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Book Review: Children of War by Ahmet Yorulmaz, tr. Paula Darwish (Neem Tree Press)

While I am aware of the division between the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots on the island of Cyprus, I had not before come across the period of history concerning the island of Crete. Children of War is by Ahmet Yorulmaz and translated by Paula Darwish from Turkish (Neem Tree Press). It is due for publication in March 2020.

The book opens in Crete where Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims have lived peacefully alongside each other for generations. Weaving a story of fiction in amongst a backdrop of real-life occurrences and drawn from the diary of a refugee family, Yorulmez tells of a population displaced from their homeland and the suffering they experience in the process.

Narrated in the first person, in the first chapter we are introduced to a young Turkish Cretan, Hassan, who gives us a brief run-down of the history of the Turks’ arrival on the island of Crete, tracing their heritage back to 1600. We learn that his family live in a small village called Kamish by the Turks, or Kalami by the Greeks. Despite the mix of Greeks and Turks, the villagers were “respectful and sincere people” and there is an “instinctive collectivism”. But all this begins to change and amidst the turbulent atmosphere, Hassan and his family leave before they are forced to flee.

From their village they travel south-west to Kandanos where the Turks are cornered, blockaded and shelled by the Greeks with nowhere to run. Death and fear surround them and “the hours turned to days, days turned to months”. A really poignant moment comes where Hassan says: “something happened to me, Uncle. I know I’m sad, but I don’t feel much right now”. At this, my thoughts turn to our current political situation and the impact on the children caught up in wars currently raging in our world.

After being under siege for 46 days, the French and Italians come to their aid and the Turks are moved on again. Under a protective escort, they are taken to the city of Kisamos and so begins a period of relative stability for Hassan and his family. During this time, Hassan uses his wits and good nature, darting around the city selling his mother’s homemade snacks. While out and about selling, Hassan comes to know the locals and steadily improves his fortune. But there are still rising tensions between the Greek and the Turks…

One character particularly stood out to me: Kiri Vladimiros. He is the owner of a print house and comes to act as a father figure for Hassan. Throughout Hassan’s time in Kisamos, he remains the voice of reason as he speaks of peace and humanity, making no distinction between “Greekness and Tukishness”.

There is a scene where Hassan takes Vladimiros to a bar with his friends. While there, they bump into an old friend of Hassan’s who has been actively fighting for the Turkish cause against the Greeks. While unsure of how this meeting will unfold, Hassan unites these people around a table and they talk. With his goodness and humanity, Vladimiros wins the respect of those around him, regardless of who they are. Despite having been written over twenty years ago, these are lessons that can be drawn on today. Yes, we may have differences but we are all people.  

It is shortly after Hassan’s departure for Turkey that the book ends. I must admit I was surprised. I was expecting and hoping to hear more about his arrival in Turkey. We are told in the book that his mother tongue is Greek and that he only learns Turkish once he arrives in Varusi, using Greek letters to help his pronunciation. Right at the beginning of the book, it is made clear to us that while the Muslim Cretans identify as Turks, their whole lives have been built in Crete. Archna Sharma, publisher at Neem Tree Press, however, assures me that there is a sequel to this book (in fact, it’s part of a trilogy!) and I am fascinated to learn what happens to Hassan once he arrives in Turkey.

With maps, a historical timeline, footnotes and a translator’s note, I found Children of War to be far more than just a story; it has readdressed my own ignorance about a time and a place of which I had little knowledge.

Many thanks to Neem Tree Press for the advanced review copy.

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World Kid Lit Review: A History of the World with the Women Put Back In by Kerstin Lücker and Ute Daenschel, tr. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Jessica West

Today I’m reviewing a non-fiction book called A history of the world with the women put back in by Kerstin Lücker and Ute Daenschel, translated from German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Jessica West (The History Press).

I had heard interesting things about this book before my daughter (aged 6) received the book as a gift for Christmas. Now, I must admit, it is far too advanced for a six-year-old to sit and read – there are no pictures or images (other than in the first few pages) and it’s a good 400+ pages long – but as the authors point out in the introduction, they have also received quite a bit of attention from adults readers too. According to translator Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, “it’s aimed at 11+ in terms of the content and length of chapters. The book is marketed in the UK as adult history (& also appears in the Feminism section I think in our local @cheltwaters) but in its original #German edition it was pitched as #YA/teen read”.

That saying, my daughter did ask me to read a few bits out to her, cue an interesting conversation with her teacher about why she might be talking about or drawing pictures of Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake!!

Written from a base line of assuming the reader has no prior knowledge of the subject, it is a run through world history starting with the beginning of human history leading right up to modern day. The language is straight forward and where historical terms and periods are referred to, they are neatly explained so everyone can keep up. The authors in their introduction highlight that while sexuality and violence are two massive topics to discuss within this subject area, they have purposefully chosen not to focus on them. In that way, reading about Joan of Arc with my six-year-old was relatively safe, with no fear of hugely graphic details.

The authors do not claim to be able to cover every single detail of world history in their book, and for me, there are areas I would have liked to have read more about (South America before the arrival of the Spanish, for example); however, don’t let that detract from what is covered. I really enjoyed finding out more about some areas of the world or some periods of history that I hadn’t previously known much about. The book doesn’t necessarily take these events into any great detail, but it is a great starting point to then go and dig deeper about a particular subject. I can also see that as my children come home with their homework on the Greeks or the Romans, for example, this will be a real go-to volume.

It is entitled A history of the world with the women put back in so a certain emphasis on women throughout history is to be expected, but this is not an exclusive focus. It does not concentrate on women at the expense of excluding men; rather it is trying to redraw the balance and highlight how women were involved at key moments throughout history. I welcome this – we are not trying to exclude men but rather be equal with them. As I imagine my kids doing their homework, I look forward to turning to these pages and enlightening them on important women who are perhaps not covered in the school curriculum.

The run through world history also raised interesting thoughts on religion: how the main world religions began, how they have changed, who has changed them and for what purposes. It also raises questions about motives for actions and how religion has been used as justification for atrocities across the globe. It discusses power struggles and entire populations being turned upside down thanks to the agreements and treaties of the wealthy and powerful.

There were times where I was overawed thinking about time scales of history. That things happen over hundreds of years, far beyond my own expected life span. It got me thinking about the changes, power shifts and motivations at play today. With the more recent history section, I was struck by how relatively recent the formation of nation states actually is and makes me reflect on our own society.

I also appreciate the fact that this book is translated and therefore offers a viewpoint from the German authors’ perspective, in particular the often (rightly) unfavourable view of British history as seen from the outside, rather than reading about our history written and told by us. While we have been involved in pursuing progress, we must also acknowledge the cost of suffering that we have inflicted on others in that pursuit.

While this book is, of course, too advanced for my six-year-old, I truly hope this is a book she will turn to over the years and enjoy a more balanced outlook on our world history.

For more reviews, articles and resources on world literature for children, head over to the World Kid Lit Blog.

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World Kid Lit Review: The Acrobat Family by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud tr. Kevin St John

As perhaps you start to think about buying Christmas gifts for the children in your family, this is definitely one to put on their list. The blurb on the back describes this “a sensational show brought to you by the renowned pop-up artists Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud” and it really is a joy to behold.

The premise of the book is a family of acrobats who are putting on a show. The language here really conjures up the image of a circus tent. The Acrobat Family is going to build a human tower. As you turn each page, more pop-up family members join the tower until the cat, Ginger the Red climbs onto the very top. Disaster strikes and they all come toppling down. But they form the tower again, this time with Ginger at the bottom holding everyone up.

It is just such a glorious book. The bold colours on a dark blue background are really striking. On each page, you find family members popping their heads around the curtain, preparing to fly or swing onto the page. My six-year-old daughter, Emma, was absolutely delighted and insisted on taking this to school to show her teachers and her friends. I love seeing the joy on the faces of her and her friends as each page turns. Emma’s favourite bit: where they all come toppling down.

Highly recommended!

For more reviews, interviews and interesting articles all about World Kid Lit, head over to the World Kid Lit Website.

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Globi’s fantastic adventure – launch of the Swiss icon’s personalised adventures in English

I had the pleasure of working with publisher Ed Russell of Librio AG to bring the iconic Swiss children’s book character Globi to the English-speaking audience. But this isn’t just any book, this is a personalised book where your child can join Globi on his fantastic adventure. Printed on demand and using Librio’s online technology to create the perfect lookalike character, the book is available in German, English, French and Spanish with other languages in the pipeline.

For more details about the book, go to Librio’s website. You can also watch this short news clip about the launch of this iconic figures latest adventures.

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Review and Interview: The Flops by Delphine Durand

This review and interview also appears on the World Kid Lit Blog.

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Today I am reviewing a book called ‘The Flops’. It was written by Delphine Durand and translated from French by Sarah Klinger and Delphine Durand (Enchanted Lion).

This book is such good fun. The protagonists of the book are fictional creatures called the Flops. The book is written a style reminiscent of a science textbook, telling us all we need to know about the species. In “The Basics”, we are presented to the Classic Flop, or Flopus Classicus. We are told how to identify flops, their different breeds and how distinguish them from non-flops.

The illustrations are bright and colourful with so much to look at on each page. The text is dotted around the page in different fonts, sometime typeset, sometimes handwritten. For reluctant readers, this is so great. With the text in small chunks you’re not faced with long, potentially overwhelming passages of prose.

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I definitely think the success of a book can be told by the effect on the reader. I presented the Flops to my nine-year-old son. He enjoys reading but often sticks to what he knows and likes. This book is now sitting by his bed and he loves dipping into it. I’ve heard him giggling to himself on the sofa and then he calls me over to share a funny bit. One morning when my son had left the Flops out, I also found it on my six-year old daughter’s bed, open at the page with all the different flops. She’d been having a great time flicking through and couldn’t wait to tell me all about it.

As I read through the pages, looking at it as a translator, I was struck how challenging and fun this must have been to work on. I got in touch with translator Sarah Klinger to find out more about the process.

How did you come across The Flops?

Claudia Bedrick, publisher at Enchanted Lion Books, offered to let me translate this masterpiece, and I was thrilled when she did. It’s a work that I wish I had written myself! A hilarious anthropology textbook with very sophisticated napkin doodles as illustrations. Basically my dream book. I feel so lucky that I got to work on it.

The FLOPS is one of those books that’s ridiculous in a great way. There’s loads of wordplay in it: “the FLOP is flexible”, “the FLOP is unflappable”, “the FLOP is flippant”, and at one point the FLOP even says “Flip off”. With all that in mind, the name “The FLOPS” seems ingenious. How did you arrive at this solution? Were there any other names and solutions that you considered?

Thank you for saying that– it took us a long time to land on ‘Flops!’ The literal translation of ‘Mou’ (the French name) is actually ‘soft,’ and for a long time the working title of this book was ‘Softies.’ But something soft is often something sweet, and Flops are more silly and mischievous than they are sweet. So we opted for something that is still soft in texture but clumsier and less reliable. Also, every time I typed the word ‘Flopette’ I couldn’t help but giggle.

The text is all over the place, at angles on the page, in speech bubbles, different fonts are used in different places. How did you deal with all that when translating it and still ensure that the publisher got the correct section of text in the right place?

Delphine Durand did all of the hand lettering for the translation, and she speaks excellent English. I agree that the layout might have been very challenging for someone who was not aware of where the text was meant to go.

Were there any other challenges in the book?

The biggest challenge was translating jokes that rhymed or were puns in French. But it was also the most rewarding part. I think I’m proudest of the translations that are the most absurd, like ‘Floppy Joe,’ and ‘Philip Flop.’ I love those guys! Just a couple of casual buddies…

The author, Delphine Durand, is also named as having translated the book with you. How did this work?

Delphine is an excellent English speaker, and we worked closely with her on each draft of the translation. The humor is all very intentional, so it was invaluable to have her clarify what she truly meant to say in some of the interactions between the Flops. It was pleasure to work with her and with Claudia, who put in countless hours as well. I still can’t believe I got to spend my time thinking about how to moisturize a Flop and call it ‘work.’

You are also an illustrator and designer. Do you feel drawn more to children’s illustrated books and are you working on any more fun projects at the moment?

Absolutely. I find children’s books to be the most beautiful and complex of all, especially because illustration is my greatest love. On the design side, I’m currently working on two books for Enchanted Lion. The first, “What is a River?” is written and illustrated by Monika Vaicenavičienė, and the second, “Drawing on Walls,” is written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Josh Cochran. They’re really different books, but each time I open the files and look at the art, I feel such joy. As I said, I am so lucky! Otherwise, I am working on an illustrated book of my own, about a bear who is desperate for ice cream (basically a book about my two year old son).

My nine-year-old son’s favourite FLOP is the “long-haired FLOP”. I love the Flop trying to wear a necklace. Which one is your favourite FLOP?

I think you both have excellent taste. It’s so hard to decide! The Flop who becomes a couch potato from too many potato chips always makes me smile. Otherwise, I agree that the ‘long-haired Flop’ is fantastic. Something about how the part in his hair extends all the way down to his butt! (Or, as the Flop himself would describe it, his derrière!)

With thanks to Sarah and also to Claudia at Enchanted Lion for the review copy.