A fictional story about a rescue dog from Bahrain is set for release this month, with all proceeds being donated to the RIA Institute Bahrain.
The children’s book, called Where’s Baloo, is authored by Sarah Clarke, a Bahrain resident who volunteers at the institute.
The British national noticed early on that her chocolate Labrador named Baloo, who she rescued in 2007, has a special personality – one that can overcome social barriers and transform the lives of students at the institute, which is owned and run by Christine Gordon.
“Baloo has been going to RIA for two years,” said Ms Clarke, who lives in Bahrain with her husband.
“We started a programme called Baloo’s Buddies, which is basically that he goes and he works with the autistic children at the school.
“He does one on one therapy, but he is not a therapy dog; Baloo is a pet dog who is good with children.
“When I adopted him I rapidly realised that he had such a great personality and everybody loved him.
“I was already volunteering at RIA, so I wanted to do something with the dog at the school and I was invited by Christine Gordon to bring the dog along and we set up Baloo’s Buddies.”
After witnessing the positive transformation Baloo had on the first child he interacted with, both women increased the size of the groups.
“Children who weren’t able to speak would say dog or would say Baloo, and children who didn’t want to touch things would start to touch Baloo because they were curious about the dog, so it was remarkable how the children changed,” explained Ms Clarke.
It was this experience and the support of Ms Gordon that encouraged the production of Where’s Baloo, which is written by Ms Clarke and illustrated by Sunanda Docherty.
“I had written a story and I asked Sunanda to do the pictures for me and they came back in a flash,” added Ms Clarke.
“The story is about Baloo looking for his ball – he is a Labrador Retriever so he loves to retrieve things.
“Baloo is nearly 12 years old and I wanted to record his life, his story, so that I always have something to remember him by, which was also a motivation for writing it.”
The book begins with Baloo dreaming of what he is going to do that day, before he goes to meet some new recruits for Baloo’s Buddies.
“The dogs are all different shapes and sizes and different types of dogs, again mirroring the school,” said Ms Clarke.
“We are trying to mirror through the text without people realising that this is an integrated story, it’s an accessible story and it’s for everybody.
“If you have a child with any reading ability you can start half way through because it’s a story within a story.
“The target audience is people with imagination, from the age of four a child can follow the story and even younger than that they can follow the pictures.”
All the illustrations in the book are detailed to enable lower ability readers to focus the pictures and identify various objects.
“We tried to make it look like Bahrain, with the beach and market so that children would identify with it, such as a lot of red and white for Bahrain colours,” explained Ms Clarke.
“As a mainstream reader you wouldn’t necessarily identify that this is going on, but for a child with autistic tendencies or on the autistic spectrum they like to see patterns.”
Ms Clarke has plans for another book, but she first wants to print Where’s Baloo in Arabic and is looking for a sponsor to cover the printing cost.
“I hope it will be a whole series,” she added.
“I must mention that Oak Utility Solutions and Development, kindly sponsored the printing of this book, without that we wouldn’t have been able to make it completely non-profit.”
Illustrator Sunanda Docherty said her personal experiences gave her a deep understanding of the visual cues needed in the images for the book.
“As I am a parent of autism and home schooled my children with tutors and myself teaching art, I began to see and understand how the autistic mind works,” said the UAE-based artist.
“Every child is an individual and every child needs to be taught specifically to their strengths and weaknesses and that was what I observed.
“Children love visual cues especially if they can’t read or decipher letters and words, the combination of the images and the letters helps.
“I also wanted the images to look normal, not to be seen as a cartoon as the child needs to identify with Baloo as they know him or as they know and understand their pets and animals around them.”
After observing Baloo in his environment and the surroundings of RIA Institute Bahrain, Ms Docherty began to sketch.
“I began to think of how to best utilise what we see around us in Bahrain, so I could incorporate familiar colours, sights and objects into the illustrations,” said Ms Docherty.
“It was fun to research and imagine how Baloo would look like in those settings.”
Ms Docherty’s husband also contributed to the book’s layout and design.
Where’s Baloo will be launched on November 12 at The Bookcase in Budaiya and guests will have the opportunity to meet the star of the book.
Story time will take place at 9.30am, 10.30am and 11.30am during the launch, which will also include art activities for children aged four and above.
The book costs BD3 and all proceeds will go towards RIA Institute Bahrain.