“THE Animals are filled with glee,

“It’s Art Day and they’ve come to see,

“A new place called a gallery!”

These poetic opening lines to Dinaz Cassim’s illustrated book, Art Day For Animals, encapsulates the central theme of her work. It’s all about children, animals and the art gallery!

For her debut children’s book, the Pakistan-born author and illustrator incorporates pictures of original artwork alongside her own illustrations to tell her story. The idea is to foster an appreciation of art among children who are just beginning to read.

“It began with the idea of creating a story that would communicate the language or, in educational terminology, the ‘elements of art’, coupled with the aim of celebrating the work of local artists,” says Cassim during an interview with Star2 late last year.

“Having animals whose inherent characteristics parallel these art elements was an idea that occurred while I was browsing through the art. Children love animals, and it was a great way to integrate other themes, like animal characteristics and team-work,” shares the mother of two teen boys.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Cassim explains that beyond that initial framework, creating the book was a “truly organic process”.

“Some of the characters, such as Snail, were inspired by the swirly perspectives in Chin Kong Yee’s multi-angled Kuala Lumpur cityscape Timeless. In other cases, animals, like Bear, were among the first I associated with the element of texture.

“The corresponding artwork was then found, which in turn influenced the colour that Bear would be. It was a very fun and novel process in which the images, characters and words developed in tandem.”

One of Cassim’s main aims was to introduce kids to a wide variety of media and styles. She selected works ranging from Hamidi Hadi’s non-representational multimedia painting to Anurendra Jegadeva’s monochromatic portrait in oil.

She has also incorporated Yim Yen Sum’s tactile 3D piece, Johari Said’s wood carving, and Kim Ng’s abstract monoprint, all of whom she says utilise non-traditional materials and forms that “expand the definition of art”.

“I also wanted to include works that would intrigue kids and lead them to think about real life connections, such as Chin’s Timeless. For instance, many kids ride on a school bus, so Ivan Lam’s 3 buses is something they can identify with in terms of subject matter.”

This spread in Cassim’ss book shows her illustrations of monkeys next to abstract works by Malaysian artist Kim Ng exploring the idea of shapes.

Cassim, who is the founder of Art4Kidz, has had her artwork exhibited in juried shows at the Art Directors Club in New York City, and Canada’s Art Gallery of Peel and Art Gallery of Oakville.

Art4Kidz is an innovative art programme for children that is aimed at exploring the aforementioned elements of art to develop visual skills while nurturing creativity.

Cassim’s illustration work includes picture books, wall murals, and community projects that include designing recyclable bags with secondary school students.

At an early age, Cassim was most interested in drawing people’s gestures, expressions and attires from observation. This developed her ability to create characters from imagination.

“As a young child, I adored the magical worlds of Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, P.G. Wodehouse, and Richard Scarry, as well as the beloved Curious George books. While these books had more words than images, they ignited my imagination to portray fantasy realms in pictures.

“My discovery of and major in illustration at New York’s School of Visual Arts played a role here, too. Another inspirational moment was when I started looking at picture books with my own kids and saw the impact of storytelling from images through their lit-up eyes,” she reminisces.

Quite unexpectedly, while attending the Asian Festival of Children’s Content event in Singapore, Cassim was struck by an illustrator-turned- writer’s insightful words: “An illustrator is already a storyteller.”

That paved the way for more to come.

She says that working as an art educator sparked the idea of illustrating a story that would “communicate the language of art through lines, shapes, colours and textures, among other things”.

She believes that when kids look at art that reflects something from their own environment, it makes them more aware of their surroundings.

“It helps them to make real-life connections with art, and helps them notice something they may have looked at but never really seen.

“Looking at art in their formative years helps kids to develop visual literacy. It contributes to their overall growth and cognitive skills.”

Cassim believes to appreciate art is to go beyond first impressions and become aware of the thoughts and emotions a work may evoke.

“Our response to art can often be a process of self-discovery, and it helps to develop critical thinking. Looking at art may also inspire kids to engage more in creative activities, which is a great way to explore and express ideas and become more innovative in all aspects of life, not just art,” she says.

Cassim plans to expand her book into an art-based animal adventure series.

And, “I would also love to illustrate a wordless colouring storybook for both kids and adults.”