From whimsical illustrations to its celebration of free spirits, Giraffes Can’t Dance is a family favorite. When I learned the book’s illustrator, Guy Parker-Rees, was offering a session at Emirates Literature Festival, I quickly signed us up and I’m so happy that I did. The session was artistic, engaging and surely an occasion that my five year old will remember fondly.

In the beginning

Parker-Rees began the session by taking us back to his childhood, where his career as an illustrator began, literally. Amid polished pictures of recent book characters, youthful sketches of animals appeared during his presentation. They were some of his first drawings as a kid and it’s uncanny how much those early renderings look like published characters. He showed us a giraffe with a likeness to Gerald, a witch that resembled the ones in Spookyrumpus and a dragon that likely inspired the dinosaur in Bumpus Jumpus Dinosaurumpus. With these examples, he proved to the audience that practice makes perfect; that becoming a great artist starts with the first stroke of a pencil and continues forever.

Sketch it out

Then, he moved on to a sketching exercise. Parker-Rees revealed that he draws the main character first and then builds the story around them. For the exercise, he asked the audience to suggest animals, particularly those found in Dubai, for his new character. My son suggested an Oryx and Parker-Rees accepted the challenge. He started with the horns and explained each step as the sketch developed. He called attention to the animal’s expression and other tools he use to convey happiness. He reminded the audience that a character’s environment is equally as important while he doodled a Dubai skyline beneath the leaping Oryx. Following his live demonstration, children were encouraged to draw their own characters that the Illustrator made his way around the room to see.

It takes two to tango

The session wouldn’t have been complete without a reading of Giraffes Can’t Dance. Guy Parker-Rees recited the story as his illustrations were projected onto the big screen. The audience tuned in and kids could be heard shouting out popular lines. When the story was over, the dancing commenced as Parker-Rees taught the children to tango. Soon there were little people gathered near the stage, dancing and prancing with imaginary partners. It was dance party for sure and Gerald jumped in the action too. Parker-Rees introduced the hand puppet and persuaded him to dance for the crowd.

Guy Parker-Rees was personable and kid-friendly. His presentation was both inspirational and interactive – a brilliant mix for younger kids. Directly following the session, he was available to autograph books. We came with our copy of Giraffes Can’t Dance and I purchased Dylan the Doctor, along with his newest collaboration with Giles Andreae, Be Brave Little Penguin, from the Magrudy’s popup shop. We got all of them signed. What I loved the most is that he adds a little illustration next to his autograph. My son now owns a book with an original sketch of Gerald done by Guy Parker-Rees himself. Priceless.

About Emirates Literature Festival

Established in 2009, the Festival, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and in partnership with Emirates Airline and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), has grown into the UAE’s premier literary festival. The 10th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is happening from 1-10 March 2018.

There were so many amazing (and FREE) things to experience along the promenade at Intercontinental Hotel Festival City. From LEGO building stations to an arts and crafts booth powered by Drawings by Me, there wasn’t a dull moment of our visit. Tickets were AED 50 each, and in my opinion, we received great value for that investment. I look forward to participating in future events.

Tickets can be purchased at the Festival website ( or via the ELF Dubai app, available on the iOS and Google Play app stores and at Magrudy’s outlets around the UAE.