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Literature

Folktales and Ancient Plays and Mythology Uplift a Child’s Imagination!

February 3, 2022

Maria Kamoulakou-Marangoudakis is a US-based Greek Archaeologist and Award-Winning Children’s Author. Ever since her childhood in Athens, Maria has loved escaping to the imaginary world of books. A longing to visualize and relive the past led her to an eighteen-year career in archaeology in Greece (Hellenic Ministry of Culture). In 2013, a similar urge prompted Maria to test her writing abilities, and then she created Little Centaur Press in 2018. Her books bridge the gap between picture books and juvenile chapter books. For her themes she searches through Greece’s rich literary tradition and folklore. When not busy writing, Maria enjoys interacting with her readers at book signing events and literary festivals. She is a wildlife lover and adores traveling, meeting people, and learning about new cultures. She lives in New England with her husband, Carl, and their elderly cat, Kit-Kit.

TNH: How did you start writing children’s books?

MK: It was a spur-of-the-moment decision! The idea crossed my mind while I was recovering from a serious health issue in the winter of 2012-2013. You could say it had a therapeutic effect on me at the time.

TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?

MK: There isn’t a particular book that led me to writing, but I did have a favorite one as a child. The Iliad-Odyssey by Sideris publications (ΙλιάδαΟδύσσεια, εκδόσεις Σιδέρης). The title of the English edition is Tales of the Greeks and Trojans. Some of you may have come across it. I was captivated by the story and mesmerized by the illustrations of Anna and Janet Graham Johnston. That book had cast a spell on me and I am still spellbound!

TNH: Which is the source of your inspiration when writing a book? 

MK: Greek culture is a huge driving force behind me. Back in 2013, I made it my goal to familiarize English-speaking children with ancient Greek culture, Greek literature, and traditional Greek folktales with my adaptations. My aim is to reach readers from as many cultural backgrounds as possible, not exclusively kids of Greek descent.

TNH: Do your heroes lead your way through the story or do you decide about their fate? 

MK: This is a very interesting question! So far, my heroes’ fate is predetermined. I have chosen to retell existing folktales and ancient plays, so I can’t completely rewrite the plot, but I am at liberty to play around a little bit… You could say that my heroes dictate their way through the story but they cannot dictate the end. They take me by the hand and gently guide me through pages and pages of text. It’s a fun but tedious procedure that involves many corrections and revisions along the way. In future books, my heroes may become bolder, more daring will and choose their own ending! Who knows?

TNH: Children’s books get the message across regarding social issues. Which is your goal in writing your stories? 

MK: The values that lay hidden behind my stories are those of friendship, brotherhood, peaceful coexistence, perseverance, and resilience. My heroes dream big and, through hard work or mere shrewdness, they succeed in achieving difficult goals! It could be coming together to build a city in the clouds or tackling a problem by using one’s intellect instead of physical force.

TNH: Which are the Greek children’s books you wish you had written?

MK: During my childhood in Athens, in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, life was hard. Children’s books were highly prized items. We received them only as gifts on special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Most of my books were on Greek mythology but occasionally I’d receive a few fairy tales. As a child I worshipped Hans Christian Andersen. There was something about the hardship and human suffering described in his tales that had struck a chord in my heart! The Wild Swans and The Little Match Girl were, and still are, my favorite.

TNH: Which are the most recent books you have published? 

MK: My most recent books are two illustrated chapter books for ages 7-10.

Arthur the Fly-Slayer & the Forty Dragons is a retelling of a traditional folk tale from Gytheio, Laconia. My father heard the original tale from his grandmother and he passed it on to me. To my great surprise, several different versions are documented all over Greece and it may relate to The Brave Little Tailor by the Brothers Grimm. The book celebrates the days and deeds of a lazy, yet resourceful, young man who outsmarts forty dragons and casts them away without a single blow of his sword!

Last July, I released an updated edition of my first book, Sky Cloud City (The Adventures of Hope & Trusty, Book 1). The story is a retelling of the ancient Greek comedy The Birds (Ornithes) by Aristophanes. The plot revolves around friends, a pair of birds and two stray dogs, who travel to the Land of the Birds. Their actions trigger events that benefit the birds, shake up humanity and humble Zeus and the Olympian gods. The 2021 edition of Sky Cloud City recently won the Bronze Medal for Early Readers-First Chapter Books in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.

Both books are available on all amazon sites and at www.mariakamoulakou.com.

TNH: What’s coming up next for you?

MK: It’s time to focus on continuing The Adventures of Hope & Trusty series. If all goes well, the second book should be ready in the summer of 2023. In the meantime, my collaboration with KPHTH Magazine  – of the Pancretan Association of America – is still going strong. My column MINOS Zoiros and ARIADNE Laloussa is a series of short stories for ages 6- 9. The goal is to familiarize children of Cretan descent with their Minoan ancestors and trigger their interest in Cretan culture and history. There are also plans for more books and more stories to tell.

Facebook fb.me/LittleCentaurPress; Website mariakamoulakou.com; Email mkamoulak@gmail.com.

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