Emirates Lit Fest 2017: the towering imagination of children’s author Ralph Browning

Driving through the city streets, a father and his sons invented personalities for some of Dubai’s famous buildings. Now you can read how these towers dance, play sports and befriend children in a picture book.

Writer Ralph Browning who was inspired by the diverse architecture of the city to create a children’s picture book titled Dubai’s Talking Towers. Antonie Robertson / The National.
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When Ralph Browning’s two sons were younger, he used to assign names and characters to all the towers they saw driving down Sheikh Zayed Road.

“They would be quite restless and never wanted to play I-spy. This was a time before we had screens at the back of the seat or tablets,” says the 53-year-old Dubai resident.

“So we started looking at the towers along the Sheikh Zayed Road corridor and imagined them having legs or a certain personality.

“They would come up with stories as bizarre as the shape of the towers.”

His sons may have grown out of that phase but Browning certainly hasn't. The British business consultant has now turned children's author, with his debut book Dubai's Talking Towers.

“I thought making a picture book around those creative stories we came up with was a good idea, especially with all these amazing and crazy buildings around,” says Browning.

He met publisher Explorer and, with the help of the company’s illustrators, started to develop the tale of two children who interact with Dubai’s iconic towers.

Suitable for children ages 6 to 7 years old, the book starts with a new family moving to the city and children Zain and Samia befriending buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Emirates Towers, Cayan Tower and Etisalat Tower, all of whom come alive at night.

“They all wake up and come out to play near the Creek, and the children, who aren’t sleepy at night because of all the wonderful things they can do in the city, are the only ones who get to see them in action.”

Drawing from some of the outlandish stories Browning and his children would make up, he created personalities for each of the towers.

“The Burj Al Arab with its sail-style design is adventurous and likes windsurfing,” he says. “The World Trade Centre is the oldest tower, so he has a moustache and glasses. The twirly tower or Cayan Tower is a dancer. The Emirates Towers are siblings that are grumpy because they have to look at each other all day and one-up each other, as brothers do. Etisalat Tower is sporty as that’s the tower with the ball.”

His sons, Christian, 12, and Joseph, 17, helped to develop some of the characters. “They suggested making Burj Khalifa the king of the towers as it is the tallest tower and all the others are afraid of him. Burj Khalifa likes his status but also feels lonely and left out when the others don’t invite him to play.”

Browning says there’s a moral to the 30-page story. “So, when Etisalat Tower loses his ball, he seeks the help of Burj Khalifa to get it back. It’s a lesson in friendship and not leaving out other kids in the playground.”

Browning has been touring schools to try to spark the same excitement and creativity he managed from his own children. He will also be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday for afternoon reading sessions.

“The idea is to make children look around their environment and get more excited about what is happening around them,” he says.

“You often see them bury their faces in screens, so what I want to do is try to steer them away from it, so that they get involved in activities and come up with stories.”

Browning will also encourage children to think of different ways of describing the buildings they see in the UAE.

“I’ll show them pictures of other towers around town and guide them into thinking out of the box. Towers here are weird. Maybe a building looks like a unicorn or an eagle. Then I’ll ask them to write down the personalities and draw what they would be like, what would they do, and would they be friendly?”

Browning intends to create a series, highlighting the different buildings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“I’ve already got a bank of stories and how to introduce the Address Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and then move on to Abu Dhabi buildings,” he says.

“And they’ll all have different scenarios, like Twirly Tower having a party with all the other towers are invited.”

“There’s a lot of silliness and humour in the book, but at the same time it gets children wondering.”

Dubai's Talking Towers by Ralph Browning is available at bookstores for Dh49. He will appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday at 2pm, in the Time Out reading area. For details visit www.emirateslitfest.com

aahmed@thenational.ae

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