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Literature

Charming Bilingual Children’s Book Introduces Kids to Their First Greek Words

January 7, 2020

Bilingual Greek/English children’s books that entertain and educate are a great gift to start off the New Year. The Fabulous Lost & Found and the Little Greek Mouse by Mark Pallis, illustrated by Peter Baynton, is a charming bilingual book that introduces youngsters to their first words in Greek with the delightful story of a little Greek mouse in search of a lost yellow hat.

With enchanting illustrations by Baynton, the book is a must read for little ones ages 2-7, their parents, and yiayia and pappou. Author Mark Pallis spoke to The National Herald about the book, noting that “it uses the ‘Story-Powered Language Learning Method’” and “it’s a really interesting new resource for Greek parents or grandparents who want to introduce kids/ grandkids to the Greek language in a fun and gentle way.”

Of his Greek roots, Pallis told TNH “My father is originally from Kalamata. He was called Panayotopoulos, but then came to the UK as a Doctor in the 1960s and changed his family name to Pallis – still a bit Greek-sounding, but not so Greek! That was the way back then! He now lives in Kifissia, Athens, now aged 81. He really enjoyed reading the story to the grandchildren!”

Pallis is a lifelong lover of language. He was originally a lawyer but switched to the creative sector and devised the award-winning BBC TV drama Garrow’s Law and served as Story Editor over its three series. Since then, Pallis built up 15 years’ experience in communication, branding and storytelling, including as Creative Director of a busy London ad agency, writing episodes for the Daytime Emmy winning Tales of Peter Rabbit and sitting on the Executive Committee of the Children’s Media Foundation. He is represented by the BKS Agency and his first children’s book, Crab and Whale, has been translated into five languages. He lives with his wife and two young children.

Baynton is an animator, director and illustrator based in London. He is the Animation Director of the UK’s Channel 4’s new 2019 Christmas film, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, adapted from Judith Kerr’s classic book. He has been directing short films, music videos and commercials for twelve years, picking up over 25 awards at film festivals around the world along the way. He has also worked as a storyboard artist on the BAFTA winning CBeebies show Sarah & Duck, and in 2017 was the 2D Animation Director for Paddington 2. This year he decided to pursue a long-held desire to illustrate a children’s book, and was enchanted by Pallis’ manuscript for The Fabulous Lost and Found.

Pallis said, “When I was 21, I set up a legal aid clinic for refugees. Sitting in my office in Cairo, I’d meet people from Sierra Leone, Congo, Iraq and Sudan. They’d tell me why they’d fled and I would prepare their cases. But to get to a point where they were willing to share those painful stories, we had to build a relationship of trust. I asked myself, How do I do that: form a bond, show respect, and yet break the ice with a stranger? For me, it was to talk to them in their own language. ‘Aw Di bodi? I would ask clients from Sierra Leone. They’d smile, taken aback, and reply in Krio, ‘Di Bodi fayn.’ Then I’d apologize for my language skills ‘Ah no sabi tok Krio fayn fayn.’ And we’d share a chuckle. Somehow just that simple gesture of wanting to engage, of being seen to be making an effort to make them feel at home was enough to set us off.

“I’ve been like that my whole life. I now speak Italian, French and German and can tell jokes or sing a little song in Tagalog, Greek, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Krio and Kupsabiny (a Ugandan language). I can’t imagine my life without it.

“Today, like never before, I feel we need more of that empathy between people from different countries. This book is an engaging story that I hope kids will love in its own right. But it’s also my way of helping the youngest children, my own included, engage with a foreign language, learn to empathize with strangers and ultimately build a love of languages.”

About the Greek connection, Pallis said, “Publishers tend to concentrate their resources developing books for languages where there are lots of speakers, like Spanish or French. And that means that important, but less commonly spoken languages, are not so well served. I think that’s a shame. Why shouldn’t everyone to be able to have an enjoyable way to introduce a child to their favorite language? Until recently, it wouldn’t have been possible, simply because of the economics of printing and distributing the books. However, advances in technology mean that we can now print books for readers on demand and have them delivered the very next day!

“I’m half Greek and so I wanted to do something that they could share with my own children as well as my cousins! I want every book to be authentic and genuine, and so the mouse’s simple sentences are first translated by one translator, then checked by another, and then finally workshopped by a native speaker just to make sure that everything is correct and feels very natural. It’s certainly a time intensive approach, but it’s worth it. I feel that each book really stands on its own.”

The Fabulous Lost & Found and the Little Greek Mouse by Mark Pallis, illustrated by Peter Baynton, published by Neu Westend Press, will be available on January 15.

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