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The World in Multicolour

“Love, not fear” : Nadine Kaadan on needing joyful stories about Syria

in: Children's books

Nadine Kaadan knows the power of stories to open up our world. Her first English-language picture book The Jasmine Sneeze does exactly this and more. Through her joyful, fun-filled tale about cheeky, karaoke-singing cat Haroun and his misadventures in Damascus, Nadine challenges the “single story” many of us have of Syria by focussing on its vibrant culture and rich heritage. Imagine our delight when we learnt that The Jasmine Sneeze was recently translated into Arabic-Slovenian, Arabic-Croatian, and Arabic-German bilingual editions! These were produced by a project called Story time: Connecting people with the power of artFunded by the European Union and with partners from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany, Story time aims to facilitate the acceptance and integration of refugee children into local European communities. I asked Nadine to tell us about her work with Story time and the impact of translated versions of her book on Croatian, Slovenian and Austrian readers.*

Can you tell us more about how The Jasmine Sneeze became involved with Story time?

The organisers wanted to find a book that touched on Syrian culture that they could make bilingual and that could facilitate a true integration. I went on a trip to Slovenia, Croatia and Austria to do storytime workshops and readings and also to show the local community more about the Syrian culture away from the news, away from the fear that everyone is having or that the media is spreading. They wanted, basically, to show locals more about these people who are coming. Where do they come from? What is their culture? And the organiser found that The Jasmine Sneeze was an ideal book for this project.

Nadine with Slovenian artist Vesna Bukovec

Story time also invited you to participate in their art residency programme. What was this about?

The Story time project has two sides. The story-reading project is one side. The other side of it is a one-week art residency. Artists from different countries collaborated to create artwork where traditional motifs were seen through the topic of refugees or immigration. I worked with a Slovenian artist, Vesna Bukovec. I designed a tile that looks like the Islamic tiles that you can find all over Syria. The designs on these tiles usually represent herbs or plants, but instead we used the traditional flower bouquet of Slovenia as inspiration, where each flower represents a Christian value. So what I am trying to challenge is the idea of a monoculture. I am trying to challenge the idea of separation. Through art, you can celebrate diversity truly. When you look at the tile, you see that it is coming from Syria – from Islam – and it is also representing something that is traditional and Slovenian. These tiles were spread all over public spaces in Slovenia.

Photos from KGLU – Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti

How did it feel to hear The Jasmine Sneeze being read in another language? What did you observe from the children listening?

The kids were very excited. We read the book in Arabic and then we read the translation, and I found that all the kids – Slovenian, Croatian and Austrian – were excited to look at the Arabic letters and to learn Arabic. They would ask me to write their names in Arabic. There was a true cultural exchange happening, and I felt it left them feeling less afraid of Syria and Syrians. Kids are so excited to learn about things they don’t know anything about. This is something adults are not so good at – they are mostly afraid of the things they don’t know. And it was really fun for me to hear these languages that I also don’t speak. It was really nice to hear the tonality and learn how they express the story and it was a true cultural exchange.

Photos from KGLU – Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti – KGLU

Can you share a standout event or a favourite moment?

In Zagreb, one of the mums told me that after reading the book her daughter said she can’t wait until she has a Syrian friend. That was really beautiful to hear. This is a time when Syrians need friends. And then in Slovenia, a journalist from the local television network that came to cover the event at the KGLU – Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti asked one little boy, “What did you learn about Syria after reading the book?” And he said, “Well, they have karaoke parties and cats.” So, reading this book immediately created an image of Syria that was positive. It reminds people of the culture, the art. And when these kids meet a child who is a refugee from Syria, then their interaction will be different just from this one story reading.

Photo from Booksa. Arabic-Croatian edition of The Jasmine Sneeze

Why do you think we should publish and read children’s books in translation? What will we gain from reading these types of books?

I’ve learned recently that in the UK less than 3% of books have been translated from other languages. That tells us how much English kids are missing, how much they don’t know about the world and other cultures. It’s very, very important for kids to be exposed to the world, to know what’s going on around them. It creates love, it creates empathy, it creates understanding. You know, at the end of one of these events someone told me that when she gets a cat, she will name it Haroun. I think that’s beautiful, that a Syrian name now has a positive meaning for this European child – that it inspires love and not fear.

Thank you, Nadine! You can buy your copy of The Jasmine Sneeze here. And if you live in the USA, watch out for our hardcover edition – coming to US bookstores in March 2018!

*This interview has been edited.

Katrina

Behind the scenes: Around the world with Lantana

in: Cultural diversity

 

At Lantana, we say that our books open up the world for young readers. Our stories offer windows onto other cultures and mirror back our common humanity. But what you might not know is how each book is the product of an intercultural and global collaboration, and this opens up our world, too. Join us on a quick trip around the world as we take you behind the scenes of the production of our upcoming title, Kaya’s Heart Song!

First stop, London!

British summer weather is famously fickle, but editor Alice Curry remains steadfast as she steers the production of Kaya’s Heart Song from manuscript to book. Written by first-time author Diwa Tharan Sanders and set in the jungles of Malaysia, this joyous story about mindfulness and listening to your heart made our hearts sing. We believe that pairing an author with an illustrator from another culture enhances the global qualities of the story, while the author’s voice keeps the experience authentic. Alice approached Argentinian illustrator Nerina Canzi, whose stunning work on The Ammuchi Puchi put her at the top of the list. Who better than Nerina to bring Kaya’s magical journey in the vibrant Malaysian jungles to life?

 

To Argentina for some winter lemons

While Alice enjoys (sometimes) sunny weather, Nerina gathers winter lemons from the tree in her garden. Alice, Diwa and Nerina coordinate via email (in Spanish and English!), sharing photos and Pinterest boards until they come up with a look that inspires them. Nerina works her magic while keeping cosy in her artist’s studio.

 

 Then, to a beach island in Sri Lanka

“Sunny blue skies and a steady ocean breeze fill me with lots of energy to write,” Malaysian-born author Diwa says. Under the warm tropical sunshine, Diwa reads some notes from Alice and polishes her manuscript. “I love writing outdoors and being close to nature. Because I’m relaxed, the words flow easily.”

 

 

And finally, to snowy New Zealand

Katrina Gutierrez, our communications and project manager, coordinates publicity and events with Alice and the London team all the way from New Zealand. With Alice and Katrina at opposite ends of the earth working with a list of authors and illustrators from around the globe, Lantana is truly a publishing house with diversity at its heart.

Kaya’s Heart Song will be out in the Spring and is available for pre-order here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for up to date news about this and our other books!

 

 

The Lantana Team

 

 

Celebrate Empathy Day! 19 Books that Teach Empathy

in: Children's books

Today, we celebrate the first ever Empathy Day! And we are especially pleased because The Wooden Camel has been selected for the Read for Empathy Guide put together by Empathy Lab UK. Written by Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani, this is a story about the hopes and dreams of Etabo, a young boy who longs to be a camel racer. The Read for Empathy Guide lists 21 ‘must-reads’ endorsed by Nicolette Jones, the children’s book reviewer for The Sunday Times. You can download the Guide for free from the Empathy Lab’s website!

What is Empathy Day?

Empathy Day is ‘a platform to emphasise the importance of empathy in our divided world, and raise awareness of the power of stories to develop it.’ Books help children ‘lay strong foundations for resisting prejudice and intolerance,’ Miranda McKearney, founder of Empathy Day, states in a press release. These claims are supported by neuroscientific research that ‘shows that the emotions we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people.’

19 Books: Our favourite books that teach empathy

We were so inspired by Empathy Day that we created our own list! These books are close to the hearts of Lantana’s authors, illustrators, and staff.

Wanuri Kahiu recommends Tinga Tinga Tales: Why Giraffe Has a Long Neck by Claudia Lloyd and Edward Gakuya and Elmer by David McKee: ‘Why Giraffe Has a Long Neck is a beautiful story of friendship and how all animals of different sorts come together to help a friend in need. It is kind, compassionate and funny. We love reading it. We also love reading about Elmer who always seems a little different, but his difference is embraced and accepted. It is a beautiful book on friendship and love.’

Manuela Adreani recommends The Story of a Seagull and The Cat Who Taught Her to Fly by Luis Sepúlveda: ‘The sweet story of a cat that promises to care for the egg of a dying seagull. The empathy and love that the cat has for the baby seagull succeeds in engaging everyone – cats and humans – in teaching the little seagull how to fly.’

Abi Elphinstone recommends The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden: ‘Kizzy is a Diddakoi – a halfgypsy – and after her beloved grandmother dies, she finds herself victim to bullying, prejudice and hatred within the community. This is a book that champions outsiders, celebrates the beauty of vanishing cultures and upholds the values of compassion, courage and acceptance.’

Sharanya Manivannan recommends The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: ‘Such a lovely book that encourages looking at people around you and seeing how we are interconnected.’

Gill Lewis recommends Small Finds a Home by Karin Celestine: ‘I love this book because it is about the power of simple acts of kindness. It is a story of how offering friendship without judgment or expectation enriches all our lives.’

Tutu Dutta recommends The Adventures of Beebo and Friends by Malaysian author Brigitte Rozario and Tan Vay Fern: ‘This is a series of five books (for ages 5-9) about a boisterous and fun-loving boy and his friends, who sometimes gets into scrapes. I chose these books because they teach young readers values such as empathy in a fun and engaging way.’

Mahtab Narsimhan recommends Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: ‘I think it’s a wonderful story that shows readers how to appreciate what they have instead of wanting what they do not. Some lines in there are priceless, and are not just for kids. Adults can appreciate the subtle message, too!’

Joyce Chng recommends Accessing the Future edited by Djibril Al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan: ‘It is an anthology of speculative fiction that examines disability. Great for medical professionals and people who would want to learn more.’

Keilly Swift recommends Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Frog and the Stranger by Max Velthuijs: ‘Teaching my baby girl that friends come in all shapes, sizes and shade!’

Geraldine McCaughrean recommends 4 books!: The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll takes us inside the life of a woman who has sunk as low as life can take you and the child she took there with her. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech made me weep for a little boy who has lost his dearest possession. Island by Nicky Singer is about empathy temporarily mislaid between mother and son and discovered between man and animals. Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant lets a reader experience how it feels to have no one permanent in your life, the damage it does and the healing possible when someone comes along who is prepared to show unqualified tenderness.’

Nadine Kaadan recommends Sky Blue Accident by Piet Grobler: ‘Such a creative and poetic children’s book!’

Katrina Gutierrez recommends Migrant by Maxine Trottier and Isabelle Arsenault: ‘My pick is a sweet story about a family of harvest labourers – Menonnites from Mexico who travel to Canada every spring – that uses imaginative metaphors to express the migrant child’s feelings, longings and optimism. They are migratory geese, then a litter of kittens cuddling for warmth, then a hive of worker bees. A clever and gentle way to encourage compassion for labouring migrants.’

Alice Curry recommends Shine by Filipino author Candy Gourlay: ‘I picked Shine because it is a book about accepting difference in other people but more importantly in ourselves. A gentle, sensitive novel that acknowledges our limitations but above all celebrates our immense capacity to love.’

And of course, we recommend The Wooden Camel!

This is what Empathy Lab has to say about why they recommend this book: ‘Everyone has dreams, and this story of a Turkana boy who longs to be a camel racer will resonate with children everywhere. Readers will empathise with the kind-hearted siblings desperate to find a way to make their youngest brother happy.’ 

Happy Empathy Day, everyone! We hope you enjoy these books as much as we do. 

 

Alice Curry is the *WINNER* of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize 2017!

in: Cultural diversity

Representing Lantana and cheering Alice on were our co-director Caroline Godfrey and author and referee Tom Moorhouse

A huge congratulations to Alice Curry, our Founder and Publisher and fearless leader, for winning the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize! The judges called her a ‘great role model for future generations starting out in publishing’ and said she ‘stood out for her radical switch from academia to starting up a publishing business that puts her passion and knowledge to practical use’.

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize celebrates the professional achievements of women of promise in the publishing industry. It is open to any woman who has worked in UK publishing for up to seven years. Alice was one of five inspirational women shortlisted for the award – all ‘forces of nature’ in publishing. These are: Amy Durant (Publishing Director, Endeavour Press), Candice Carty-Williams (Senior Marketing Executive, Vintage), Sarah Braybrooke (Managing Director, Scribe UK) and Zeljka Marosevic (Co-Publisher, Daunt Books Publishing).

Alice Curry with Mary Beard

Alice with Mary Beard who gave a fascinating speech about feminism in antiquity

Alice’s thoughts on winning the prize…

This is an incredible honour and – a day after the ceremony – it still hasn’t quite sunk in. Lantana is a tiny, independent publishing house with a mission to open up a space for diverse voices in children’s publishing and I’m so thrilled that this award signals a move in publishing towards its margins – a sign of a more inclusive and welcoming attitude towards young houses and towards those who aim to spot gaps and see opportunities and try to make change where change is needed.

I believe this award celebrates not just the achievements of individuals but a whole collective of people working together to make change in the industry. None of us would be where we are today without the support we constantly receive – from colleagues, family, friends – and it’s this support that allows women like me and the other shortlisted candidates to channel our vision and passion into businesses or imprints or campaigns with a heart and a social conscience.

Alice Curry Kim Scott Walwyn Prize

Kim Scott Walwyn’s parents, who proudly honour their daughter’s memory with this award

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my tiny team who are wonderful and who have backed me and my vision for Lantana from the start. I am also deeply grateful to Kim Scott Walwyn’s family and the judging panel for this incredible show of support and encouragement – it is a wonderful legacy and a real boost to the confidence of any woman starting out in this industry. My thanks also go to the sponsors of the prize – the Society of Young Publishers, National Book Tokens and the Publishing Training Centre – who offer much-needed financial support and formal training.

I want to acknowledge the other shortlistees – Amy, Candice, Sarah and Zeljka – who are all incredibly impressive women and will no doubt continue to achieve amazing things throughout their careers. And last but not least – to women in general, those often unsung heroes who contribute so invaluably to every business and every sector, just like Kim Scott Walwyn whose memory we honour with this prize.

Long may awards like this one inspire and encourage women – young or old – to take risks and dream big.’

WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU, ALICE!

Katrina and the Lantana team

Nadine Kaadan’s ‘Stories and Songs for Syrians’: Building bridges, not walls

in: Cultural diversity

 

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At Lantana, we believe in the power of children’s stories to teach empathy and create a culture of kindness. Nadine Kaadan, award-winning Syrian author and illustrator of The Jasmine Sneeze, has been a wonderful inspiration. Now more than ever, children’s books are needed to foster compassion and harmony, and this is why we are very proud to support ‘Stories and Songs for Syrians‘, a weekend of storytelling, music and art to welcome Syrian refugee children in the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire communities.

The event, run by Nadine and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, co-founder of Babel Babies, will be held in both English and Arabic to celebrate diversity and inclusion. Nadine will give a book reading and an art workshop on two of her books: The Jasmine Sneeze, about a lovable cat who learns the importance of the jasmine flower to the people of Damascus, and Ghadan, about a child’s life during war. Together, these books offer a deep reflection on the Syrian experience.

The event is from 1-4pm and will be at The Suffolk Anthology Bookshop in Cheltenham on Saturday, 4 February and The Friendship Cafe in Gloucestershire on Sunday, 5 February. Please reserve your space on the Babel Babies website by Thursday, 2 February.

You can also support the project by making a contribution to their online appeal or buying a copy of The Jasmine Sneeze from their site. Everything they raise will be given to Hands Up Foundation, a UK-based charity that funds humanitarian and development projects for displaced Syrians in camps in Lebanon and Turkey, including emergency relief to survive the harsh winter.

We are very proud to have donated books to such an important initiative. If you are in the area, be sure to join one or more of the events! We think they will be magical – and surely the best way to spend National Storytelling Week.

And a little reminder of why The Jasmine Sneeze is so special:

The Jasmine Sneeze is a funny, magical tale set in Damascus whose conclusion gently suggests that there is room for us all in this world and that tolerance will triumph ultimately. Really lovely book with scope for lots of rereadings!’ – Guardian Witness

‘Kaadan has the wonderful ability to weave her gorgeous watercolour illustrations and traditional aspects of Syrian life into a whimsical children’s story that captures the essence of her hometown of Damascus.’ – R. SikoraOrient News

‘This enchanting story and delectable illustrations with their rich swirling colours and patterns on every page demonstrates Syria’s long and proud cultural heritage at a time when it has been marred by five years of war.’ – Outside In World

The Jasmine Sneeze is a fantastically vibrant read which takes the reader through a world of senses, accompanied by a comical cat… I haven’t read such a satisfying picture book in a while.’  Evie IoannidiNot Now, Adulthood

To buy your copy, please click here.

Katrina

A Wisp of Wisdom: published today!

in: Cultural diversity

Book Birthday A Wisp of WisdomToday, we’re delighted to publish A Wisp of Wisdom: Animal Tales from Cameroon, Lantana’s outreach project. Happy book birthday to the collection’s wonderful authors Lucy Christopher, Abi Elphinstone, Adèle Geras, Elizabeth Laird, Sarah Lean, Gill Lewis, Geraldine McCaughrean, Tom Moorhouse, Beverly Naidoo, Ifeoma Onyefulu and Piers Torday, and its fabulous illustrator, Emmie van Biervliet!

For those of you who have pre-ordered your copy, this special book will be in the post and on its way to you early next week. We hope you love these age-old traditional tales about armoured pangolins, blue-bottomed drill monkeys, red-legged francolins and red river hogs (not to mention a cunning trickster tortoise!) as much as we’ve loved compiling them.

Just a reminder of the project:

A Wisp of Wisdom had an unusual birth. It began when a conservation research team in central Africa collected folk tales from their local chiefs and elders. It ended with eleven children’s authors, an artist and a publisher joining the project to help retell stories from the Korup region in Cameroon.

promo-spread-2-1Why? Good question. The answer is that Korup has rich stories, full of the animals that live in their precious forests. But the oral tradition that hands these stories down is being lost. And people in Korup have no books. (We mean this. No books. None.) And so the stories are being lost.

The original idea was to collect the tales and photocopy them, so the children would have something to read.

The original idea…grew.

promo-spread-4-1Wouldn’t it be good, we thought, to make a proper book. And to have lots of authors. And to illustrate it beautifully. And to raise the funds to print at least 2,000 copies of that book in Cameroon. And for the conservation team to then give the book back, for free, to the children of Korup.

A Wisp of Wisdom is that book. We hope you enjoy it.

To buy your copy, please click here.

Lantana Publishing: Because all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read

in: Children's books

It’s Children’s Book Week – the most wonderful week of the year! We thought it would be a great time to remind everyone what Lantana Publishing is all about, and why we have chosen to champion cultural diversity in picture books. Earlier this year, Lantana was IBBY UK’s featured publisher. We are delighted to give you choice excerpts from Clive Barnes’ interview with our directors, Alice and Caroline (updated where there is new information). Reproduced here with kind permission by Pam Dix.

Lantana Publishing is a remarkable new publishing venture. Started in 2014 by Alice Curry (top) and Caroline Godfrey, two friends who first met at Oxford University, its aim is to produce books that reflect the diversity of our multicultural world.

Alice and Caroline each bring their own skills to the work: Alice from an academic background in children’s literature (and a longstanding member of IBBY) and Caroline from teaching. They head a young team drawn from across the world and began publishing with three picture books last year, with two more due out in April this year. (Update: We’ve published four new picture books since!) . Their work is dear to IBBY’s heart, so we were pleased that they agreed to be the second interviewees in our publishing series.

Alice and Caroline, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for the website. Can you tell us how you met one another?

We met while we were studying English Literature at Oxford University. In fact, we became friends on our very first day at university and have been discussing books with each other ever since.

Caroline Godfrey United Kingdom

At what point did you decide that you wanted to become publishers and what came first, the desire to create children’s books, or to further the cause of cultural diversity in children’s books?

We both have a long-standing interest in children’s books and have been aware of the inequalities in children’s publishing for quite some time. Alice’s work with educational organisations after her PhD hammered home the disparity in publishing opportunities across different cultures and countries where factors such as class, race, socio-economic status and the continuing legacy of colonialism impede publishing opportunities for many people. Caroline’s years as a teacher have given her first-hand experience of the lack of diverse books available in the UK, often leaving children desperate to read stories that reflect their own lives and experiences. Our desire to become publishers was born out of these frustrations.

And why the name Lantana?

The Lantana flower is one of the only plants that has petals of many colours on one stem. What better way to represent our readers? Children of many colours reading happily on one earth.

What do you see as Lantana’s particular contribution to culturally diverse publishing for children?

As far as we know, we are one of the very few publishing houses to focus solely on diversity. This means that our whole team, all of our creative resources and our entire budget are dedicated to one unifying mission – to increase the number of multicultural picture books on the market!  We know of some fantastic publishing houses that specialise in particular areas – Tiny Owl is a good example of this, being a publishing house with a specific mission to bring Iranian children’s books in translation to the UK – but we feel that where we can really contribute is to increase the number of picture books that reflect a wide variety of different cultures, geographies and belief systems – working with authors of BAME backgrounds as well as of other nationalities. Alice has written about some of the different types of culturally diverse books currently available on the market; by contrast, we have a special fondness for fantasy writing because we believe that all children – and not just those of privileged backgrounds – should get to go on adventures.

Cover - medium resPhoenix Song, written by Tutu Dutta, born in India, and living in Malaysia. Illustrated by Martina Peluso from Italy. A tale of a Malaysian boy and a very special flute.

 

 

 

 

From your website and blog, it seems to me that you see Lantana is aiming to do a lot more than publishing books. What do you see as your wider mission?

Essentially, we’d like to inspire as many children as we can to read and enjoy books. This means many things – working with authors who may not have the opportunity to publish with mainstream publishers, producing books that are reflective of our diverse population (after all, if you can see yourself in a story, you are more likely to engage with that story and be caught up in its magic) and also making sure children who don’t have easy access to books find stories that are relevant and inspiring to them. We see each of the above not as a nice add-on to a commercial agenda but as a cultural and educational imperative. As a former teacher, Caroline is in a perfect position to make our books relevant and accessible to teachers and she has produced a comprehensive range of classroom resources to accompany each book. We believe we have the capacity to make a real change to the reading habits of young people and are excited to be creating a thriving community of passionate and vocal supporters of diversity on our website and social media pages. This year also sees the beginnings of our outreach programme to reach children in under-resourced areas whose access to books is limited!  (Update: Our outreach project, Cameroon stories, is in full swing!)

Is there a particular reason why you began with picture books and why you chose to commission new books rather than, perhaps, looking for books that might be translated into English?

Some really exciting work is happening in diverse young adult fiction at the moment. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen this type of momentum in picture books where old favourites such as Handa’s Surprise tend to be the go-to texts, even though this book was published more than a decade ago!  We wanted to give a boost to the picture book genre so have concentrated our efforts here, although we may expand into middle grade fiction in the future. One thing we hope to do sooner than this is to publish translations since we agree that translated picture books are in woefully short supply in the UK market. We really like the idea of bringing the best books that the world has to offer to children in this country and hope to do so very soon.

The Jasmine SneezeThe Jasmine Sneeze, written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan. The story of a cat and a mysterious flower spirit set in the author’s home city of Damascus.

 

 

 

 

These books feature authors and illustrators who are perhaps not that well known in Britain and often pair authors and illustrators from different cultural backgrounds. Can you tell us about the thinking behind your commissioning policy and how you found your authors and illustrators?

We have been lucky and privileged to work with some fantastic authors and illustrators whose talents are unmistakable. Yet these authors are generally published by small-scale presses and are unfamiliar to British readers. Nnedi Okorafor, our African American author, is an exception to this rule since she has won widespread acclaim for her middle grade novels as well as several international writing awards. If we love someone’s work, we believe our readers will too, and we don’t think that cultural or geographic boundaries should impede a reader’s access to great stories. We find that the cross-cultural conversations that spring from working with authors and illustrators from different backgrounds – Nnedi’s book Chicken in the Kitchen was illustrated by Iranian-born illustrator Mehrdokht Amini, for instance – can be really productive and eye-opening, providing new facets of understanding to the stories. We are always on the lookout for new writing. We have a submissions page on our website and are constantly receiving manuscripts from around the world.

Chicken in the Kitchen, Nnedi Okorafor, Mehrdokht Amini, diverse children's book, African picture bookChicken in the Kitchen, published last year, has won Best Book for Young Children at the Africana Book Awards 2016 in the USA.

(Update: It has since become a White Ravens Honour Book 2016 and has been nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017)

 

 

You have a young team of advisers drawn from different parts of the world on your website. Can you tell us something about their roles and how you hope to develop them?

Our advisers are wonderful – they are always on the lookout for authors and illustrators from their own cultures and countries who we may like to work with in the future and they keep us up-to-date on the children’s books that are being published overseas.

To us, Lantana looks like something new, in Britain at least, but I know that you both have a wide knowledge of publishing for children and I wonder if you have taken inspiration from any other publishers either here or elsewhere?

We have always been inspired by publishing houses that make diversity party of their mission: Frances Lincoln and Tamarind Books are good examples of these. Lee & Low in the US, Tara Books in India, Gecko Press in New Zealand – all of these are doing fantastic work in this field. We like to share experiences with other companies whose aims and passions are similar to ours, such as Tiny Owl who we mentioned earlier. And we are always very interested in small independents who are doing inventive things by targeting a niche market, such as Pereine Press and Persephone Books.

Dragon Dancer Cover ImageDragon Dancer by Singaporean Joyce Cheng and French illustrator Jérémy Pailler is the third of the books published by Lantana in 2015. It’s a story of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore.

 

 

 

 

Do you think Britain is receptive to culturally diverse publishing? What challenges does the market present for you?

Wonderfully, a much wider conversation has grown up around diversity in children’s publishing following the successes of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and the recent #OscarsSoWhite debate has generated even more discussion about cultural representation as a whole (we have written about this debate and how it links to our own mission here). The inaugural Bare Lit event at the Free Word centre in February and the recent introduction of the Jhalak prize for BAME authors are both heartening demonstrations that organisations and individuals are trying hard to turn such talk into action. One of the challenges we face, of course, is that industry attention doesn’t necessarily have an obvious or immediate impact on consumer behaviour. We would urge parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to be as adventurous as they can when purchasing books for young people. As a small independent publishing house, we are at a disadvantage since we are expected to offer the same types of discounts to suppliers and wholesalers as large multi-resourced publishing houses; to counter this we hope to gain loyal, passionate and engaged coterie of supporters who want to see more diversity in children’s publishing as much as we do.

How do you hope to develop Lantana?

We hope to become a thriving press that is well-known for the books we publish – books that are of high quality, beautifully illustrated and culturally diverse. We hope to expand our work with budding authors and illustrators of BAME backgrounds in the UK as well as those abroad, and to make our first forays into publishing translations. If we can get to a stage where we can recruit a new generation of young publishers to help shape the company and develop a team, as well as a portfolio, that is representative of our diverse population, we will consider it a job well done. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with our wonderful small team and nurture new writing talent, develop our outreach programme and inspire children with our unusual, multicultural books.

Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja WimmerLooking for Lord Ganesh, written by Indian-born Canadian Mahtab Narsimhan, and illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, born in Germany and now living in Barcelona. This is a story of a young Indian girl’s adjustment to life in a new country and how she enlists the help of Lord Ganesh.

 

 

 

Told by moonlight: an interview with Mahtab Narsimhan

in: Children's books

coby-me-and-lord-ganeshWe thought it would be a lovely idea to celebrate Diwali with Mahtab Narsimhan, the author of Looking for Lord Ganesh – and we were right! Mahtab told us fascinating stories about the bravest people in India and why Lord Ganesh is a wonderful symbol for starting a new life in a new country. We also found out the meaning of her name…

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and share a few fun facts about Mumbai, the city of your birth?

My grandmother named me, Mahtab, which means moonlight, in Persian. I was born in Mumbai and lived in this city till I was twenty-four. This city by the sea has some of the bravest people in India. Every year they are battered by fierce monsoons, mind-numbing heat, and humidity, and yet they soldier on with life without complaint. This is also the city which is famous for the ubiquitous dabbawallas, tiffin carriers, who deliver home-cooked food to white-collar workers. A unique aspect of this 150-year old service is that it is entirely manual (no computers or paperwork to track the six million tiffins delivered on a monthly basis) and yet their accuracy is 99%. One box in six million is lost, and this is the premise of one of my novels titled – The Tiffin.

Mumbai also has the legendary Gateway of India constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (Mumbai).

dabbawallas-a-unique-aspect-of-mumbai

Your first picture book, Looking for Lord Ganesh, was recently published in the UK. What is it about?

It is about a young girl, Anika, who has immigrated to a new country and is trying to fit in. This is something many immigrants, just like I once was, can identify with. When Anika faces problems in settling in, she remembers her grandmother’s words, which is to pray to Lord Ganesh for answers. Being a child of the digital age, she turns to the internet for answers. Her problems are finally solved but the reader has to decide who it is that is actually helping Anika.

What made you decide to write about Lord Ganesh? What is so special about him?

I’ve always found Lord Ganesh to be one of the most fascinating, and fun, of the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Plus there’s a cool (and gory!) story of how he got his elephant head. Lord Ganesh is known as the God of Wisdom, New Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles. It was serendipitous that my first foray into writing picture books is about the God of New Beginnings, and my favourite.

What do you think of Sonja Wimmer’s illustrations for your book? Which illustration is your favourite?

Looking for Lord Ganesh promo spread 1 - low resThey are simply gorgeous! I could not have asked for a more talented illustrator, nor imagined a better way my words could have been brought to life. My favourite illustration is the one where Anika and Hadiya are sitting on a tree branch, talking about forming their own team.

Looking for Lord Ganesh speaks particularly to children who have experienced immigration, or those who have been bullied at school. What message do you hope readers will glean from your story?

That help is always available if you actively seek it. Sometimes it can come from outside – an adult, a friend, or a book you’ve read where the character faced a similar problem and managed to work through it. But often, we already have the answer within us. All we need to do is to listen to that internal voice which gives excellent advice even if it may be hard to follow. In reading this story, I hope I can inspire kids to look inward as well as outward for answers to their problems because the one constant in life is change.

You grew up in Mumbai but spent a few years living in the Middle East before you settled in Canada. Can you tell us what it was like for you to move to a new country? Was there a time that you felt lost and out of place like Anika in the story?

Very often I felt the way Anika did. Change is always hard. Leaving everything that is familiar to you and embracing the unfamiliar is scary. You have to believe that you will get through this stage, be brave and carry on. I am totally at home in Canada now even though the first few years were very hard.

celebrating-diwali-at-home-with-lord-g-x-2What is Diwali and why is it so special to you? What role does Lord Ganesh play in this
festival?

Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil. It is when Lord Rama vanquished the evil Ravana and returned to Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile, as the rightful heir to the throne. He was accompanied by his wife, Sita and his brother, Laxman. The people of Ayodhya were so happy that they celebrated this occasion with lights and firecrackers. Diwali is also the New Year for Hindus and is the time when they worship the Goddess Laxmi (for wealth) and Lord Ganesh (new beginnings).

Do you think children living in Mumbai (where you grew up), children living in the UK (where the book is published), and children living in Canada (where you live) will appreciate the story in different ways?

I am sure each child will take something different away from the story based on their own experiences and perspectives. That is the beauty of stories. It resonates with different readers in different ways, which is exactly the way it should be!

Ganesh 1Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely! It’s the main reason I write. It is so very important that children from every culture see themselves in stories. It gives them a sense of pride in who they are, builds confidence, and helps them connect with the characters more strongly.

Finally, can you give aspiring children’s book authors any tips on their writing?

Read a lot. Everything you love and even things you don’t. You will always learn something. To be a good writer, you have to love reading!

  • Practice writing every day.
  • Never lose touch with the child you used to be, or the sense of wonder you once had about our world.
  • And lastly, have fun. If you’re having fun, then writing doesn’t feel like work.

Thank you, Mahtab! You can find out more about Mahtab, her awards and her books here.

Photos from Mahtab Narsimhan

Katrina

On tigons and letting the imagination run wild: an interview with Keilly Swift

in: Children's books

img_2512

Today I caught up with Keilly Swift, debut author of The Tigon and the Liger, who is also managing editor at the much-lauded children’s newspaper, First News. She told me all about what makes tigons and ligers special and why they are a good symbol for those who feel like they don’t fit in. Keilly also shared some writing tips she received from the brilliant Michael Morpurgo – read on to find out!

Congratulations on the publication of your new picture book The Tigon and the Liger! Can you tell us what it’s about?

It’s the story of a tigon (a cross between a male tiger and a female lion) and a liger (a cross between a male lion and a female tiger) who are bullied for being different. Their lives change forever when they become friends, begin having fun and learn to celebrate their differences.

Do tigons and ligers really exist? What made you decide to write about them?

The Tigon and the Liger Keilly Swift Cosei KawaYes, tigons and ligers do exist, but they are very rare indeed. They are usually found in zoos or wildlife parks where tigers and lions are more likely to meet. I was inspired to write the story after working on a feature about hybrid creatures for an educational magazine. The subject is a controversial one, but I saw tigons and ligers as wonderful symbols of how we all sometimes feel we don’t belong and the characters of Tyler and Lyla began to take shape in my mind.

What do you think of Cosei Kawa’s illustrations for your book? Which is your favourite illustration?

Cosei’s illustrations are absolutely stunning, they add depth to the story and bring the characters to life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I love his use of colour, the small details he’s added and the different perspectives he uses, such as the spread where Tyler goes off on his own which Cosei has illustrated looking down from the top of tall trees – Tyler looks so small and alone and it really emphasises how lonely he is at this point in the story. I also love the opening picture of Tyler and the pyramid of big cats showing Tyler and Lyla playing with their new tiger friend – it’s so lovely to see them having fun!

At Lantana, we feel that this story might speak particularly to children from a mixed race background. What message do you hope readers will glean from your story?

Yes, I certainly think that the story might appeal to children from a mixed race background. However, I hope it speaks to anyone who has ever felt different or like they don’t fit in (which must be everyone at one point or another!). The underlying message is that what makes us different is what makes us special and that everyone should be accepted, and accept themselves, just as they are.

You grew up in the BahaIllustration the Tigon and the Ligermas before moving back to the UK when you were nine. What was it like splitting your childhood between two countries?

Did you ever feel torn or out of place? Although I definitely stood out at my school in the Bahamas, with my fair skin and blonde hair, it was when we moved back to the UK that I felt more out of place. I remember being teased for my Bahamian accent and the different words I used (such as candy for sweets, sidewalk for pavement, etc.), as well as feeling out of my depth at school because the curriculum was so different here. I desperately wanted to fit in and would practice my English accent every night!

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures, world views or family arrangements other than their own?

Children are naturally curious and I think it’s vital that they read books that teach them about different cultures and ways of life. It not only means that they’ll grow up with an open mind, but also that they’ll be open to so many more wonderful cross-cultural opportunities, from travelling and studying to new friendships. A lot of the problems the world faces today could be solved if diversity was celebrated and everyone grew up with an appreciation and acceptance of different views and ways of living.

Congratulations also on recently becoming a mum! Has this wonderful event given you a new perspective when it comes to writing for children?

Thank you! My baby girl is just over three weeks old at the moment and she isn’t sleeping very much at night, which gives me a new perspective on everything! I’ve worked in children’s publishing for a long time and I think that becoming a mum has made me even more passionate about helping children understand the world they live in and promoting a culture of acceptance and tolerance, as bullying is an issue that affects far too many young people.

The Tigon and the Liger is in rhyming verse. Is this your preferred writing style or did it just seem right for the story?

I love writing in rhyme and it definitely felt right for this story as I think it makes the underlying message more accessible. It’s certainly challenging to tell the story you want to tell and ensure the rhyme scheme works, but it’s so satisfying when it all comes together and you strike upon the perfect rhyme!

Do you have a favourite picture book (that’s not your own!)? 

Tigon and liger, ilustration, animalsI love Room on the Broom – Julia Donaldson is the master of the rhyming story! I also treasure my Japanese picture books, such as Little Daruma and Little Tengu, that I bought while I was living in Japan – they really helped me with my Japanese language skills and also to learn about Japanese culture and various traditions.

Finally, can you give any aspiring authors any tips for their writing?

The wonderful Michael Morpurgo once gave me some great advice that has stayed with me – he said not to rush, take time to work out what you want to write about and give the idea time to develop in your head before putting pen to paper. Develop your own style of writing by reading and writing as much as you can and then, when you start your story, let your imagination run wild – you can edit it later. The Tigon and the Liger was originally twice as long as it is in the finished book and there were lots of drafts in between, so don’t be afraid to keep rewriting something until you’re happy with it!

Thank you, Keilly!

Katrina

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TYLER!

in: Children's books

The Tigon and the Liger by Keilly Swift and Cosei Kawa, published by Lantana Publishing

The Tigon and the Liger is out today!  

A book that celebrates diversity and loving the skin you’re in!  Described as ‘a fantastic read’ and ‘destined to become a new classic’, this picture book by debut author, Keilly Swift, and award-winning illustrator, Cosei Kawa, is a book to be treasured.

Buy your copy now by clicking this link!

The Tigon and the Liger unboxed!

in: Children's books

The Tigon and the Liger by Keilly Swift and Cosei Kawa

Today we were delighted to receive copies of Keilly Swift and Cosei Kawa’s new picture book The Tigon and the Liger direct from the printers, looking brand new and gorgeous in its packaging. With just over two weeks to go until publication date (8th September), we thought we’d give you the low down on this special new title from Lantana, and why we think it’s a book every child who has ever felt like they don’t fit in (which, let’s face it, is most of us!) should read…

The Tigon and the Liger Lantana Publishing unboxing

Tyler the tigon was terribly rare. A big cat like him isn’t found everywhere. Unique from his ears to his tail to his tum, his dad was a tiger, a lion his mum…

Tyler the tigon has never fitted in. Neither a tiger like his dad nor a lion like his mum, poor Tyler stands out like a sore thumb. Taunted and teased by the other jungle creatures, he flees into the forest with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But who should he find there? An equally extraordinary creature with a tale to match his own… A delightful story in rhyming verse about appreciating your differences and learning to love the skin you’re in.

The Tigon and the Liger Keilly Swift Cosei Kawa

And how did it all begin? ‘Tigons and ligers captured my imagination when writing a magazine feature on hybrid creatures,’ says debut picture book author Keilly Swift, who is also managing editor at the hugely popular children’s newspaper, First News. ‘I thought they were wonderful symbols of how we all sometimes feel we don’t belong, and the story of Tyler and Lyla soon took shape…’

And take shape it did. With the help of award-winning Japanese illustrator Cosei Kawa’s gorgeous illustrations, Tyler the tigon and his new friend Lyla the liger soon came leaping out of the pages of this playful book with a serious message.

Illustration the Tigon and the Liger

‘This book is beautiful, the illustrations exquisite, but more than that, the key message about being comfortable in your own skin is important and powerful and it will no doubt become a favourite.’ – Lucy Campbell, award-winning family blogger.

What this lovely, rhyming picture book tells us is that having parents of different nationalities, ethnicities or cultures (or species in the case of Tyler and Lyla!) doesn’t make you neither one thing nor another, but, in fact, the best bits of both. And that’s a pretty wonderful message for anyone who has ever felt torn between two or more identities.

illustration for the Tigon and the Liger, Lantana Press

Here at Lantana, we hope that these playful cubs who are taunted and teased for their differences yet manage to find the courage to romp around the pages, delighting in their stripes and spots, will inspire young children to appreciate all the things that make them unique. As the 7 year-old pupils of All Saints Class at Portway Primary school wrote after Keilly’s author visit: ‘The story taught us it doesn’t matter who is different, we are all special.’

Keilly Swift's author visit to Portway Primary school

The Tigon and The Liger opens very young children’s eyes to the notion that, although other people may seem different, inside we all share the same hopes, fears, needs and dreams. The Tigon and the Liger is destined to become a new classic and is a book every child should grow up reading.’ – Nicky Cox MBE, First News

Tigons and ligers are far from alone in the animal kingdom. Zedonks, zorses, leopons, pumapards and wallaroos are all descended from parents of different species, a phenomenon that is not without ethical contention given that most documented cases of hybrid creatures exist within the confines of man-made zoos.

Tigon and liger, ilustration, animals

In the wilds of our children’s imaginations, however, we hope Tyler and Lyla will become a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration to children everywhere, and a fantastic way ‘to teach younger children about being unique and comfortable with who they are’, as Scott Chudley, the Deputy Head of Portway Primary, puts it.

To pre-order your advance copy today, please click here!

The Tigon and the Liger Lantana Publishing

High Five! Highlights for Lantana Publishing

in: Children's books

As the dust starts to settle on the new year and people everywhere begin to wonder whether they can really stick to those rather ambitious new year’s resolutions, we’ve taken a look backwards at our best bits of 2015 and forwards at what’s to come in 2016.

 

2015: Counting down our best bits

Looking at our Facebook page, what Lantana posts did you most enjoy in 2015?

5) Reading the wise words from Dragon Dancer illustrator, Jérémy Pailler, about imagination and innocence: “Whether the dragon is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is real for the boy. This is where the beauty of innocence lies. And this power gathers then spreads positive energy to everyone.”

Read the rest of the interview with Jeremy on our blog, here: http://www.lantanapublishing.com/blurring-the-lines-between-reality-and-dream-an-interview-with-jeremy-pailler/

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

 

 

 

 

 

4) Sharing the educational resources that are available to accompany all of our books and can be downloaded for free from the education page of our website: http://www.lantanapublishing.com/education/.

3) Checking out the fabulous review of Chicken in the Kitchen by Zahrah from Bookshy Books: “Chicken in the Kitchen works for a number of reasons – one is Okorafor’s imaginative words, which truly transports you into a world of mystery and magic … Another strength of this book are the breathtaking illustrations by Iranian-British illustrator, Mehrdokht Amini.”

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

Read the whole review here: http://bookshybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/55-years-of-nigerian-literature-nnedi.html

2) Reading Alice’s article, ‘Top ten reasons we need to see more diversity in children’s literature’, published in Female First, in August.

Read the rest of this fascinating article here: http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/top-ten-reasons-we-need-to-see-more-diversity-in-childrens-books-868771.html.

1) Seeing the gorgeous cover art for Looking for Lord Ganesh when we first announced its upcoming publication.

Find out more about the book and pre-order your own copy here: http://www.lantanapublishing.com/shop/books/looking-for-lord-ganesh/.

Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja Wimmer

 

2016: Looking forward to more best bits

Jasmine Sneeze Nadine Kadaan Haroun cat Syria

5) We can’t wait for the publication of Looking for Lord Ganesh and The Jasmine Sneeze on April 11th! You can find out more about these books and their award-winning authors and illustrators by visiting our website, where you can also pre-order the books: www.lantanapublishing.com/books.

We also have a few more books up our sleeve so stay tuned over the next few weeks for the upcoming announcement of yet another Lantana title! We’ll give you a hint. It involves the most extraordinary jungle creatures you are ever likely to meet…!

4) Because we know that readers can’t get enough of their favourite stories, we are launching a range of book-related gifts in the Spring. From subscription packages to activity packs, you’ll be sure to find something to engage the young readers in your lives. Keep checking our website for updates.

3) At Lantana, we are committed to creating beautiful books to engage readers from many different cultures and backgrounds and want to make sure that these books reach the children who need them the most. This year, we are working with a charitable partner and a host of well-known authors to publish a collection of Cameroonian tales, re-told for twenty-first century Cameroonian children. Visit our website for more news on this project in the next couple of months.

Cameroon children's books folk tales Oxford University charity crowdfunding

2) 2016 is going to be a busy year, and we are already booking our tickets for this year’s book fairs in Bologna and London. We’re also hoping to visit some of Britain’s premiere children’s book festivals. Keep an eye on our social media pages and do come and say hello to us at some of these events over the year.

1) In 2016, we want to work with even more talented authors and illustrators. If you’re from a diverse background and have a picture book manuscript you want to submit, we would love to hear from you. Read our submissions guidelines on our website here: www.lantanapublishing.com/submissions.

And how do we know that 2016 is going to be a good year?

5) Award season got off to a flying start for children’s literature with the announcement that Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree had won the Costa Children’s Book Award. You can visit Frances Hardinge’s ‘Twisted City’ and find out more about her work, here: http://www.franceshardinge.com/.

4) #ReadDiverseDecember was so popular that it has become #ReadDiverse2016. Here’s to 2016 being a year of more readers buying and reading diverse books and publishers publishing them! Follow the Read Diverse team at @ReadDiverse2016.

ReadDiverse 2016 Twitter diversity3) Even celebrities are trying to get us reading a more diverse range of literature! In the first week of January, Emma Watson launched a Feminist book club, ‘Our Shared Shelf’, as part of her work with UN Women. You can virtually join the book club on Goodreads, here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/179584-our-shared-shelf

2) You know it’s going to be a good year for children’s literature when the first week of the year sees the announcement of a new children’s book festival. You can read more about the National Trust’s Children’s Book Festival at Wray Castle, in the Lake District, here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle/features/the-first-national-trust-childrens-book-festival-at-wray-castle-.

National Trust festival children's books

1) Diversity in children’s literature continues to be a hot topic. Teen blogger, Safah, has already drawn readers’ attention to the need for books to embrace all aspects of different cultures and lifestyles in her recent article in Guardian Children’s Books. You can read her article here: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jan/07/muslim-characters-books-diversity.

What a year 2016 promises to be! Sign-up to our blog, follow us on Twitter and ‘like’ us on Facebook to keep up with all the year’s news from Lantana, and to review our books, please visit Goodreads or Amazon.

Caroline

Christmas Around the World

in: Cultural diversity

Lantana Christmas LogoChristmas is such as special time of year predominantly because for most of us, it is rooted in the traditions that we share with our family and friends. These traditions differ between countries but also between individual families and communities within the same country. How many times have you heard someone exclaim: “you wait until when to open your presents?” or “what do you mean you don’t eat brussel sprouts!?” In the spirit of celebrating cultural diversity and the unique ways we all celebrate Christmas, we have put together some facts about the Yuletide season from a selection of countries from around the globe.

Christmas countries around the world Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini Jeremy Pailler Tutu Dutta

 

Nigeriaikini ọdun keresimesi

Many parts of Nigeria are now predominantly Catholic and so celebrate Christmas with as much ardour as their counterparts in the UK. In Nigeria, the Christmas celebrations often centre on communal feasts, and weeks before the big day, people buy the livestock – hens, turkeys, goats and cows – that they will eventually be eating at Christmas. The animals are slaughtered on Christmas Eve and traditional meals are then prepared. Forget brussel sprouts and roast potatoes – in Yorùbáland, these festive meals will include pounded yam accompanied by peppery stewed vegetables.

Yams Nigeria Yoruba Christmas Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

As they visit their family and friends, many people in Nigeria will find themselves eating virtually the same meal three or four times – Yorùbán customs deign it extremely rude to decline food when it is offered to you. This is actually a sentiment that is felt strongly the world over: anybody remember Dawn French eating multiple Christmas dinners in the classic episode of The Vicar of Dibley?

The author of Chicken in the Kitchen, Nnedi Okorafor, is US/Nigerian of Igbo heritage and her award-winning picture book explores Anyaugo’s hilarious encounter with an enormous, and very mischievous, chicken on the eve of the New Yam Festival.

 

MalaysiaSelamat Hari Natal

As in many countries, Malaysians really only celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s a busy time of year for Malaysia and no sooner are the elaborate Christmas decorations taken down, then it’s time for New Year, quickly followed by Chinese New Year. Malaysians, like many people in the UK, flock to shopping malls over Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year and these centres compete with each other to display the most ostentatious decorations. As it is warm in Malaysia over the Christmas period, literally hundreds of people will show up to witness the magic of ‘snow’ falling in public places – even if this is normally made from a soap-like substance! Given the unseasonably warm weather in the UK this year, we may have to resort to soap-snow ourselves.

 

Malaysia shopping mall Christmas Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso Phoenix Song

 

Tutu Dutta was born in India and raised in Malaysia. Her picture book, Phoenix Song, is set in the rustling bamboo groves of Malaysia, home to the mythical Chinese phoenix, Cendrawasih.

Christmas wreath

Iranکریسمس مبارک

Although Iran is a predominantly Muslim country where Christians make up only 1% of the country’s approximate population, Al-Monitor reports that over the past decade, celebrating Christmas has become increasingly popular with the younger generation of Iranians. That said, Christmas trees and decorations are sold as luxury items and can be very expensive! Old scrooges in the UK are often heard to moan at the exorbitant price of Christmas decorations but in Iran, a two-metre tree can fetch up to $1000, while even smaller artificial trees can sell for $100. During the Christmas season, these trees can be seen twinkling from the windows of Tehran and other provinces in the north-west of the country. Although this all sounds fairly familiar, the main difference between a British and an Iranian Christmas is that the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th, the date of Epiphany in the UK.

Mehrdokht Amini lives in the UK but has Iranian roots. Her unique and vivid illustrations for Chicken in the Kitchen bring alive the colourful New Yam festival in Nigeria.

 

France joyeux Noël

Although France is just across the Channel, there are many differences between a traditional British and a traditional French Christmas. Intriguing food-related French traditions which may be unfamiliar to our UK readers include sprinkling a log with red wine on Christmas Eve to create an aromatic festive burning smell and in some parts of France, eating thirteen different desserts made from fruit, nuts and pastry.

Epiphany is also important in France and is often celebrated by eating a flat almond cake named ‘Galette des Rois’ (or ‘Cake of the Kings’). This cake normally has a toy crown inside (better watch those fillings!) and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown – a similar custom to burying a five pence coin in your Christmas pudding.

Galette des Rois Epiphany France Christmas Dragon Dancer Jeremey Pailler Joyce Chng

rémy Pailler, the illustrator of Dragon Dancer, hails from France and his evocative picture book conjures up the magic of many traditional Chinese New Year customs.

 

So while you’re decorating your tree and tucking into your turkey or nut roast, you can picture the customs that characterise Christmas in many other households around the world. And to further celebrate diversity in the New Year, all our multicultural picture books mentioned are available to purchase from our website: www.lantanapublishing.com/books.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Caroline

Photo Credits:
Nigeria – Picture taken by Leslie Seaton, available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/38559542@N02/6213122509
Malaysia – Picture taken by Wohin Auswandern,available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wohinauswandern/4171622870
France – Picture taken by Audrey Xavier Brulu, available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/khanelle/8353793086

A Christmas reading list – for you and your child

in: Children's books

With the festive season approaching, I thought I would offer you some suggestions for Christmas reading for the holidays – one book for you, and one for your child. Although I love my constant diet of children’s books, I also know the secret pleasure of reading an adult book once in a while (and by adult I don’t mean X-rated!). So below, I have paired each of our diverse picture books with a diverse adult title so that you and your child can explore the world together this Christmas.

NIGERIA

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiFor your child –

Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini

What would you do if you woke up one night to find the shadow of a giant chicken passing your bedroom door? Go and investigate of course! A hugely entertaining look at the fascinating masquerade culture of West Africa, from the perspective of a plucky young Nigerian girl who finds the courage to protect the traditions she loves.

It was so much fun publishing this fun and feisty take on Nigerian culture – a book the author herself has described as ‘a story is full of nonsense, magic, mischief, culture, spirits and there’s a giant dramatic chicken in it’ – which just about sums it up!

For you –

Lagoon by Nnedi OkoraforLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Three strangers, isolated by their own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before. But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined…

This latest adult book from the multi-talented Nnedi Okorafor is packed full of action, adrenaline and suspense, as well as Nnedi’s signature blend of Afrocentric magic, science fiction and lore. I loved the African dialects, the intimate geography of Lagos, and Nnedi’s completely new (and rather wacky!) take on her ancestral homeland.

MALAYSIA

Phoenix Song Cover Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoFor your child –

Phoenix Song by Tutu Dutta and Martina Peluso

Arohan is desperate for a guitar. What eight year old boy isn’t? So when Arohan’s grandmother gives him a plain old bamboo flute for his birthday, he is understandably a little upset. But the xiao is steeped in the myths and legends of China and has its own special magic, as Arohan is soon to discover. A touching and courageous story of a young boy’s love for his family and the magical things that can happen when you listen to your heart.

This beautifully illustrated adventure story infused with Malaysian mythology is a peon to protecting the environment, to the power of music in a child’s life, and to the importance of family. A multi-layered story with a courageous mixed-race hero whom children, according to literacy expert Marjorie Coughlan, ‘will completely take to their hearts’.

Iban Dream by Golda MoweFor you –

Iban Dream by Golda Mowe

Orphaned as a young boy in the rainforests of Borneo, Bujang is brought up by a family of orangutans, but his adult future has already been decided for him by Sengalang Burong, the Iban warpath god. On reaching adulthood, Bujang must leave his ape family and serve the warpath god as a warrior and a headhunter…conversing with gods, shamans, animal spirits and the nomadic people of Borneo as he battles evil spirits and demons to preserve the safety of those he holds dear to him…

I loved this rich and detailed novel that blends the beliefs of the Indigenous longhouse-dwelling Iban peoples of Borneo (of whom Golda Mowe is one) with the epic story arc of quest fantasy. An all-too-rare glimpse into traditions and customs that are fast disappearing, wrapped up in a wonderful, action-packed adventure story.

CHINA/SINGAPORE

Dragon Dancer Cover ImageFor your child –

Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng and Jérémy Pailler

It is the eve of Chinese New Year. Lanterns are hung in the shopping malls of Singapore and Yao is preparing to wake the ancient sky dragon, Shen Long, from his year-long sleep. A beautiful story of a Chinese festival and its symbolism for Chinese communities everywhere, told from the perspective of Yao, the dragon dancer.

When popular blogger, ReadItDaddy, described this picture book as ‘utterly stunning’, we were delighted that our gut instincts had been right – that Dragon Dancer is one truly special book. With evocative language and gorgeous illustrations, it explores in intimate detail Yao’s evolving relationship with a dragon that may or may not be real.

Silver Phoenix by Cindy PonFor you –

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Ai Ling can see into other people’s minds and reach into their spirits. But she doesn’t know why this power has awakened inside her; she only knows that it is growing. Chen Yong has a quest of his own, but then his path crosses Ai Ling’s, and there’s a connection so strong that neither can ignore it. Together they embark on an epic journey – facing terrifying demons and battling through treacherous lands. It is their destiny. But can destiny keep them together?

I am cheating a little here since this action-packed Chinese historical fantasy is a young adult novel rather than an adult one. However, I hope it will keep the adults amongst us sufficiently entertained since it is chock full of monsters, demons and romance – a romp of a read – while retaining an intriguing level of detail about eastern spirituality and historical Chinese customs.

INDIA

Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja WimmerFor your child –

*COMING SOON!*

Looking for Lord Ganesh by Mahtab Narsimhan and Sonja Wimmer

Anika has recently emigrated from India and is having a difficult time adjusting to life in a new country – not to mention life in a new school. Taking to the internet, she searches for Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, to help her solve her problems. But does Lord Ganesh truly help her, or has she been relying on her own inner wisdom all along? A sweet and witty story about staying true to one’s beliefs and finding strength in unlikely places.

This brilliant contemporary story is designed for a generation who will grow up with technology at their fingertips. Full of authentic Hindu wisdom communicated through fun and quirky illustrations, this book explores a young girl’s attempts to pray to Ganesh, the enormously popular elephant god, and the heart-warming resolution that results.

Pre-order your copy here!

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniFor you –

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Tilo, an immigrant from India, runs a spice shop in Oakland, California. While she supplies the ingredients for curries and kormas, she also helps her customers to gain a more precious commodity: whatever they most desire. For Tilo is a Mistress of Spices, a priestess of the secret magical powers of spices…

This is one of my all-time favourite books. Gorgeously evocative, and with beautiful, soaring prose, it is an intimate portrait of human desires – from the mundane to the all-encompassing – suffused with detailed Indian imagery. Exquisite and magical – a book that is sure to bring some exotic heat to this wintry season.

ARAB WORLD

For your child –

The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan*SNEAK PEEK!*

The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan

Haroun, the cat, likes nothing better than to spend his days sleeping in the sunlit courtyards of Damascus. But one thing always ruins his sleep: jasmine! Haroun can’t stand the sweet-scented flowers. Their pollen sends him into fits of sneezes! So one day, Haroun hatches a plan to fix the problem. But little does he know that in doing so he deeply angers the Jasmine Spirit who plans her revenge in her own crafty and hilarious way…

When award-winning Syrian author/illustrator Nadine Kaadan approached us with this story, we jumped at the chance to publish it. Not only does it provide a unique glimpse into Syria’s rich cultural heritage in a period of history marred by war, but it retains a lightness and playfulness that completely disarmed us. Watch out for our official announcement of this new title next year!

Alif the Unseen G. Willow WilsonFor you –

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

He calls himself Alif, a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and the modern. When Alif comes into possession of a mysterious book entitled The Thousand and One Days, he discovers a door into another world – a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked amongst us…

This is another of my all-time favourite books (I have many!). An adventure story about a young computer hacker who falls in love with the wrong girl and gets propelled into a madcap adventure full of myth and magic yet grounded in rich and eye-opening detail about the Muslim faith and Middle Eastern history. I couldn’t put it down.

Happy reading everyone!

Alice

Ten Christmas Picture Books from Around the World

in: Children's books

With Christmas exactly a month away, here are ten Christmas picture books that help us reflect on some of the different ways that cultures celebrate Christmas around the world. From storks in baobab trees to origami cranes in fir trees, from fire dancers to parang bands – all of these stories are eye-opening and wonderfully festive! Perfect to get you in the mood for Christmas.

The Miracle of the First PoinsettiaThe Miracle of the First Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Story by Joanne Oppenheim (author) and Fabian Negrin (illustrator)

A book that explores the traditional Mexican tale of how the first poinsettia came to be, transporting readers to Old-World Mexico and a young girl who discovers a Christmas miracle.A Stork in a Baobab Tree

 

A Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African 12 Days of Christmas by Catherine House (author) and Polly Alakija (illustrator)

Told in verse inspired by the traditional carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, this is the story of a Christmas steeped in the atmosphere of African village life, where villagers prepare for a celebration – the birth of a child.

 

Two Cans of Corned Beef and a Manulele in a Mango Tree

 

Two Cans of Corned Beef and a Manulele in a Mango Tree by Sarona Aiono-Iosefa (author) and Steven Dunn (illustrator)

Also told in verse to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, this Pacific Island story by a Samoan author fills the pages with Christmas icons from tropical island life.

Federico and the Magi's Gift

 

Federico and the Magi’s Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story by Beatriz Vidal

It’s the eve of the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, and that means the Three Wise Men, or Magi, will ride through the night sky to deliver gifts to children. Four-year-old Federico has misbehaved…will the Magi leave him any presents? A heart-warming Latin American Christmas story.


An Ellis Island Christmas

 

An Ellis Island Christmas by Maxinne Rhea Leighton (author) and Dennis Nolan (illustrator)

A Polish family migrates to America on the eve of Christmas – a story that powerfully evokes the uncertainty, wonder, and hope of a young immigrant’s experience.

 

 

 

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree by Vashanti Rahaman (author) and Frané Lessac (illustrator)

Anslem longs for a traditional white Christmas and a ‘proper’ Christmas tree, but when it becomes apparent that these have no place in the Craibbean landscape, Anslem must learn to appreciate his own holiday traditions and the unique magic of a West Indian Christmas.

Tree of Cranes

 

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say

As a young Japanese boy recovers from a bad chill, his mother busily folds origami paper into delicate silver cranes to decorate their Christmas tree, blending American and Japanese traditions in a joyous celebration of both cultures.

The Christmas Gift - El Regalo de Navidad

 

 

 

The Christmas Gift: El regalo de Navidad by Francisco Jiménez (author) and Claire B. Cotts (illustrator)

As Christmas approaches, Panchito can’t wait to see what present he gets. But on Christmas Day, he is disappointed…until he sees the gift his father gives his mother. A Hispanic Christmas story that shows us that gifts of the heart
are the most precious of all.

The Christmas Coat

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (author) and Ellen Butler (illustrator)

A Native American Christmas story based on a true story. Virginia’s coat is too small and hardly protects her from the frigid South Dakota winter. When the Christmas boxes arrive, Virginia spots a beautiful grey coat but holds back tears as it is claimed by one of her classmates…but little does she know what her mother has in store for her.

An Island Christmas by Lynn Joseph (author)An Island Christmas and Catherine Stock (illustrator)

Rosie’s preparations for Christmas on the island of Trinidad include picking red petals for the sorrel drink, and singing along with the parang band – a true Island Christmas, Caribbean style.

If you are interested in multicultural children’s books, please take a look at our picture book titles, perfect for Christmas gifts!

Alice

From Iranian art to Nollywood: an Interview with Mehrdokht Amini

in: Children's books

Mehrdokht Amini Chicken in the Kitchen Brixton Library

Today I caught up with Mehrdokht Amini, illustrator of Chicken in the Kitchen. She told me about her life growing up in Iran, about the need for versatility in art, and about the countries she would love to see represented more often in children’s books. Read on for a fascinating glimpse into the work of one of the most talented illustrators publishing today.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about Iran, where you grew up?

Hello, my name is Mehrdokht Amini and I am a UK-based Iranian children’s book illustrator. Iran is an ancient country in the Middle East with one of the richest art heritages in world history. It has been invaded over the centuries by many other nations including the Greeks, Arabs, Moguls, and Turks. The impact of these invasions and integrations is still visible in our culture, making Iran a very complex society. Usually things are not quite as Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Aministraightforward as they seem and need interpretation. This is particularly the case in our literature, cinema and even our cuisine. An Iranian dish is usually so complex it’s hard to guess its ingredients!

Do you think your cultural background has had an effect on your illustration style?

I might feel closer to a text that is connected to my cultural background but I think in this profession one has to be influenced by the text and not by one’s own background, just like an actor who has to interpret his or her role differently depending on the nature of the script. Having a style in this field, as in any other form of art, is somehow inevitable but you can also try to be a bit versatile in approaching each project, since you might be in danger of becoming stagnant if you stick strictly to one style.

Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

I start by doing some research on the text. This is an important stage, because if it’s not done properly, it could result in misinterpreting the text. I then finish the sketches, and after approval of the sketches by the publisher, I start creating different textures for the illustrations or taking photos. I then transfer all of my material to Photoshop and do the necessary editing there.

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiDid you enjoy illustrating Chicken in the Kitchen? Who is your favourite character and what is your favourite scene in the book?

I enjoyed working on this book immensely. One of the main reasons was that it gave me a chance to study a rich culture that I knew very little about. My favourite character in the book is the Wood Wit, who is so whimsical and unpredictable, and my favourite scene is the last scene, which gives continuity to the story.

 

How did you approach illustrating a story set in Nigeria? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Nigerian culture in some way?

I tried to find as much material as I could on the internet, and in libraries. I even watched a few Nollywood films to become familiar with the lifestyle of Nigerian people! I was very excited about illustrating this book but not nervous because I had the support of the author and my publisher and was sure that I would be given the right advice if needs be.Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

What have you learnt about West Africa?

I learnt how culturally rich the countries of West Africa are and how little information is available to teach us more about Africa’s heritage.

Do you think it is important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Most definitely. We live in a time of globalisation and multiculturalism. People from different backgrounds come to live with each other in different situations, whether they like it or not. If they don’t have enough knowledge of each other’s cultural backgrounds it might lead to alienation and misunderstanding, which is dangerous in any society. It is best to start the process of understanding and integration from childhood when ideas are just taking shape.

Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiWhat countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?

Personally, I would like to see countries like Iran represented more often in children books. Iran is largely misunderstood in the media today because of the political decisions taken by its government but the real Iran is not what we see in the media. We have a rich literary background, both classical and modern, which is widely unknown here and I hope one day there will be a chance for it to be introduced to the western world as it truly is.

Group wavingDo you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

I think being original and creative is crucial in this profession. The competition is fierce and the essential ingredient for an illustrator to survive – apart from talent – is hard work and an absolute love of children’s books.


Thanks Mehrdokht! You can find out more about Mehrdokht and her beautiful artwork on her website – www.myart2c.com – and you can buy a copy of
Chicken in the Kitchen here.

Alice

Blurring the lines between reality and dream: an Interview with Jérémy Pailler

in: Children's books

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

Today I caught up with the very talented French artist, Jérémy Pailler, illustrator of Dragon Dancer. He told me about his illustration techniques, the inspiration behind his artwork and his animated children’s films. I was blown away by his passion – read on to see for yourself!Jérémy Pailler France

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a few of your favourite things about living in France?

I’m an illustrator and animator. I love telling stories in various ways, and I especially like fantasy tales with colourful characters. The most important thing for me is to share these stories with children from all over the world as well as with grownups who haven’t forgotten that they were children once too. I have drawn for as long as I can remember. I started by studying graphic design but illustration has always been what I truly wanted to do. I also work on animated films from time to time. It allows me to translate my drawings into movement and sound, which I love because it intensifies the depth of the scenes I create. In terms of my life in France, I would say that I like the food, the cultural diversity and the fact it’s an old country with a long history. Most importantly, it’s where my true home is.

Do you think you have a particularly French or European illustration style?

I don’t know if I have a French or European illustration identity. I think every artist is a combination of multiple sources of inspiration. I guess my drawing ‘style’ is definitely the result of my experiences in France, my childhood in the French countryside, and French artists that I know and admire. But I feed on so many things in my life, through my travels, my books, the films or the paintings I see – created by international artists – that I feel that my style is more the result of this variety than ‘French’ per se.

Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

I mainly use ink on thick paper. I love the softness of ink and the sound it makes when it touches the paper, as weird as that may sound! I love the hazy effects it allows me to create as well as the wide palette of colours I’m able to explore. As for my creation process, I always research the theme of the story I have to illustrate: the time and place of the story, the costumes of the characters, their physique etc. I draw some sketches, very rough ones, then I start painting not long after. I think I trust myself when I draw the final illustration only because I think about it A LOT before I put anything down on paper. If the result is disappointing, I start from the beginning. It’s a long process and it mostly depends on my level of inspiration in the moment of creation.

Dragon Dancer Cover ImageDid you enjoy illustrating Dragon Dancer, written by Joyce Chng? What did you love about the story?

Illustrating Dragon Dancer was a gift. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have been part of this project. I think I just loved the simplicity of the story – how pure, poetic and positive its message is. Dragon Dancer, for me, mainly deals with blurring the lines that separate reality from dream. It’s about trusting yourself, and trusting in the unseen: the magic of the world. We don’t know if the dragon is real or not at the end of the story, or if he just lives in Yao’s imagination. I love that. Because whether the dragon is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is real for the boy. This is where the beauty of innocence lies. And this power gathers then spreads positive energy to everyone.

How did you approach illustrating a story set in Singapore? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Chinese New Year customs in some way?

I have never visited Singapore but I have travelled a lot in Asia. I actually had the chance to be in Vietnam during the Lunar New Year and had a taste of what this festival could feel and look like. It was so colourful and animated, and there was so much joy and respect at the same time. So I wouldn’t say I was nervous about illustrating Dragon Dancer. Even if the country the story takes place in is not the same, I felt that I was familiar with the spirit of the festival and the culture. I took the subject very seriously, researched it thoroughly and combined this with my own experiences in Asia to come up with these illustrations.

What have you learnt about Chinese New Year?Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

I learned a lot about the purpose of this event, how many people are involved in it, and what it means to them to take part in the celebration. It’s really about luck, hopes and dreams. And consequently, it’s about belief. This is an opportunity to wish for the best, for you as well as for your loved ones. This is why it is so beautiful and joyful!

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

These books are absolutely essential. They allow children to travel and learn, to open their minds by questioning their own habits. The educational purpose of these books is much greater than their apparent simplicity. They define a way of thinking and a way of living for generations to come.

What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?

I visited Cambodia and Lao three years ago. Beautiful landscapes, beautiful people and an extraordinary history. I am sure there are plenty of stories that could take place there and plenty of books that could draw attention to these unique cultures.

When you are not illustrating picturebooks, what other type of artwork do you create?

I mostly paint. I work on several projects at the same time. I’m really passionate so I can’t stop doing new things! For instance, I have been working on a painting series about the origins of villains in cinema for the past year. I love the idea that the darkest heroes have interesting back stories that make them appear more human. I also work on animated short films. My first short film was inspired by The Snow Queen by Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. It has been screened in several children’s film festivals around the world, which has made me very happy. I’ve also been working on a fine art PhD in Toulouse for the past three years, looking in depth at practices of illustration and animation. It’s a lot of work but all of these activities work together pretty well in the end!

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy PaillerDo you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

I am just starting my career as an illustrator so I don’t feel worthy to give advice to aspiring illustrators quite yet. However, I have learned that patience, passion and hard work can shine through, even in this very competitive field. Illustrating stories is the best thing in the world for me. Therefore, I persevere and won’t give up until I have illustrated dozens of books and shared them with people. I want to convey emotion and bring happiness. This is my main goal!

Thanks Jérémy! You can find out more about Jérémy and his fabulous artwork here, and to buy your copy of Dragon Dancer, please click here.

Alice

From sunny Naples to tropical Malaysia: an interview with Martina Peluso

in: Children's books


Martina Peluso ItalyToday I caught up with Martina Peluso, the enormously
talented illustrator of Phoenix Song. I asked her about life in Italy, her thoughts on illustrating a Malaysian story, and her tips for aspiring illustrators. I also discovered her next holiday destination…


Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello everyone! My name is Martina Peluso and I am an illustrator of children’s books. I am Italian. I was born in Naples – a beautiful city where the sun always shines and the people are very friendly and welcoming. I always wanted to draw and, above all, I wanted to illustrate books for children. I consider myself a very lucky person because I was able to realise my dream.

Do you think you have a particularly Italian or European illustration style?

I do not consider my style purely Italian. I studied with some Spanish and Croat masters, and I’ve always loved illustrations from all over the world, so I think my style is more European if anything.Phoenix Song Cover Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso

Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

First of all, I read the text. Then I go for long walks to try to imagine the characters, settings and colours – walking always helps me concentrate. After I design the sketches, my table and everything around me is taken over by paper! But the moment I love best is when I start to colour the sketches. I mainly use acrylic colours, but sometimes I also like to use inks and oils.

Did you enjoy illustrating Phoenix Song, written by Tutu Dutta? What did you like about the story?

I loved illustrating Phoenix Song! The most interesting part for me was working out how to illustrate a different culture, so that I could imagine and draw different landscapes, buildings and dresses from those I usually draw. The part of the story I like best is the message of respect for nature that it conveys to the readers.

Phoenix Song p. 5 Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoHow did you approach illustrating a story set in Malaysia? Were you nervous you might misrepresent Malaysian culture in some way?

Yes, I was a bit nervous. It is not always easy representing a different culture. Fortunately, the publisher and the author were very patient with me and helped me on this path. But in the end, the colours of Malaysia are so beautiful that they gave me a great head start!

Have you learnt anything about Malaysia that you didn’t know before?

I have certainly learned this: I absolutely must take a trip to Malaysia! Unfortunately I haven’t yet visited it, but I’m sure it must be a wonderful country with wonderful people.Phoenix Song Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely yes! I think it helps increase our respect for all peoples. Indeed, I believe that children should read many books from cultures other than their own.

What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?

At this historic moment, I would be very happy if children could read more books about Syria and about all of the countries that are at war. This would help to create new generations that are more supportive and ready to help the children of the countries in difficulty.

When you are not illustrating picturebooks, what other type of artwork do you create?

Phoenix Song Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoI always try to create something every day! I love creating objects: jewellery, ceramics, three-dimensional pictures. I also love to cook – it is a delicious art form!

Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

My most valuable advice would be to always draw. You should have paper and pencils with you at all times! The second advice would be to not get disheartened – it is not an easy job, but it can be full of great satisfaction.

Thanks Martina! You can find out more about Martina’s wonderful illustrations on her website: http://martinapelusoillustratrice.blogspot.co.uk/. To buy your copy of Phoenix Song, please click here.

Alice

A New Wave of African Children’s Literature

in: Children's books

Brittle Paper logoToday we were excited to receive word that a new review of Nnedi Okorafor’s and Mehrdokht Amini’s Chicken in the Kitchen has been published on the popular US African literature blog, Brittle Paper. A good review is always something to celebrate, but this one makes me particularly proud because it sheds light on something I have been thinking about for some time, namely, whether there is a ‘right’ way to integrate diversity into children’s publishing.

Einehi Edoro, the creative mind behind Brittle Paper, is a PhD student at Duke University in North Carolina, majoring in African literature. She envisaged Brittle Paper, the online African literary blog, as a ‘virtual space/station’ in which to ‘play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture’.

Reinvention, play and experimentation lie at the heart of Edoro’s feature articles, reviews, literary commentaries, interviews and the new writing she publishes. According to Edoro, such literary reinvention reflects a wider shift in the African literary consciousness. Past generations of African writers, she notes, have felt compelled to address the burden of colonialism in their writing. Current generations of African readers, however, ‘are driven more by their tastes and passions than by allegiance to some abstract political idea’.

This shift away from the customary role of the African writer as ‘teacher’ and towards a freer, more experimental and taste-based African literary scene has led to a widening of the genres available to African readers – from speculative fiction to pulp fiction to experimental, offbeat narratives. At the same time, a social media and technology savvy generation has ensured that a plethora of new channels have opened up to allow stories to reach their intended readers.Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

Brittle Paper, then, monitors the tastes and styles of a new wave of African literature – a literature that is increasingly willing to throw off the shackles of responsibility felt by previous generations of African writers and instead claim a right to the breath and diversity of literary styles that have been available to western writers and readers for so long.

And this is where my question finds its context – is there a ‘right’ way to integrate diversity into children’s publishing? A ‘right’ way would presuppose a ‘wrong’ way, and – for me – a ‘wrong’ way might be to place a book’s diversity over and above its literary merit. This would have the effect of ghettoising diversity as a ‘theme’ or a ‘virtue’ without recognising the bearing it has on the worth or quality of a text.

A ‘right’ way, on the other hand, might be to consider a book’s diversity in the same light as one might judge its characterisation or its plotting – as a necessary element in the making of a good and satisfying read. If Edoro is right in thinking that the African literary scene is becoming more taste-based and exploratory, it would seem likely that books that do not appeal to the ‘tastes and passions’ of a new generation of African readers will therefore increasingly fail to make the cut.

Edoro has this to say about Chicken in the Kitchen:

 

‘Okorafor has crafted a charming story around aspects of daily Igbo life—Masquerades, new yam festivals, ancestral spirits, and so on. The implication of this is far reaching. For one thing, it shows us the right way to integrate diversity into children’s storytelling. Chicken in the Kitchen is a story featuring a West African girl in a middle class West African household. But the value and beauty of the story doesn’t lie entirely in its being West African, but instead in its being a truly enjoyable read.’

 

We’re thrilled that our aim to treat diversity not as a theme but as a mainstay has been recognised by Brittle Paper in its role as a spokesperson for a changing African literary scene. Edoro puts it brilliantly, in fact, when she writes of the exciting ways in which ‘African literature intersects with local and global cultural currents’. All books are a product of the culture or cultures in which they are written, published and consumed – and in this case, even more than most, of the subtle intersections between the local and the global. To be at the forefront of this movement is an honour and we hope that by publishing children’s books that are resonant of these many intersections we can do justice to the incredibly talented authors and illustrators we publish.

To read the full review of Chicken in the Kitchen in Brittle Paper, please click here.

Alice

Dragons, rabbits and immigrant forebears: an interview with Joyce Chng

in: Children's books

Joyce Chng Singapore

This week I asked Joyce Chng some questions about her new picturebook, Dragon Dancer, and learnt about her home country of Singapore and her special love of dragons. I also found out what sends shivers down her spine…

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about where you live?

I am a Singaporean author. I write science fiction and fantasy, also a fair bit of Young Adult science fiction. I have recently completed a Young Adult/Middle Grade fantasy set in Qing China. Singapore is an island, at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is a multicultural country with many races and ethnic groups. We celebrate many festivals and traditions, due to the legacy of our immigrant forebears. I am Chinese, so I celebrate many festivals based on the Chinese lunar calendar.

Your picturebook, Dragon Dancer, is about to be published in the UK. What is it about?Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler

Dragon Dancer is a story about a boy called Yao, who is a friend to a dragon who may or may not be real. Yao and Shen Long go dragon dancing. Shen Long chases the bad luck away, because it is Chinese New Year.

Why dragons? Why Chinese New Year?

I love dragons! And dragons are auspicious creatures, bringers of good luck and symbols of strength. Chinese New Year is one of the major lunar festivals on the calendar and one of my favourites. You get to wear new clothes and shoes, eat delicious delicacies and for children, get red packets filled with money. We also call Chinese New Year Chun Jie, which means Spring Festival.

Do you think your cultural and ethnic background influences your writing?

I think it does. When I write – say – a short story, I end up weaving the traditions into the tale. For example, in Rider, my YA science fiction novel, the main character is of Asian/Chinese descent, and throughout the story there are references to food, festivals and cultural practices. Some practices I remember from my childhood, like the use of fresh flowers to wash away bad or ill luck.

What do you think of Jérémy Pailler’s illustrations for Dragon Dancer?

I think they are gorgeous! They lift the story into another stratosphere! Do you know that I was born in the year of the Rabbit? There is an illustration where a rabbit watches Yao and Shen Long. That just sends shivers down my spine!

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy PaillerWhat messages do you hope readers will glean from the story?

I just hope that readers will enjoy the story as it is. Perhaps a message that it is alright to be afraid, to feel unsure. Perhaps a message that courage is also found on the inside. Yao doesn’t want to disappoint his grandfather, so perhaps a message about learning to respect our elders. And most of all, readers can learn how much Chinese New Year means to the Chinese.

Do you think children living in Singapore and children living in the UK will appreciate the story in different ways?

I would think so. The Chinese children living in Singapore live in a culture where they do get to celebrate Chinese New Year and other Chinese festivals. But I think it is a good way to encourage them to read about Chinese New Year from a different perspective. We have books on food, festivals, Chinese gods, lion dances – why not dragon dances? As for children in the UK, I think they would appreciate it because it tells them a story about Chinese culture and how a Chinese boy experiences it with his friend, a dragon. Furthermore, dragon dances are not just dragon dances. To me, a dragon becomes real when the music of the drums starts.

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy PaillerDo you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Definitely it is important! I think children can learn about cultures other than their own when they read books.

When you’re not writing picturebooks, what literary genres particularly appeal to you?

Science fiction and fantasy. Urban/contemporary fantasy. Steampunk.

Finally, can you give any aspiring authors any tips for their writing?

Write. Do not be afraid to fail. Write even more. Submit even more. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Write and write and write.

Thanks Joyce!

Alice