Η Αθήνα, Παγκόσμια Πρωτεύουσα Βιβλίου 2018/19, με ανακήρυξη της UNESCO, είχε την τιμή και τη χαρά, στο τέλος του Καλοκαιριού, να φιλοξενήσει το Διεθνές Συνέδριο της ΙΒΒΥ [International Board on Books for Young People], το οποίο πραγματοποιείται κάθε δυο χρόνια σε άλλη χώρα και αποτελεί την σπουδαιότερη διοργάνωση για το παιδικό βιβλίο σε παγκόσμιο επίπεδο, Από τις 31 Αυγούστου ως την 1η Σεπτεμβρίου, οι συνεδριακές αίθουσες του Μεγάρου Αθηνών ήταν κατάμεστες με λαμπρές διεθνείς προσωπικότητες του κόσμου του παιδικού βιβλίου: εκδότες, εικονογράφοι, συγγραφείς, ακαδημαϊκοί, εκπαιδευτικοί, ήταν όλοι εκεί. Το θέμα του συνεδρίου, East meets West around children’s books and fairytales, αποτυπωνόταν χαρακτηριστικά όχι μόνο στις εισηγήσεις, στις εκθέσεις βιβλίων και εικόνων απ´ όλα τα μέρη του κόσμου, στις γλώσσες που ακούγονταν, αλλά ακόμη και στις μορφές των ανθρώπων που γέμιζαν τον χώρο και γεφύρωναν πολιτισμούς και κόσμους ολόκληρους…
Βρεθήκαμε εκεί για να συναντήσουμε τρεις ανθρώπους που συνδυάζουν περισσότερες από μία από τις παραπάνω ιδιότητες: την πολυβραβευμένη Katherine Paterson, τη συγγραφέα του αγαπημένου σε όλους Γέφυρα για την Τεραμπίθια, τον διάσημο Gregory Maguire, τον συγγραφέα του μαγευτικού Wicked και τον δικό μας Βαγγέλη Ηλιόπουλο, τον συγγραφέα του τρυφερού Τριγωνοψαρούλη. Στην πολυ ενδιαφέρουσα κοινή τους συνέντευξη, οι τρεις συγγραφείς μας μίλησαν για την αγάπη, τις αγωνίες και τις ελπίδες τους για το παιδικό βιβλίο και τους μικρούς του αναγνώστες.
ΕΡΩΤΗΣΗ 1. What is the role of children’s literature in a world which feels like an increasingly lonely and angry place?
KATHERINE PATERSON [K.P.]: I think the role of Children’s literature is not so different from what it was when I was a child eighty plus years ago. It is to nourish, comfort, engage, inform, delight, challenge and fill with wonder .Above all, I would hope that a child , in reading a book, would know that he or she is not alone.
GREGORY MAGUIRE [G.MG.]: I forget the exact phrase, but British novelist C. S. Lewis once wrote “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.” In this paradox of self-identity and identity-with-others is the foundation of empathy. So children’s books are more important than ever, given the world we have at hand these days.
ΒΑΓΓΕΛΗΣ ΗΛΙΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ [B.H.]: Reading children’s literature cultivates empathy and broadens your mind. Reading is an active process that helps you “live” many more lives, not only your own. Your perception of life changes and, instead of having negative feelings, you want to take action and make the world a better place for everyone.
ΕΡΩΤΗΣΗ 2. You all have a wealth of experience in promoting affection for literature. Who or what inspired you to pursue inspiring others to read?
K.P.: I have loved reading since I was born because I had a mother who read to us.I have never stopped loving books. I want all children to know the joy, the wonder, and even the pain I have felt when reading a good book
MG.: Books rescued me from a sense of overwhelming grief and responsibility, given that my mother had died in childbirth. I felt guilty—my very life had stolen our mother from my siblings, his wife from my father. Books allowed me to hear about people who struggled and survived. I wanted to be part of that campaign to help other young readers survive.
Β.Η.: Coming from a literary family, books were always present in my life – not as a “chore” but as an enjoyable activity, which also helped me find a source of ideas to deal with my growing up. As an adult, I quickly realised that it is my responsibility to pass on this knowledge to next generations: reading is a coming-of-age adventure!
ΕΡΩΤΗΣΗ 3. You also share life experience that bridges East with West. Which is the biggest asset your multicultural personal stories bring to your writing?
K.P.: I was born in China and although my parents were both Americans, I came as an alien to the United States. As a young woman I lived in Japan for four years before my marriage.I can’t remember much Chinese, but I was bilingual until I was five and I think that srtretched my mond in good ways. I was immersed in the sounds and smells of both China and Japan. More importantly, I was loved by people both Chinese and Japanese who accepted me as I was and taught me how to be more human.
MG.: While I have a multi-ethnic family—children adopted from Asia and from Central America—I feel that we are all the same under the skin. I felt this long before I had children of other ethnicities, and I have always traveled as widely as my budget could tolerate. I have also read as widely as I could. Every satisfaction prompts another, greater hunger. We can never stop being curious about our wide and curious world!
Β.Η.: It is of utmost importance not to consider the “other” as a foreigner. Someday it could be you who is the other, the foreigner. My family are Greeks from Alexandria, Egypt. Early in life as a young child I learnt that you should be respectful and tolerant towards something seen as different and that you should make a firm stand against any kind of discrimination. My entire work conveys this exact message and that’s why people know me as the “author of tolerance and understanding”.
ΕΡΩΤΗΣΗ 4. Do you think there is a set of attitudes and values that children’s literature can convey more efficiently than direct instruction?
K.P.: I try not to write morality tales or propaganda, but to tell stories about real people. It is the privilege and responsibility of the readers to take from my stories whatever is meaningful for their own lives. .Subsequent readings may give them an entirely different meaning, but they get to choose. I don’t. Of course, when I write a book I learn and get lessons that are important for me, but I can’t and won’t impose my learned lessons on someone else.
MG.: Instruction more or less depends on precision (this and not that; true or false; compare and contrast). Literature on the other hand takes its great strength from being subtle and ambiguous. It is harder to manage. 2 plus 2 is an easier problem for young children than “what is goodness?” But literature teaches us to be bold in the face of striking complexity and paradox. This is a tool we need to deal with our mysterious and overwhelming existence.
Β.Η.: Universal life values cannot be yet another school subject – they should not be taught, but they should become part of someone’s nature as he grows up. Literature – and in general art – is the best way to experience life values.
ΕΡΩΤΗΣΗ 5. Which aspect of promoting children’s literature do you think teachers should pay the greatest attention to?
K.P.: Since children are different with individual needs and tastes, the important task of the teacher or librarian is to know many books, so he or she can find the right book for the right child at the right time. A child who falls in love with a book is the best promoter of reading there is.
MG.: I sometimes say that every good book has an apparent story and a hidden story. Is Peter Pan about a wild romp on an enchanted island, or is it the feverish dream of a boy who is locked away forever from the love of his parents? It can be both, of course. I think helping children realize the themes of the book are the reason it exists, and the plot is mere artifice—this is a hard lesson to learn (for adults too). But it is worth trying to teach, because all our life we will be searching for meaning in the mystery of our times.
Β.Η.: Teachers should be a role model for their students and instill the love of reading in them. Their example can help students with questions such as “what books should I read?”, “where can I find such books?” and “how can I make the time for reading?” Moreover, it is extremely important for the teacher to organise reading programmes and try to involve parents as well.
ΕΡΩΤΗΣΗ 6. If you could write a book tailored to make your 10-year-old self to love books, what subject and format would you choose? Would it be equally enticing to your grandchildren?
K.P.: Charles Dickens gave the best advice: “Make them laugh, make them weep, but above all, make them wait.” That is the kind of book I loved as a child and that I want to write. Whether a book I love would entice my grandchildren or not, I can’t be sure. To my great delight, my own children loved The Secret Garden” when I read it to them, so some classics endure. And, like every writer, I hope my books will speak to children in the future.
MG.: At the age of 10 I really wanted to know what adult life would be like! But children’s books are almost inevitably about children, as if children have no curiosity about grownup existence. I have always found this perplexing. One book, called HARRIET THE SPY, found a way to show the vagaries and puzzlements of being grownup by having its protagonist always looking at grownups and thinking about them. That was a great book for me, and if I had the talent, I would like to do the same for other young readers today. What a strange exotic creature is a grownup!
Β.Η.: I have wondered many times if my young me would read the books I write. I was really keen on graphic novels, not very thick but packed with action and adventure. I never insisted on my own kids reading my books. They would pick them randomly among many on our bookshelves because they really liked them. As for my grandchildren, we will see…