The trickiest question you can ask Elisavet Arkolaki and her family is ‘Where are you from?’ because they are from everywhere. It has been of great concern to her 'how do you answer this question when a child is ‘from’ multiple countries, can speak and understand many languages, and is not living in the country they were born in?' Thus, she wrote a story titled 'Where am I from?' and children love to see the diversity of the world that is beautifully portrayed using real-life graffiti art that is unique to this book. She's also the curator of the guide 'How to Raise Confident Multicultural Children' written with full chapter contributions by experts in the field. It's available on Amazon.
One can subscribe to her newsletter http://eepurl.com/dvnij9 "It includes lots of fun activities, and it has been developed by Marcie Colleen whose highly-acclaimed Teacher's Guides have been recognized by School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and the Children's Book Council. Elisavet blogs on www.maltamum.com
The full interview follows:
The National Herald: How did you start writing children's books?
Elisavet Arkolaki: I started writing children's stories as a kid, and then as I was growing up, I experimented with different genres. I've worked for instance as a correspondent for magazines, I've written articles for the press, I've been blogging since my early twenties and written a couple of adult short stories, and I work with translations. It was only after becoming a mom that I went back to writing children's stories.
TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?
EA: It's hard to talk about just one book or just books in that matter. It's been a lifelong process of growing fond of words and writing in different forms. I grew up in Athens, Greece, and naturally, my first experience with was reading books in Greek by local authors. I also got introduced to international literature from early on thanks to the translated editions, and I remember the Pollyanna series of Eleanor Porter and the book Pollyanna Grows Up in particular, having a tremendous impact on my way of thinking. I was fascinated by Polyanna's game of joy and how she trained her mind to be able to find something positive no matter the circumstances. Another author that really inspired me was Roald Dahl. I read countless times his books Matilda, The BFG, and The Witches. In the summers though, I never read novels. I would fully immerse myself in the world of comic books and kids' magazines during the midday siesta.
TNH: Where do the ideas for your books come from?
EA: My strongest skill in writing is synthesizing stuff that are seemingly unrelated. Let's take Where am I from? as an example. In 2009, my now-husband and I were backpacking. During a bus ride in Australia, and while I was listening to a local radio station, a journalist asked tourists where do they come from. I heard them answer all sorts of cities and countries, that is till the journalist approached a mom and her young boy. “So, where do you come from,” he asked the boy, and he replied the obvious, “I come from my mum’s belly.” It was so simple, so truthful, so powerful.
When I became a mom myself, and we started pondering over identity issues (mixed heritage family), I realized this could be used as a starting point (actually as the epilogue) to develop a fun children’s story that tackles this. Then, I chose to weave into the story countries from all 6 inhabited continents, and the choice was made based on countries that mean something to me, like Malta and Norway in Europe which are the countries where our children have been born. I brought in mythical and real-life elements to further enhance the story.
When it comes to the illustrations, I've always loved street art, and a fun fact is that my very first commissioned magazine feature was about a female street artist. Now, my first children's book has been illustrated by a street artist. Platon painted 18 unique life-size murals, most of them in public primary schools, just for this book!
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
EA: It varies; the process can be very slow. A children's book first draft might come quickly within a few days, other times it might take more than a year. Then, we have the refinement process which typically results in many more drafts.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
EA: I narrate it to kids and/or ask other people to read it out loud to their own kids. With this method, I can see right away at which parts the kids lose interest and go back and make changes.
TNH: What about the process of editing and working with the illustrator?
EA: I typically work with an editor first, and then the illustrator takes over. The editing process starts with developmental editing which means that the whole story is broken down into pieces, and re-structured in a very different way. More often than not, the illustrator will fill in the gaps and solve issues that the words can't, following the method 'show, don't tell.'
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
EA: Mainly online. I live in a small city in Norway.
TNH: Which are the Greek children's books you wish you had written?
EA: One of my favorite childhood fairytales is 'I Pastritsa ke i Vromitsa', written by Maria Veleta-Vasileiadi and illustrated by Peny Fotopoulou. It's a very old book that’s out of print.
TNH: What's next for you?
EA: There's one more children's book on the pipeline, Sunny's Magical Headband, which will be published later on in 2020 by Faraxa Publishing.
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
AE: Read tons of contemporary picture books and see market trends. Study the industry, because if you'd like to see your story turned into a book, you need to be able to see it as a product. Why should a publisher invest in your book? And if you'd like to self-publish, see it as a product. How can you recoup your costs at the bare minimum? Embrace lifelong learning, nurture your passion, persevere, and have fun with it.