The Illustrator's Notebook
by Mohieddin Ellabbad
English translation by Sarah Quinn
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2006
For ages 6+ (according to publisher)
An Egyptian writer and illustrator, Mohieddin Ellabbad has constructed this picture book as an illustrator's book of ideas, and it's full of small beauties. Meant to be read from right to left, as it would be in the Arabic world, the book opens from what is the back to us North Americans.
On each page, Ellabbad explains an aspect of making art. Instead of a global "how to" book, though, each of these aspects is personal. He talks about souvenirs, for instance, on the first page. "Souvenirs awaken our memories and bring them to life. Without memories, we would have no past." You can see this page at Amazon here. (Click on "Excerpt.") It's a collage of found objects: a ticket, a dried flower, a photograph, a postcard and stamp, and an illustration (another artist's, I presume) of a bird and flower. Ellabbad's description, written in Arabic calligraphy, fills the top third of the page. On the left is an English translation of the Arabic.
The calligraphy appears throughout, and because I don't write or speak Arabic, I look at the writing as an element of the art. But that adds to Ellabbad's compelling mosaic. Younger artists could definitely get some inspiration from the book, but they are going to need some help reading it. It's not told in a narrative form; the text and vocabulary are occasionally complex; and some of the concepts are abstract. For those reasons, the book is perhaps better suited for teenagers and adults. The Illustrator's Notebook would be a great present for an artist or someone who has lived in Egypt. And if you like to visit the Metropolitan Museum's Islamic galleries, this is a book for you.
This post about The Illustrator's Notebook is part of the "Under the Radar" book tour, taking place at a number of blogs today. I chose it because although the picture book got excellent reviews in the library-advising magazines and some Canadian