A book without words! A lovely pink cover with a beautifully-round 6 at the centre and encircled within the tummy of the number, an image of a boy and a girl and flowers and birds. More than 200 copies of this colourfully illustrated book were handed over this Tuesday to the Roman Catholic Church to [...]


A wordless book full of meaning

A labour of love by author, translator, graphic designer and illustrator Deepthi Horagoda for the children affected by the Easter Sunday bombings

An illustration from the book. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

A book without words!

A lovely pink cover with a beautifully-round 6 at the centre and encircled within the tummy of the number, an image of a boy and a girl and flowers and birds.

More than 200 copies of this colourfully illustrated book were handed over this Tuesday to the Roman Catholic Church to be distributed among all those child-victims of the Easter Sunday bomb blasts. No child is to be left out – whether directly affected by being at the bomb sites themselves or having lost someone near and dear to them.

This is a labour of love from the hands of author, translator, graphic designer and illustrator Deepthi Horagoda who has been engaged in this type of creativity since 2006 and she hopes healing would flow forth from its pages.

“This is my first wordless book,” smiles Deepthi who has authored and illustrated six children’s storybooks as well as translating, designing and illustrating more children’s book, folk verses, historical biographies and cookery books for other authors.

This wordless book is the first to be certified by the Good Books Council of the International Board on Books for Young people (IBBY) Sri Lanka Section, she says, explaining that what happens is that the 15-member council including scholars in the field of children’s literature reviews a submitted manuscript or book and issues a certificate of approval.

The IBBY Sri Lanka Section has had a name-change from this month to Sri Lankan Board on Books for Young people (SLBBY).

There is also a different twist to this particular wordless tale – it is being promoted as bibliotherapy for all those children who faced the horrors of the April 21 bombings.

Putting it in a nutshell, Deepthi says that bibliotherapy is a broad term and means the use of books specifically created to help not only children and youth but also adults to bring out their hidden fears and problems. “They are helped to come to a catharsis (the release of strong feelings) by identifying with the characters in the book.”

By whatever name it may be called, bibliotherapy, bibliocounselling, bibliopsychology, bookmatching, literatherapy, library therapeutics guided reading and biblioguidance, it is the use of story-telling and reading as a therapeutic tool.


Quoting the National Association of School Psychologists, USA, Deepthi says that books can be wonderful tools to use with children who have experienced difficult times such as trauma or loss. Reading or being read to and talking to adults can help them understand and cope with their feelings. Reading also offers a great way to spend time with a child, reinforce a sense of normalcy and security and connect with them, all of which are important to recovery from a traumatic experience.

In the aftermath of the mindless violence on Easter Sunday, the SLBBY, re-established after a lapse of 30 years in June 2018, was wondering what contribution it could make to ease the emotional burden of those who had been affected.

“What can we do to help these child-victims?” was foremost on the mind of SLBBY President Dinesh Kulatunga for according to UNICEF figures 176 had lost either one or both parents.

Just across the Palk Strait, India had used wordless books as a therapeutic tool after the Bhopal gas tragedy and the 2004 tsunami.

“The fact that 232 children in the age-group 6-18 years were directly affected by being present at the bomb blast sites came later from Seth Sarana, the social arm of the Roman Catholic Church’s Colombo Archdiocese,” says Deepthi, who explains that the SLBBY which she is also part of had already put on their thinking caps to find ways and means of helping these children.

She points out that all children who are 15 years or below have no conscious memory of any such violent incident as the war ended back in 2009 in Sri Lanka. So it was a double-shock as even those not directly involved were affected.

With the IBBY having a Children’s Crisis Fund, usually what would follow is seeking help to get a travelling exhibition of wordless books to tour the country, but that was very costly.

Then dawned the idea – why don’t we create our own wordless books, says Deepthi, adding that it would also overcome language barriers and keep the content in context. This would provide an opportunity for these books to be distributed among schoolchildren and spread the message that there could be a few bad people among any ethnic or religious group and in all strata of society.

Even though Deepthi started on her wordless book about six days after the bomb blasts, the essence had been swirling in her mind when she woke up one early morn, about a week before the tragedy to the raucous cries of a “murder” of crows down the road. Yes, murder is the collective noun for a group of crows. They were in mourning over the death of one of their own.

“It was April 14 and there were no street-sweepers as it was New Year time and the crows mourned until about 5.30 in the evening showing so much concern for another. In hindsight, was it a premonition of what was to happen,” she asks, adding that another incident was imprinted in her mind.

She had observed a red-vented bulbul which had nested in an upstair room in her home down Skelton Road, Colombo 5. Two of the nestlings the mother-bird had nurtured had flown out, but there was a third, the runt, smaller and weaker, making plaintive noises for its mother’s attention. Finding its way to the window, it had crash-landed in the garage and when Deepthi attempted to help it, it had landed on her thumb.

“It was a special moment, the way this tiny chick trusted me,” says Deepthi with emotion.

These were the unconscious influences that helped Deepthi to create this story, using dry water colour pencils with “everything” done by her including the bearing of the printing cost for 1,000 books of this ‘Affection Bibliotherpay’ which will “affect” the reader in a positive manner.

The balance books Deepthi is planning to distribute to libraries in remote schools through two not-for-profit organizations as she fervently hopes that they would create peace and harmony, starting with children, in our multi-religious, multi-ethnic society.

To fortify the good work that is being carried out silently, a well-known Australian author Dr. Ken Spillman who has over 70 children’s books to his name, has pledged funds for 2,000 more copies of Deepthi’s wordless book to be printed and sent to more schools.

Saying it through symbolism
There is much symbolism of relevance to Sri Lanka in this wordless book, says Deepthi, pointing out that the four doves in it are of different colours, symbolic of the different ethnic groups. The doves live in the same dove-cote, symbolic of an apartment building.

“The children throw lit fire-crackers which are symbolic of bombs and do so because they are naughty, in other words rebellious, symbolic of terrorists, while the reactions of the doves indicate efforts to avoid reality: see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil. The dead dove, meanwhile, is white, denoting peace,” she says.

However, the story does not end there. The planting of a flowering plant is symbolic of the blossoming friendship between the three doves and the two children and can act as an example which the bereaved children can imitate.

The flowers are yellow, the colour of peace and the contrast between the kind and unkind children is a depiction that all are not alike, even if they are of the same race, she adds.

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