Vassiliki Roumeliotou is a gifted author with a thoughtful and caring heart who cares deeply about the well-being of children. She is the writer of a children’s book, published in Greece and Spain, on self-protection, about which she organizes seminars for children, parents, and teachers. Having studied for her Bachelor's Degree at the University of Athens, Greece, she holds a Master of Education in Inclusion and Special Educational Needs from the University of Birmingham, England. Roumeliotou is a PhD student at the University of Crete. Where her research interest is autism and sexuality. She teaches ancient and modern Greek language, literature, and history at secondary special schools.
Her email is [email protected] and we are pleased to present here our interview:
The National Herald: How did you start writing/illustrating children’s books?
Vassiliki Roumeliotou: A few years ago, I attended a Parents’ School, organized by Nikolas Kyparissos, psychologist and Professor at the University of Thessaly, Greece. At one of the meetings, a group of parents informed us that a man went to their children’s school during recess and asked some of the children to follow him out of the school so that he could take them on a ride with his motorbike and buy them ice cream. Some of the children tried to get out of the schoolyard and to follow the man. The teachers that were at the schoolyard didn’t allow that, of course. The parents did not know how to talk to their children about strangers and how dangerous it is to follow one. I then suggested that I could find a book about the matter and we could all read it to our children both at school and at home. Everyone liked the idea but it turned out very difficult to find such a book. I was very surprised that there were no books about self-protection to help parents, teachers, and children learn basic rules. So, I decided to write one!
TNH: Which book is the one that influenced you in starting writing?
VR: It was not a specific book. It was the need for a book about self-protection that inspired me.
TNH: How long does it take you to write a book?
VR: Well, at first, I think of the book so much that eventually, I have a very good picture of what I will write and of how it will look. This can take some time. Once I have it ready in my mind, I then need a week or two to put the story on paper and help the illustrator understand what I need of her. And then I need even more time to prepare the lesson plans, the advice, and the activities that will accompany the story.
TNH: What is the source of your inspiration when writing a book?
VR: I usually decide to write a book once I want to teach something and I can’t find a book to help me do that. I write the educational tools that I need. The lack of social knowledge that I observe around me inspires me.
TNH: How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
VR: The illustration is very important. Maria Sinanoglou did a great job! The children’s gaze is captured by Maria’s beautiful pictures. The illustration is also very clever and gives us the opportunities to ask interesting and very important questions on every page. For example, the shark hides his teeth, the suspicious man keeps his hands in his pockets, and the woman wears a dress with extremely long sleeves that hide her arms. So, we can keep a strong interest while reading the book aloud by asking questions such as “do you notice anything peculiar?” and “Why do you think he/she might be hiding his/her arms?”
And then, what makes a book interesting is to talk about something that the readers need. Knowing what to do when a stranger asks you to follow him is the knowledge that children need to understand and appreciate its importance. Being able to anticipate how the suspicious stranger is going to lure us or trick us into following him/her is also very important to know and both children and parents understand that and they want to know. Knowledge is power and helps us grow and feel confident about ourselves and that we are going to be able to manage if needed.
TNH: Do your heroes lead your way through the story or do you decide about their fate?
VR: Well, my book is not a fairytale. It’s a pedagogical tool with specific teaching aims. I decide their fate because I want to demonstrate the ways someone will try to harm us and teach what we should do to avoid that.
TNH: How do you connect with your little readers and the writing community in general?
VR: In association with my publisher, Papyros Books, we come in contact with schools, municipalities, and parents’ associations to inform them of the book and its benefits. We then organize seminars with parents and teachers to talk with them about self-protection and to help them address the issue with their children/students. Also, we visit schools and I work with the children myself using my book which gives me all the tools I need to address the matter in various, effective, interesting, and fun ways. It’s funny that we talk about such a scary topic but children go home and tell their parents that they had the time of their life playing with my baby seal! And, of course, they learn. You can’t learn unless you‘re having fun and unless you realize this is the knowledge you need.
TNH: Children's books get the message across regarding social issues. What is the goal of writing your stories?
VR: I want to give children the social knowledge they lack. I want to offer them the opportunity to play with this knowledge, to sing it, to dance with it, and to act it out. Only then will they be able to absorb it and use it when necessary. That’s why the book comprises not only the story but also a song by Nassos Kavathas that the children can sing and dance to. Besides, there are masks of the heroes in the book so that they can draw and/or cut out to play the story. Children can also listen to the story. They can hear the heroes speak and understand their feelings and intentions by listening to Aris Lanarides’ great music. You can play and have fun for many hours with the children using the tools the book offers.
TNH: Which are the Greek children’s books you wish you had written?
VR: Oh, two books I would love to have written are: The fugitives of the Laundry, by Flora Sartzetaki (Papyros Books) and The Boy Who Read Books to Chickens’ by Sophia Mantouvalou (Patakis Books)
Amazing books…both recently published.
TNH: Which are the most recent books you have published?
VR: The book Don’t Go, Baby Seal!’ is my first one.
TNH: What's coming up next for you?
VR: Well, I have two new books I am preparing for. One is about self-protection again because I feel there are more things to be said about the matter, and the other one is about teaching democracy and respect at the Kindergarten!
TNH: Do you have any advice for aspiring picture-book authors?
VR: Oh, I don’t feel I am the right person to advise new authors but I would like to tell them to be patient, persistent, audacious – and to enjoy the process! It’s worth it.