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Everybody has a song,
be it short or be it long,
in the right or in the wrong key,
Like the hee-haw of a donkey,
Twitter, tweet, tu-whit, tu-whoo,
howl or growl or quack or moo.
Don’t be silent
you must sing
as you’ve been made.
Welcome, everybody, to this week’s Poetry Friday, which we are delighted to be hosting. Please leave comments below with links to your “songs” and I’ll be updating this post throughout the day.
The above poem comes from the joyous anthology Under the Spell of the Moon: Art for Children from the World’s Great Illustrators. This superb book, first published by Groundwood in Canada in 2004, then in the UK in 2006 by Frances Lincoln, is now available for the first time in paperback (Frances Lincoln, 2012). Produced by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), the book is edited by erstwhile President of IBBY and founder of Groundwood Patsy Aldana, and has a thought-provoking Foreword by award-winning author Katherine Paterson. It provides a fantastic showcase of 32 illustrators from across the globe, who have all donated their work to benefit IBBY – indeed 12.5% of the book’s proceeds go to IBBY. Illustrators include Piet Grobler, who illustrated the poem cited above, as well as many others of my personal favorites such as Mitsumasa Anno (Japan), Peter Sís (Czech Republic/USA), Anthony Browne (UK), Isol (Argentina), Pulak Biswas (India), Luis Garay (Nicaragua) – and the book has also introduced me to many illustrators whose work I intend to explore further…
Each illustrator was asked to “illustrate a text of his or her own choosing, be it a poem, nursery rhyme, song, piece of prose, riddle or street game.” The result is a wonderfully eclectic gathering of mostly verse that is given in its original language, sometimes incorporated into the artwork, and, where necessary, in English translation: and indeed a special shout-out must go to Stan Dragland’s virtuoso translations. The quirkiness of the collection probably comes from this freedom of choice given to the global spread of illustrators: so each page turn brings a surprise, both in text and artistic style. The one thing that links every page is the joie de vivre of the texts and the virtuosity each illustrator has brought to his or her contribution.
When PaperTigers’ book reviewer Abigail Sawyer mentioned to me that she is going to be hosting a Blog Carnival about bilingualism over at Speaking in Tongues today, she got me thinking. Again. I first started mulling over bilingual children’s books here in relation to Tulika Books, a publisher in India that produces bilingual books in many different Indian languages alongside English, and to former IBBY Preisdent and founder of Groundwood Books Patsy Aldana’s comments in an interview with PaperTigers, and I will quote them again here:
I have always been opposed to the use of bilingual books, however given that Spanish-only books hardly sell at all, I have had to accept that books in Spanish can only reach Latinos if they are bilingual. This goes against everything I believe and know to be true about language instruction, the joy of reading in your mother tongue…
I was surprised by Aldana’s dislike of bilingual books because I love them and my children love them, and I have found that they can be a joy for inquisitive children seeking to learn independently – but I do realise that our contexts are different. Aldana’s dislike of them seems to stem from their being a substitute for monolingual Spanish books in an English-biased market, and she has found a pragmatic way of providing books in their mother-tongue to the Latino community in North America.
We love reading bilingual books because, although our main vehicle is the English, having another language running alongside, often enhances the reading experience for us, especially where the setting of the story is culturally appropriate to the language. This is true even when we can’t read the script, because even without being able to understand it, we can sometimes pull out certain consistencies. Seeing the writing always provides a glimpse of that different culture.
One of my favorite books of the last few year’s is Jorge Luján’s Tarde de invierno/ Winter Afternoon, published by Groundwood Books – and without the original Spanish and the English lying alongside eachother, we would not have been able to appreciate so fully the simply gorgeous animation Jorge and his family produced of the book (watch it here). Some authors like Yuyi Morales effortlessly slide between English and Spanish (we love her delightful Señor Calavera and Grandma Beetle books, Just a Minute and Just in Case). Some books provide a parallel experience of language, like Demi’s Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake or Ed Young’s Beyond the Great Mountains. None of these books is truly bilingual, in that they do not provide a similar reading experience regardless of which of the two languages you approach the story from – but they all offer a bridge between languages and cultures that is not to be understimated.
It would be very interesting to hear about the experiences and needs of truly bilingual parents and children. If you are bringing up bilingual children or have bilingual children in your class, do you or they seek out bilingual books? Are you frustrated by what’s out there –
Established in 1978, Groundwood Books is a small children’s book publisher, associated with House of Anansi Press, that specializes in Canadian authored books (with a special interest in books by First Nations authors), bilingual books in English and Spanish, translations from around the world, and a non-fiction line aimed at young adults. Their catalog features a long list of award-winning titles that reflect individual experiences and are of universal interest.
Patricia (Patsy) Aldana, founder and publisher of Groundwood Books (and president of IBBY , the International Board on Book for Young Readers since 1997), answered our questions about My Little Round Rouse, one of the seven titles selected for inclusion in our Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set Donation Project; her commitment to publishing books by First Nations authors; the multicultural titles on their Fall list, and more.
PT: What in particular attracted you to My Little Round House?
PA: I thought it was a really special book about people whose lives are very different from ours. I also thought it was a very unique look at a baby’s life, a life that despite being nomadic seemed wonderfully cosy and safe.
PT: The books you publish often tell the stories of people whose voices are underrepresented. What first motivated you to start on this path and how do you manage to stay true to your mission?
PA: Being a Guatemalan, I guess that seeing the world through the eyes of the marginal has always come naturally to me. There are so many books published from and for the mainstream that, for me, focusing on underrepresented authors and illustrators was one way to justify being a publisher. As a small Canadian house, this focus has also been a way for us to distinguish ourselves from the huge multi-nationals with whom we have to compete.
PT: How did the decision to stop selling rights to the American market and to start publishing your books in the US come about?
PA: As US publishing changed from the editor-driven houses that I first came to know (Margaret K McElderry, Dorothy Briley, Susan Hirschman, Phyllis Fogelman, etc.), it became harder and harder to sell rights to our books in the US. At the same time Canada began to cut funding to school libraries and as a result our domestic market really shrank. We had to publish ourselves in the US or die. And that meant we had to bring our best books to the US in order to establish our list. We had very little money, but we had the quality of our books and needed to show our whole list in order to make our way.
PT: Since 1998 Groundwood Books has been publishing stories in English and Spanish by people of Latino origin under its Libros Tigrillo imprint. What motivated the creation of this imprint, and how has this part of the business grown since then?
During our session with the IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions) in Bologna, both speakers (Patsy Aldana and Viviana Quiñones) stressed the importance of children having access to books which both reflect their experiences and open windows onto other customs and cultures. We were urged to pay a visit to the stand shared by a number of different African publishers, and there we met three very special publishers, all producing books to meet that demand.
The first two were librarians we had met at the session the day before: Antoinette F. Correa from BLD (Bibliothèque-Lecture-Développement) Éditions in Senegal and Pili Dumea of the Children’s Book Project (CBP) for Tanzania.
Antoinette, pictured right with a selection of her books, told me that she set up BLD Éditions to meet the needs of both teachers and pupils, who were crying out for access to good books in their own language. She is a well-known figure in the IFLA, and sees the continued development of libraries as crucial work: as well as publishing books, BLD helps to set up libraries and trains librarians.
Pili, pictured left, is secretary to the CBP for Tanzania, which, again, connects children with books published locally. Last year the CBP was awarded the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its work promoting the love of books among children and adults. One eleven-year-old, talking about her school library, following the school’s affiliation to the CBP, said
“I have read most of the books in the school library which helped me learn about different topics through interesting stories told in our own national language, Kiswahili, which is easier to understand than English.”
The third publisher was Bakamé Éditions from Rwanda, who publish children’s books in the national language, Kinyarwanda, which is understood by all Rwandans. They also run various projects to promote reading, including their “Bibliothèque en route” – a rucksack library, which takes books out to children who do not have access to an actual library. It gets a tiny mention on their English pages, but if you read French, there’s more here. Editions Bakamé was the joint recipient of this year’s IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award and this article on IBBY’s website is also an interesting read.
The work these organisations are doing is truly awe-inspiring and it was a real privilege to meet Antoinette and Pili.
Continuing with our current literacy focus, and thinking towards World Literacy Day on September 8th, this is the first of three posts focusing on and beyond a session at this year’s Bologna Book Fair…
In my first post following our return from the Bologna Book Fair, I highlighted the session organised by the IFLA (International Federation of Libraries Associations and Institutions). The session was organised by the Netherlands Public Library Association and they called it “Invitation to JES: Join – Enjoy – Share”. Despite not being librarians, Aline and I were made very welcome and we really enjoyed chatting to the librarians afterwards. In fact, the various informal discussions got so lively that we were asked to keep the noise down – well, makes a change! As well as our Dutch hosts, there were children’s librarians there from all over the world: Australia, Colombia, Croatia, France, Italy, Japan, Senegal and Tanzania. The atmosphere was buzzing!
We had two speakers: the first, Patsy Aldana, the current president of IBBY, gave us a fascinating talk entitled “Books as Mirrors” in which she traced the history of Multicultural Book publishing in her native Canada, and in which her own Groundwood Books has been so ground-breaking (for more on multiculturalism in Canadian publishing, see here). It had been a very painful struggle, she said, to define the role of the writer: who could write legitimately about what? Those white people who had been the only published writers of books under the multicultural umbrella would ask, “Why can’t I write whatever I want? Who are you to tell me not to write about your experience?” and were being asked “What right do you have to steal my story – the world you’re describing is not real”.
This situation is now much resolved in Canada but there are still real concerns. “Children need books that are windows and books that are mirrors,” she said: and unfortunately there is uneven access for children to these kinds of books. What happens to children who never see themselves in the books they read; and one step further, what happens when children are not taught to read in their own language? It is an enormous disincentive to the desire to read. She pointed to the work of some “fabulous” small publishers from all over the world and urged us to visit their stands at the fair – such as Tara Books from India, Ekeré from Venezuela, and Editions Bakamé from Rwanda, (which shared this year’s IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award). Small publishers need our support because so often it is their books which give “that flash of recognition – That is me!”
Citing the example of an Iranian librarian in Sweden who is able to ensure that children of Iranian background can access books attuned to their experience and outlook, Patsy concluded by saying that librarians are the people who can be relied on to bring books to children. Librarians can insist on quality – for without quality it is hard to foster a love of reading and provide the key to the mirror/window.
I think there’s plenty to chew on there and I will post about the second speaker in Part2!