex objects, as the shapes join creative forces. What do you get when you combine a triangle and a square? A house . . . of course! And what a fabulous house it is – big, bold and smiling like a giant emoji, and dwarfing the tower blocks that flank it. But let’s zoom in on those high rises, because they very neatly combine triangles, squares and rectangles. In fact, readers will have huge fun spotting all the shapes that make up the objects on this page and those that follow. Well, that’s what Miss 4 (almost 5) likes to do; she also likes to shout out the various shapes the dots make – before the text reveals the answer (I am sure this is a deliberate device on the part of the author and/or translator!)
As the creativity continues, more and more objects are brought into the pages: the moon, the sun, a boy, a girl and a cat, a lovely garden. It’s a wondrous world of beauty and diversity that Gulnar Hajo conjures up for us in words and pictures. And let’s remember, it all started with a dot, a mere speck in the big broad universe.
The Dot is a celebration of creativity and collaboration. It invites readers to take a fresh look at the shapes that make up our world. I think it would make a great read-aloud, particularly in a preschool setting.
The Dot by Gulnar Hajo, translated from the Arabic by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Darf Children’s Books, 2019)
Gulnar Hajo has published more than 20 books for children. She is also the co-founder with partner Samer Kadri of Bright Fingers Publishing House and Pages Bookshop – actually two Arabic-language café bookshops that cater to Arabic-speaking refugees and immigrants in Amsterdam and Istanbul. Born in Damascus, Syria, she is now based in Istanbul.
Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a British literary translator. She has translated a number of children’s/YA books from German, Russian and Arabic into English. She is a passionate advocate for international children’s fiction and is co-editor of the World Kid Lit Month blog and Twitter account.