NCRCL Distance Learning MA student, Flávia Lins e Silva, writes about her experience visiting the Roehampton Library and explains the inspiration behind many of her children’s books.
THE MAGICAL HAMMOCK
By Flávia Lins e Silva
This summer, I visited the Roehampton campus with my character, Pilar, and was really impressed with the library. Books by J.M. Barrie that I have never heard of before and the amazing collection of Richmal Crompton! Wow! If you are near this library, you are lucky! But I live in Brazil and, as a distance learner on my second year of the Children’s Literature MA, I could only spend a day there.
I was on my way to the Gothenburg Book Fair where Pilar had a meeting with Pippi Longstocking and the Moomin family! Well, in fact, I was going to give a speech about ‘how we get interested in other cultures’. In my Pilar’s Diary series, the main character travels with a magical hammock to Greece, Egypt, Nigeria, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon (illustrated by Joana Penna). On each trip, she hears local stories, local myths, languages, and recipes and the adventure transforms her.
I am a Brazilian Children’s writer from what I would call the 3rd generation. First, we had the generation of Monteiro Lobato, who created Sítio do Picapau Amarelo and the famous Emilia doll. Then came the 2nd generation of writers like Lygia Bojunga and Ana Maria Machado, both winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Prize. Now the third generation, the one I am included in, and that has talents like Luciana Sandroni, Bia Hetzel, Mariana Massarani, and the great Roger Mello who just won the Hans Christian Andersen for Illustration.
When I was young, only a few books were translated in Brazil and we had to import expensive books from Portugal to read stories like The Hobbit. Now, many books that are considered classics in the U.K. are finally arriving in Brazil. (And we can buy e-books, what a revolution!).
I believe we can discover a new culture with many senses. With our ears: hearing a music from Cape Vert, for example. With our mouths: tasting a delicious curry from India… And travelling. But travelling is still unaffordable to many people. So a way to travel is through stories, page by page, book by book.
When I write a book, I normally choose a subject that is totally new to me. I live in Rio de Janeiro and when I went to the Amazon for the first time I discovered an entire new culture there, with fruits, fishes, and colours that I had never seen before. In the Amazon, many newborn children sleep in a hammocks not in cradles, many children have to take a boat to go to school. The river is the main road, the river provides food, transportation, and information. It’s a floating existence and that is what I tell in my book Mururu in the Amazon – a travel on the Amazon.
In another book, The Tea Letters, that I wrote with a Chinese writer Liu Hung, we tell the stories of two girls who have divorced parents. One lives in Brazil, the other in China and they discover how their grandparents met in the past. Together, Liu Hong and I discovered each other’s country and culture as I have never been to China and she has never been to Brazil. Writing was our way to travel to each other’s culture.
Now that we see many immigrants leaving their countries for several reasons, with old borders being pushed, it could be interesting to encourage children to discover books from all over the world. As you know, only 3% of all books published in English language are translations. Books should travel more and they will. I love ‘The British Library’ created by artist Yinka Shonibare, who grew up between London and Lagos, Nigeria, and made shelves of books covered in African fabrics, showing all the colours that immigrants can bring to a library when they move from one place to the other. Sometimes immigrants arrive in a new land with almost nothing. Nothing…but unforgettable stories that should be heard.
Flávia Lins e Silva is a writer and scriptwriter who has written more than 10 books for children and young readers. Among them is the series of books Pilar’s Diary in Greece, Pilar’s Diary in Egypt, Pilar’s Diary in the Amazon, Pilar’s Diary in Machu Picchu, and Pilar’s Diary in Africa – translated into German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Her book Mururu in the Amazon, published by Manati, won the National Brazilian Prize for Best Book for Young Readers in 2011, and is now in the White Raven Library in München as well as in the Library of Congress in the United States and at the Bibliotèque National de Paris. In 2011, Flavia finished her post graduate degree in Children’s Literature at Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona and now is doing her MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton University. She also writes for TV, creating two books and a programme for children at Gloob Channel called The Detectives of the Blue Building, which is at the eighth season.