Sahar Abdallah: On Illustrating Darwish’s ‘Think of Others’ for Kids

Sahar Abdallah’s art — combined with Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Think of Others” (فكر بغيرك) — was published this year as a picture book, and the collaboration was the winner of the 2018 Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature in the “best illustrations” category:

The book, which is recommended by ArabKidLitNow!, has not yet been published in English translation. However, there are a number of translations of “Think of Others” floating around the internet, including Mohamed Shaheen’s translation from Almond Blossoms and Beyond, published by Interlink Books in 2009.

Award-winning Egyptian-Canadian illustrator Sahar Abdallah (sahar-abdallah.com) answered a few questions over email about how this book — and So Said the Neglected Tree — came to be, and what’s next for her and Tanmia Publishing.

As soon as I saw this book, I was surprised nobody had done this sooner; these are such beautiful poems, and they can resonate with all ages.  

How did this collaboration come about? Was it your idea, or were you approached by Tanmia?

Sahar Abdallah: The project was suggested by Tanmia Publishing. It was to work on three poems: “Think of Others,” “The Neglected Tree,” and “My Mother,” all by Mahmoud Darwish. It’s a new experience to introduce Darwish’s poems to children, so they’re aware of his symbolizing the land in a poem, and it was a dream for me to illustrate these poems. Who among my generation didn’t know his poetry or read about him?

The two books together.

So do you have a long relationship with these poems? 

SA: I had a long relationship with those poems through my reading or listening to Marcel Khalife singing them and Trio Jobran‘s music accompanied by Darwish’s voice, but I never imagined at that time that I would be the one to illustrate them!

How did you go about deciding on a visual landscape for these poems? Where did you start?

SA: The aim was to achieve a visual text parallel to the written one, where the words of the poems are transformed into visual shapes, built together on a background of pleasing colors, to enable the organic lines to connect the elements and narrate the real meaning behind the words — where passion of both poetry and illustration is accomplished.

Translation by Mohamed Shaheen, from Almond Blossoms and Beyond.

You are in Canada… Have you had a chance to interact with kids as they read the book, or are read to? 

SA: Starting at the beginning of November, I will hold a solo exhibition titled “Visual Poems” at the Toronto Public Library, where I will present the original illustrations of the books with the poems. Thus we extend part of our roots to those who immigrated to a new land and introduce this experience with a unique culture background in this diverse country through illustrations for children. 

Are there other poems you would like to illustrate as children’s books? Or other projects you’d like to work on?

SA: We are still working on the third poem by Darwish, and I’m eager that Tanmia should continue on this path of introducing poetry to children and young adults. I still have a many dreams of illustrating books to spread the appreciation of art.

Find more of Sahar Abdallah’s work at sahar-abdallah.com.

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