World Kid Lit Review: Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović

Zlata’s Diary was written by Zlata Filipović and translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zorić (Puffin).

Today I’m reviewing a book which first appeared in English in 1994, 25 years ago. It perhaps seems strange to be recommending a book from such a long time ago, but through Zlata’s Diary there are lessons that can still be learnt all this time later.

Zlata began writing her diary on 2nd September 1991. In a newspaper article from 2012, she explains: “I wanted it to be funny, like Adrian Mole.” Instead of a humorous diary, it turned into a vivid testament of war from a child’s perspective.

In the introduction by Channel 4 news presenter and journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, he tells of visiting Zlata in Sarajevo in 1993 when he was reporting for BBC’s Newsround (you can watch the video clip here). He refers to a calendar hanging on her wall, frozen at 5 April 1992. For Zlata, that was “the day that time stood still.”

Her diary tells of the physical suffering of war, of the relentless shelling, food and water shortages, days without electricity and gas and the freezing cold winters. She also talks of the pain of separation, of friends and family fleeing the city while she and her family remained. There is also the horror of death and destruction, young friends being killed: “A disgusting war has destroyed a young child’s life.”

At one point in the diary, she takes inspiration from Anne Frank’s wartime diary and gives her faithful friend a name, Mimmy. At the time, she would not perhaps have imagined that her words might one day be compared to Anne Frank’s famous testimony. Indeed, there are moments in the book where she herself refers to Anne Frank, determined not to suffer the same fate.

At times, Zlata talks about the apparently mundane – what she’s watched on TV, what pieces she’s learning to play on the piano – but she also becomes philosophical with sentiments that still ring true today:

“It looks to me as though these politics mean Serbs, Croats and Muslims. But they are all people. They are all the same. They all look like people, there’s no difference. They all have arms, legs and heads, they walk and talk, but now there’s ‘something’ that wants to make them different … Among the good there are Serbs and Croats and Muslims, just as there are among the bad.”

In the end, it is keeping her diary which offers Zlata and her family a way out of Sarajevo. After publication of her diary in France, she is visited by numerous members of the press, who eventually manage to secure safe passage for Zlata and her family to France. In this, I was reminded of Bana Alabad’s testament about the siege of Aleppo in Syria and how due to her tweeting from within the siege, the world became aware of her suffering.

Such testaments by children are so powerful and remind us that in war it is often innocent children who suffer for the ideals of others:

“Us kids are not playing, we are living in fear, we are suffering, we are not enjoying the sun and flowers, we are not enjoying our childhood. WE ARE CRYING.”

For more book reviews, interviews and articles, join us over at the World Kid Lit Blog


Wold Kid Lit Book Review: The Ventriloquist’s Daughter by Man-Chiu Lin

A couple of days before I went on holiday, I decided I needed to top up my Kindle with some holiday reading. Having downloaded young adult novel The Ventriloquist’s Daughter, I accidentally finished it before we even got on the plane!

***Warning*** Spoilers***

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter is by Man-Chiu Lin, translated from the Chinese by Helen Wang (Balestier Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Claire Storey

The story tells of Liur who grows up living with her Mama, Baba and paternal grandparents. The first years of her life are happy with time spent with her parents in the forest at the back of her house. But her parents are under pressure: her father to pursue a career in medicine he isn’t interested in and her mother to produce a son. I really felt for Liur as she is repeatedly told: “If only you were a boy!”

When Liur is four, Mama finally falls pregnant. But Ah Fen, the housekeeper, tells Liur: “When your little brother is born, no one will love you anymore.”  In Liur’s mind, the terror of being replaced begins to grow and she begins to play up, trying to attract her parents’ attention. Then Mama has a miscarriage, Liur feels the threat has gone, but life doesn’t return to normal. This section is so well-written; I could really feel Liur’s despair: “[Mama’s] mind was so full of the son who had died. She couldn’t see the daughter who was alive and in front of her eyes.”

A while later, Mama becomes ill and dies. Baba is distraught and overcome with grief. To bring him out of it, Grandfather sends Baba to the USA on a training course, leaving solitary Liur at home with her grandparents. Instead of attending the training course, Baba goes travelling, starting in the USA and heading south through Latin America. Every so often, he sends a postcard to Liur which she cherishes, waiting for him to return.

When Baba does finally return 5 years later, he brings with him a doll called Carola. But Carola isn’t just a doll, she is his ventriloquist’s dummy. While he has been away, he has learnt the craft of ventriloquism and has created a stage persona called Carolo. While initially intrigued by her father’s new talent and his doll, Carola begins to come to life. Liur believes Carola will do anything to destroy Liur and become Carolo’s real daughter.

The writing in this section of the book is really vivid and Liur’s fear of Carola feels very real. It is only revealed later on that Liur is struggling with her perception of reality. Deep within her, she carries the secret guilt that it was her that caused her mother to fall, lose the baby and ultimately die. The feelings she has harboured about being replaced she now projects onto Carola. It is only once she admits this feeling of guilt and self-hatred that she can begin to unravel it, learning the truth of why her mother miscarried and passed away, neither of which had anything to do with little Liur’s actions. By letting go of this, she reconciles with her father and the book has a really positive ending.

I actually had to go back and read the ending a second time because I was so convinced that what Liur had been telling of the doll was true, that Carola was coming to life and trying to kill her, indeed playing with my own perception of reality.

This is a real page turner, and I was hooked from the start.

Man-Chiu Lin is a well-known children’s author in Taiwan who has published a number of successful YA novels as well as non-fiction titles. In Taiwan, she received the Golden Tripod Award for children’s fiction in 2003 and the “Good Books Everyone Can Read” Award for the best children’s book of 2010. ‘The Ventriloquist’s Daughter’ was long-listed for the 2014 Found in Translation Award and subsequently selected for the Found in Translation Anthology.

Helen Wang is Curator of East Asian Money at the British Museum, and a literary translator working from Chinese to English. Her translations for children include Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan, Jackal and Wolf by Shen Shixi, Pai Hua Zi and the Clever Girl by Zhang Xinxin, and Tan Hou and the Double Sixth Festival by Cai Gao. She has also translated short stories by a wide range of Chinese authors.

This post also appears on the World Kid Lit Blog. Join us there for more reviews, interviews and interesting articles all about wonderful World Kid Lit.


World Kid Lit Book Review: In the forest

In The Forest is by Anouk Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud. Story by Sophie Strady (Tate Publishing). Originally published in French.

I recently saw this book displayed on the shelves of the travelling children’s bookshop How Brave is the Wren which was set up in the mud of this year’s Just So Festival. Opening the pages, the intricate pop-up forest jumps out at the reader. Without even starting on the words, I knew I needed to buy this book.

The first page of the book displays the peaceful forest, teeming with life, with a sloth hiding in a tree, gently swaying in the leaves. The reader is encouraged to hunt for the sloth among the trees.

On the next page, “a metallic noise echoes through the forest” and a logging truck with a circular saw is spotted in the trees. But the sloth, “can you see it?”, sleeps through the whole thing.

Page after page, more and more of the pop-up forest cleverly disappears from the pages, destroyed by deforestation while the sloth in the middle of the forest continues to sleep. Eventually all the trees are gone, including the sloth.

But one day, a man comes and replants the forest. The mechanics of the pop up here are really clever with the reader pulling a handle and the sapling trees appearing to grow out of the page. By the last page, the forest has grown back again and the sloth, “can you see it?” is back in its tree.

My 5-year-old daughter absolutely loved this. She was so intrigued by the pop-ups, kept hunting for the little tiny sloth and walked around hugging the book to her chest. And of course, it isn’t just a wonderful story, it also highlights concerns about deforestation and opens discussions about looking after the environment.

This post also appears on the World Kid Lit Blog. Join us there for more reviews, interviews and interesting articles.


‘Today you can’t play’ by Pilar Serrano and Canizales

I’ve finally got my hands on a copy of “Today you can’t play” by Pilar Serrano and Canizales, translated from the Spanish by Ben Dawlatly and me! Very excited to see this in print!

The story tells of Emma, the new girl in the class who starts bullying the other children, including Ana. Emma starts dictating who can play when. She demands the other children give her food from their packed lunches, threatening to leave them out if they don’t. Ana understandably doesn’t want to go to school anymore. It’s just not fun anymore.

But one day, Zoe sticks up for Ana, first by telling Emma to leave Ana alone, then ripping up a note about Ana that was going around the class. In response, Zoe isn’t allowed to play either. But Zoe’s decided she doesn’t care anymore and when Emma demands some of Zoe’s lunch, Zoe doesn’t give in. The other children are impressed with Zoe’s response and little by little, the tide starts to turn against Emma.

As we talk about diversity and cultural representation in books, I love Canizales illustrations. They depict a real ethnic mix on the playground and our heroine Zoe is black.

It’s a great book to show kids what bullying looks like and to demonstrate that they can stand up to bullies and turn things around.

For more reviews, interviews and articles throughout September, take a look at the World Kid Lit Blog.


World Kid Lit Book Review: The Rainbow Fish

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, translated from German by J. Alison James (North-South Books).

My daughter found this book in our local library and pulled it off the shelf shouting, “we have this as school!” She absolutely loves it and when it was time to take it back, we had to renew it rather than return it.

It’s the story of Rainbow Fish, the most beautiful shimmering fish in the ocean… and doesn’t he know it?! He won’t share even a single sparkly scale with the other fish. But while he may be beautiful, he starts to feel lonely and doesn’t understand why the other fish don’t like him, especially when he’s just so beautiful.

A chat with the wise octopus leads Rainbow Fish to start sharing his shimmering scales with the other fish. He may no longer be the most beautiful, but his changed attitude towards the other fish mean they now want to be his friend and he is finally happy.

A lovely little story to teach about selfishness, sharing and how sometimes we have to change our own behaviour to bring us happiness. Beautiful illustrations and lots of sparkling silver keep little ones entertained.

For more reviews, interviews and articles, join us over on the World Kid Lit Blog.