Muscat: After one week in Oman and visits to three schools, British illustrator and author Shoo Rayner has one message for the children he met here: "Read and read and read."
Rayner has illustrated over 250 children's books and written over 170 of them, himself, including the Scaredy Cats series and six Lydia books. An interest in drawing led him to become an illustrator, and writing stories to accompany his drawings soon followed.
"I want to infuse children with the desire to read. I think reading is the most important skill in modern life, and the way you become good at reading is to read a lot," Rayner told Times of Oman following a session at TAISM, where he told students about how he comes up with his book ideas and demonstrated his drawing talents.
Many schools in the UK don't have libraries, and too many children no longer have proper reading skills, something he hopes to change. He says illustrations are a wonderful way to draw children into books and encourage a love of reading.
"If you sit with a child and you're reading the story, they're looking all over the page, and there comes a moment when they realize those black squiggles (words) are actually what you're saying, and they realise they can read it on their own," he explains.
Rayner also believes that many children can express themselves best by drawing, and then writing will follow. He says if they are able to draw their stories, then words can be added afterwards. His passion for illustrations and drawing even led to creating a popular Youtube channel offering drawing lessons.
"Half the kids are visual thinkers. Give them a piece of paper and off they go. Writing is just a sophisticated form of drawing," he says.
One of the books that inspired him as an illustrator was Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, while stories that caught his attention as a child included the Chronicles of Narnia.
Rayner's message resonated with students in a grade three classroom at TAISM, many of whom are already avid readers.
Eva Bonde, 9, says she loves reading, and has even started writing stories about her pet chinchilla, Snuggles. She was delighted to meet a real author.
"I think it's cool that Shoo Rayner isn't like any other author. How he draws and writes the book is unique," says Eva.
Nine-year-old Matteo Lombardi says he enjoys reading and one day would like to try writing a book, too. "I use books for learning. It's a fun way to get facts and ideas," he says.
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