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Stepping Out Of One’s Narrative and Owning One’s Escape in a Picturebook by Omani/Syrian Creators

"Nour's Escape" by Abir Ali and Gulnar Hajo with translations by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.

Myra here.

Nour’s Escape [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Abir Ali Illustrated by Gulnar Hajo Translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
Published by Darf Children’s Books (2015)
ISBN13: 9781850773283 Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Adil is reading a story about a young girl named Nour who lived a poor and hapless life. Nour lived in the streets and had no family with her and spent most of her days famished. Adil reads this story aloud, although he was constantly interrupted by his mother who asks him to do one thing or another:

But Adil didn’t know that inside each book there is a whole world that is asleep until a reader wakes it up…

And so it happens that the main character in this story, Nour, became a sentient being inside the pages of this book. While all the other characters were suspended in mid-air whenever Adil’s reading is interrupted, Nour continues to live and breathe and wonder about a life strikingly different from the one she is living in these pages where she is trapped.

Along with Nour’s thoughts came an invisible voice in the story that taunted her, mocked her, and told her in no uncertain terms that she has no way of escaping her own story. Throughout the narrative, Nour’s plight and the resentment surrounding her miserable condition, and the unfairness of it all gnawed at her insides, exacerbated by the voice who articulates all these things in a relentless tone.

I found the entire narrative to be a powerful allegory about wresting ownership over one’s fate, reclaiming one’s narrative, and stepping out of an unforgiving story that only leads to darkness and despair. While this is more text-heavy than other picturebooks, it remained riveting with a meta quality to it that will appeal to sophisticated readers. The story also ends with a challenge to the reader that is worth thinking about. This is one of my most powerful picturebook reads this year.

#ReadIntl2020 Update: 43 (out of target 30) Abir Ali is from Oman | Gulnar Hajo is from Syria

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).

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