Books International Middle Eastern Literature Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Mohieddin Ellabbad’s “The Illustrator’s Notebook”


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

I saw this book shared by an award-winning author/ children’s literature researcher friend of mine in his Facebook page, and I knew I just had to have a copy for my research project. I am glad I was able to find a used copy on AbeBooks.

The Illustrator’s Notebook

Written and Illustrated by: Mohieddin Ellabbad English Translation by: Sarah Quinn
Published by: Groundwood Books House of Anansi Press, 2006 (first published 1999)
ISBN: 0888997000 (ISBN13: 9780888997005)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

True to its title, this book is almost like an artist’s scrapbook, allowing the reader a glimpse of award-winning Egyptian artist, Mohieddin Ellabbad’s life. In fact, reading the Preface written by the Minister of Culture of the Institut du Monde Arabe, Farouk Mardam-Bey, also provided me with an insight as to how formidable a character this artist must be.

With his drive for precision and quality, Mohieddin Ellabbad has been exasperating book publishing professionals in Egypt and abroad for more than thirty years. He stands almost six feet tall, but printers have nicknamed him Mister Millimeter! Yet everyone agrees that by never sacrificing quality, and by always preserving an artisan’s integrity and dignity, he has almost single-handedly reinvented the Arabic tradition of graphic art.

The words that come to mind when I think of Mohieddin are scholarly and imaginative, and on a personal level, graceful, especially when it comes to the heart.

As can be seen in the image above, the beautiful notebook appeared in its original Egyptian form – to be read from right to left, with all its gorgeous calligraphy intact, and the translated text found in the margins.

As I was reading the book, it reminded me just a little bit of Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures – although, Ellabbad’s notebook is more personal and intimate, rather than a clinical , textbook account of the business of doing illustrations for children’s books.

There was one particular image that struck me as well when Ellabbad wrote about My Color, and exactly what “flesh pink” as a color signifies, especially since these are paints manufactured from Europe or North America, reflecting quite naturally the color of their skin.

One day as I was painting, my gaze fell on my hand holding the paintbrush that I was using to color in my characters. Suddenly, the difference seemed so obvious! My skin was not at all the same color! Surprised, I stopped what I was doing and then actually stopped using this color of paint altogether. I learned to mix my own paint, especially for faces, hands, legs and bodies. It is the color of my skin and the skin of my people.

Find this book, dear friends. It is a reflective piece on what it means to see the world with an artist’s eyes. Truly an exquisite piece of art, and a lovely tribute to the creative process.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Mohieddin Ellabbad’s “The Illustrator’s Notebook”

  1. lindabaie

    My library is so wonderful! They do have this book, Myra! Thanks for sharing. It’s lovely to discover new artists in the world.


  2. I find these glimpses inside the creative mind and process so fascinating, and inspiring. Ellabbad seems like the kind of person who creates not so much because they want to, but because they have to, because being being an artist is simply who they are and how they must live. Truly inspiring.


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