Almost two months ago, I received an email from the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival organisers informing me that the illustrations I submitted for their illustration exhibition had won a prize, and invited me to attend the award ceremony and the fair in Sharjah, UAE. So I packed my bags and flew to the UAE last week.

The illustration exhibition was held in a huge hall (what you see above is only half the size of the hall). We arrived on the day of the opening ceremony, when the prizes would be awarded. The organisers did not want me to "inform the press" until the awards were officially announced, so had not actually told me what I had won.

So I had arrived on the day not knowing what to expect. Words could not describe how I felt when I finally saw my Lili illustrations displayed, and realised that I had actually come in first.

I also made some new friends. From left, Junko Nagano, second prize winner, whose etchings are amazing in their detail; and Beatriz Martin, third prize winner, whose abstract illustrations of the story The Flamingo's Stockings are soothingly beautiful. Their winning works can be viewed here, along with the artists that were awarded an "Honorable Mention". Unfortunately, there are no photos of the actual award ceremony, which was presented by the Ruler of Sharjah.

Among the illustrations being exhibited, there were a number of favourites, some of which are shown here:

An illustration by JooHee Yoon from South Korea
(from the book The Tiger Who Would Be King)

An illustration by Adolfo Serra from Spain

An illustration by Eva Montanari from Italy

Honestly, there were so many that I liked, that this is really a teeny tiny sample of the 139 artists on exhibit.

The next day, I was part of a panel of winners, where we each talked about our own work (photo above taken by Mariacarla Taroni, who got an Honorable Mention, seated second from right).

The organisers also organised various cultural events for its guests, and I managed to attend one of them. There was a cultural event called Sharjah Heritage Days showcasing Sharjah's history and heritage, which we were fortunate to be able to attend. We were given a tour which then ended with dinner of local food.

I have been to the Bologna Children's Book Fair a few times, and I thought Sharjah would be similar, albeit less well-known. But while Bologna is essentially a trade fair, Sharjah is definitely more geared towards children and is more accessible. For instance, admission is free and it is open to the public. The stands sell children's books and toys. During weekdays, troops of children from schools attend the fair and there are art workshops and various kids' activities. It is very much a festival to celebrate children's books and children!

All in all, it was a great experience, one which I would not forget.


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