Typography in The Day Saida Arrived

Today on the blog, Kirsty Lappin shares some thoughts on typography in a translated picture book, a fascinating part of her MSc in Translation Studies. She focuses on the children’s book The Day Saida Arrived, written by Susana Gómez Redondo and first published in 2012 by TakaTuka under the title El día que Saída llegó. It was translated into English by Lawrence Schimel and published in 2020 by Blue Dot Kids Press. Both editions were illustrated by Sonja Wimmer. Many thanks to Blue Dot Kids Press for the kind permission to reproduce the images below.

By Kirsty Lappin

Told from the perspective of a young girl who befriends a newcomer from Morocco, Susana Gómez Redondo and Sonja Wimmer’s The Day Saida Arrived is a beautiful story about friendship and understanding. Moved by Saida’s tears and intrigued by the fact that she appears to have ‘lost all of her words’, the narrator sets to searching for Saida’s lost words to see if she might ‘untie her laughter and her voice’. She soon learns that her new friend’s words are not “lost”, rather she speaks a different language – Arabic: ‘In Morocco, yours wouldn’t work either’, the narrator’s father explains. The girls’ friendship blossoms as they teach each other about their respective languages and cultures, and together they learn ‘words of every shape, sound and size’.

As lovely as the story is, what really makes this book shine for me is its typography and illustrations, both of which have a dreamlike, playful quality to them and are filled with colour and emotion. One page that I particularly liked for its clever use of typography shows the girls doing acrobatics on a washing line. As the narrator learns more about Arabic from Saida, she talks of how it is ‘fun that things were read starting from the end’ and so, in the book, the end of the sentence is laid out so that it reads back to front. I think this detail works particularly well as it reinforces in a very visual and concrete way the idea that, in contrast to English, Arabic is written and read from right to left.

Images courtesy of Blue Dot Kids Press

Likewise, in the image below, the use of a rounded, cursive font style, the variations in font, colour, weight and size of the words, and the way they appear to drop off the page captures the idea that through learning together, the girls have gained such a varied and vibrant vocabulary that it cannot be contained. The swirly font that reads ‘sound’ also adds to the alliterative effect of the sentence.

Just as the narrator and Saida encounter ‘a world of new words’, so too does this unique picture book introduce readers to Arabic vocabulary that may look and sound unfamiliar to them. Though the book is not a fully bilingual text since the primary story is told only in English, the way it presents the English and Arabic languages alongside each other within its illustrations helps emphasize the fact that friendship goes both ways. The narrator does not simply teach Saida English, rather she shows a respect and curiosity for Saida’s language and culture by trying to learn Arabic. These typographical/illustrative details, and the interactivity they encourage in terms of the reader being able to read these additional words aloud, make this book a wonderful learning tool to introduce children to the Arabic language and Moroccan culture in a fun and accessible way. Arabic vocabulary is provided both in Arabic script and in its transliterated version to help English-speaking readers pronounce this new vocabulary.

The fun and whimsical two spread page of the girls riding on a gigantic hippopotamus is a real testament to the author, translator, and illustrator’s collaboration. Here, the hippopotamus’s back becomes the blackboard mentioned in the text, with the white, cursive font resembling handwriting on a blackboard. The word ‘country’ is shown inside a sketched outline in the shape of Morocco; the word ‘sky’ is contained in a cloud; and ‘sun’ appears next to an illustration of a streetlamp, the bulb of which resembles the sun.

A final example of how typography is used to help the reader’s understanding of the book’s key themes is found towards the end of the book. The narrator expresses her hopes that she and Saida will one day visit Morocco together: ‘On that day’, she explains, ‘Saida and I will happily throw overboard unwelcome words like ‘border’. The way the word ‘border’ is broken up points to the importance of letting go of negative stereotypes and attitudes towards immigrants; to quote from the book itself, to eliminate those ‘words that separate. Words that cause hurt’ in favour of those that ‘bring us together and awaken laughter’.

Together, the author Gómez Redondo, the illustrator Wimmer, and the translator Schimel have created a unique and beautifully written and illustrated children’s book that speaks in so many ways to children and adults alike. The Day Saida Arrived is a sweet, fun, and heart-warming picture book about friendship across cultures and languages, and a touching reflection on the importance of showing kindness to others, and on the power of language to bring us together, beyond borders and differences.

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You can watch Lawrence Schimel read from his translation on the Translators Aloud YouTube channel.

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Kirsty Lappin is a recent MSc Translation Studies graduate specialising in Spanish to English translation. She enjoys literary translation and has a particular interest in and passion for children’s and YA literature and illustration. Twitter: @kirsty_lppn