Wow. What a lot of wonderful book recommendations you gave me in response to my request for suggestions of children’s stories written in languages other than English. Entries have come from far and wide – Ukraine, India, China and Switzerland to name just a few.
Reading through your comments has been a joyful and intriguing experience. And, as is always the case with exploring literature from elsewhere, it has given me so much more than simply ideas for good reads.
I really enjoyed your accounts of the different ways you’ve read and shared stories. From Annemarie and her cousins rewording one of the songs in the audioversion of Klatremus og de andre dyrene i Hakkebakkeskogen by Thorbjørn Egner for her grandmother’s 80th birthday to Ray and his schoolfriends pretending to be the title character in Yang Hongying’s Naughty Ma Xiaotiao.
The cultural information you shared along the way was fascinating too. I was very interested by teacher Mariska’s comment that in Sweden children who have a mother tongue other than Swedish have a legal right to receive tuition in that language as part of their school education. Similarly, I loved the video that Encarni shared of giants dancing in Catalonia. This is something I experienced first hand at a festival in the Priorat region a few years ago and it is a wonderful sight. It was great to learn that the tradition comes from the song and tale ‘El Gegant del Pi’.
The book recommendations themselves were marvellous. So many tempting-sounding stories and concepts – from a paintbrush that enables a poor boy to bring his imaginings to life (Magic Brush by Hong Xuntao) to a book about a girl with a terminally ill mother that also contains recipes for the world’s best cocoa and pancakes as well as special tricks for secret agents (Die erstaunlichen Abenteuer der Maulina Schmitt by Finn-Ole Heinrich).
And, among the many new discoveries, I was struck by the handful of familiar stories that came to light too. There were favourites such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, along with well-known fables like the Kiswahili account of how the tortoise got its shell (Safari Ya Angani by Francis Atulo) – a version of which I heard in primary school. These shared narratives, many of which have travelled around the world, reminded me once again of the extraordinary power that stories have to connect us across cultural barriers.
I could easily have chosen ten or more winners from among the entries, but sadly I only have one signed copy of Reading the World to give away. And so, after much deliberation, I have decided to give the prize to Frances for her recommendation of the Italian classic Le avventure di Cipollino by Gianni Rodari, a story that has been popular in many parts of the world, including Russia, where the postage stamp pictured above featuring two of the characters is from.
Frances’s description of the tale was well-calculated to pique my interest: ‘a story of good versus evil and the power of affection, family and friendship in the fight against tyranny… in a world of vegetables and fruits’. But it was what she said after her pitch that tipped the balance. Describing how she had been able to recite the story word for word when a friend began to read it aloud years later, she wrote: ‘This is the reason of my choice: the book is good and I love it, but even more so, it is engraved in my heart. These books, we always want to pass on to others, as a gift from our heart to theirs.’
To me, that is the key to many of the best reading experiences I have had during this project and throughout my life. I hope 2016 brings many more such reads for all of us – books that we love so passionately that we want to give others the gift of reading them too.
Happy new year everybody and thanks again. Frances, I’ll be in touch.