In Uncategorized on September 15, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Onward&Upward!_Amal copy 10_Complete_2  10_PeekIn_2Rooftopper_Amal copy

Rarely do we get a chance to talk to an artist who can walk us through their process quite as well as Amal Karzai can. We thoroughly enjoyed our interview with her, and we absolutely loved hearing about how she illustrates a cover. Our interview is below, but we’re also attaching a verbatim account of her illustration process as we felt it would be the best way to take you along on a journey through images.

Amal Karzai grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, a place she calls strange and sometimes frightening. However, as she puts it, “the skies always opened up once inside (the) local library.” There she spent loads of time creating images for books that were missing pictures (and playing with a puppet theater she was not supposed to touch).

In college, Amal studied illustration and fine art. During part of her studies in Italy, she grew intrigued with the world of art conservation. After graduation, she began training in the conservation of Asian works of art on paper. She continued to illustrate stories that danced around her head. But then she grew impatient repairing other artist’s works and wanted to develop her own. (After all, there were still books out there missing pictures.) The new assembly of images came with a bag full of questions. She found the fastest way to get them answered was graduate school and she’s now completing a Masters of Illustration while freelancing and teaching.

RS: How did you get started as an illustrator?

AK: Finger painting. During the 1970s energy crisis my nursery school never turned on the lights (or at least I can’t remember them ever being on). The only thing I could do, and understand in near darkness, was finger paint. It was marvelous.

RS: How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?

AK: My style has changed dramatically. I always knew I wanted to paint with oils, but all of my experience was with watercolors. I would apply the watercolor thick like oil, sometimes over a gessoed canvas—lovely stuff, but not the most cost effective. Once I began working with oils (I use a water-mixable type because I work in the basement near the furnace—no solvents permitted!), everything changed. I love to draw and now I was drawing directly onto the canvas with the paint– a liberating process.

RS: Do you have a particular routine that you follow when you illustrate? 

AK: I do! You’ve already seen a large chunk of my process, but there are in-between stages, like gathering reference photos and building costumes where needed, that are integral to completing the illustration.

RS:  What was your favorite children’s book growing up?

AK: The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen. I didn’t actually have the book. I had an ancient slide projector and one story for it. I would project the images onto my wall, moving slowly from slide to slide. I can’t remember if there was music, or even narration, to the story. For whatever reason, I remember both.

RS:  What projects are you working on at present?

AK: I am illustrating some very fun illustrations for a children’s magazine to a story called The Tomb Thief and cover art for a middle grade novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken as part of my thesis project.


In Uncategorized on July 9, 2014 at 6:22 pm

my grandfather's donkey

“My Grandfather’s Donkey” (حمارة جدي) is one of my favorite books to read aloud when reading with kids, and the illustrations are so engaging that we just had to contact the artist behind them for a quick chat! Nadine Sidani, a Lebanese illustrator born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, has won several awards for her work. In 2009, she won the Etisalat Award for her illustration of the book “I Love” (أنا احب) from Dar Al Hadaek. She’s also won awards for “Come Play with Me,” “My Friend,” and “What did you Decide, Malek?”

Nadine is a graduate of the Lebanese American University (LAU), and she’s illustrated over 30 children’s books.  Check out the interview below:

How did you get started as an illustrator?

Illustration has always been my passion. After graduating from the Lebanese American University, a friend introduced me to a publishing house in Lebanon where I started with collage illustrations that got me noticed. Several publishing houses contacted me because of the style of my work, and that’s how it began.

How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started out?

I discovered my own style of illustration through my paintings, at first. Illustration was something I always loved, ever since I was a child.  Creating a unique style was something that came naturally; it was something that came from the heart. My style has improved and developed throughout the years, but it still has the same authenticity. 

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Do you have a particular routine that you follow when you illustrate?

Of course.  When I’m illustrating books I always start by reading the story and trying to live and visualize it with all my senses… colors, smells, sounds, places, characters, countries and traditions. The next step is creating those characters and their surroundings. I then send them to the client in order to make sure that this is what they’re looking for before we finalize the book.

Loyal Dogmy star

What was your favorite book growing up?

“Le Petit Prince” was my favorite book as it triggers the imagination through deep and simple drawings that include lots of metaphors and lessons. I encourage parents to buy the book for their kids. It’s a classic that will forever capture the readers’ heart.

What projects are you working on at present?

I’m working on many children books right now in Lebanon and the Middle East. I’m also very excited as I’m working on new ideas with established as well as new publishing houses.



In Uncategorized on April 2, 2014 at 10:30 am
Ten months ago, ReadingStart launched a fundraising campaign on, and a lot has happened since that we’d love to update you on!
Finding the perfect partner clinics was a struggle at first, but we did manage to find two clinics that were exactly what the doctor ordered :)
- Tahadi Clinic in Hay Al Gharb, Beirut 
Tahadi Clinic ( caters to one of Lebanon’s most marginalized populations. Located in the suburbs of Beirut, it serves families living beneath the poverty threshold, on under 200 USD/ month. It provides primary health services, healthcare assistance for urgent surgeries, pre-natal and neo-natal care, counselling and most recently, a ReadingStart program.
When a parent of a child under the age of three comes in for a vaccine visit, the nurse at Tahadi will not only administer the shots, but she will also take a minute to discuss the importance of literacy activities at such a young age. She then gives the parents, free of charge, a package containing two board books and a brochure about reading.
Alongside the intervention of nurses, we also run regular workshops with young mothers on how to use the books they receive to maximum effect. You’ll find some pictures of our work below.
Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation in Burj Hamoud, Beirut 
This April, our second partner clinic, HKCC (, will begin running a ReadingStart program. HKCC provides a segment of Lebanon’s Armenian population, and most recently Syrian refugee population, with primary care services and counselling. Along the same model as Tahadi, we’ve enlisted nurses to advocate for reading in the early childhood years. We will also run workshops with new mothers to discuss how reading aloud can be made more interactive.
HKCC will also be one of the first locations to run our “Let’s Read” ad campaign. You can check out the poster below.
Due to the very very generous support of Asala Publishers, we were able to literally make every dollar count. Our magic formula? Every dollar donated = a book given! We will continue to work on making sure that our book packs are cost effective in order to ensure we reach the maximum number of children and families.
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By the end of 2014, we will have reached a total of 1000 families, distributed a total of 2000 children’s books, ran a series of periodic workshops on reading aloud, helped establish several mobile in-clinic libraries and ran an ad campaign at schools and clinics to encourage reading as a family. We will also have distributed over 2000 brochures on the importance of reading in the early years and advocated for the Arab publishing industry through our blog and Facebook page.
We couldn’t have done any of this without the generous support of our funders, partners and fans, and for this we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! 

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