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Telling Stories Without Words: Maja Sereda Discusses Her Love of Illustration

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By Maja Sereda for The Times

Stories begin with pictures, whether they are in the mind or on paper – at least they do for me. As a child I was a slow learner and found reading Polish, my mother tongue, quite difficult. I always seemed to stumble over the words as if they were giant hurdles stopping me from reading further.

Naturally, I looked to the illustrations to tell me the story instead. These were wonderful, full of imagination, humour, darkness and wonder. They captivated me and made me come back to the books over and over again.

I also remember having a record player in my room and a stack of records filled with stories, which I used to listen to early in the mornings or late at night. I would lie in bed dreaming up images in my mind.

I was nearly 11 when I moved with my family to South Africa. I was faced with a new language and two new hurdles. It was no longer a matter of merely reading, but speaking as well.

Communication with anyone was very difficult and I was caught behind an invisible membrane between me and the new world. Children at my school would communicate with me through sign language and drawings. I found myself relying once again upon illustrations to help me understand the people around me and the stories in new, foreign books.

Illustrations are wonderful storytellers. They are a visual narrative which mirror the written story, expand upon it and add atmosphere.

Illustrations invite children to read the stories depicted inside books and help break the barrier between child and the written word . They invite young readers to follow the rabbit down the hole.

One of my cherished memories of my niece, who lives far away from me, is her wonderful ability to turn any illustration into a story.

At bedtime, I would read three stories to her, then she would pick out a book and tell me a story based on the illustrations. Her version of the story was never what the actual book was about, but rather her own interpretation.

Illustrations still draw my attention to a picture book . If the illustrations capture my imagination and pique my interest, I will read the story.

I love how books, their stories and illustrations inspire us to share and tell each other stories, whether these are based on reality or fiction. Stories form the fabric of our lives; they bind us together and encourage our imaginations to soar.

Polish-born Maja Sereda has been illustrating children’s books since 2006 and hopes to write and illustrate her own stories in the near future. Send your comments to letters@nalibali.org or visit: www.facebook.com/nalibaliSA

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