Source : Times of India
Popular Israeli children’s author Mirik Snir published her first book in 1982 and since then she has published a hundred more. A winner of the 2009 National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Gold Award, Snir’s picture books, poems and stories for infants, toddlers and young readers are aimed to help them communicate better. She believes that just like kids learn to talk on their own, with appropriate children’s literature they can teach themselves to read naturally and enrich their communication skills.
Snir is a mother of nine children, a grandmother of several kids and has a degree in the field of special education, all of which inspire her writings. The author was in India for the Times Literature Festival Bangalore recently. We caught up with Mirik Snir for an exclusive interview wherein she spoke about her work and the importance of good children’s literature. Excerpts:
What inspired you to write your first book?
The first book which I wrote was about my first daughter who was trying to teach herself to speak. Her father used to work with the cows in a shed and he drove a tractor at that time, so tractor was an important word for her and she tried to say it. But then she would try saying it as garbled words. So I started to sing her a story which I wrote in a book (the wheel story)— ‘one girl said actor, her mom told her to say tractor. One girl said tactor, her mom said say tractor, mom and dad say to her say tractor’. The song goes on until the child learnt to say the word correctly. When you read this book, you can see that everybody accepts what the child says—nobody says “don’t say that, say this”. And when she learns to say more like adults, more people can understand her. When she finally says the word tractor correctly, we tell her now say the word helicopter. So we don’t finish with one word in the book… it’s a long task.
The things which I experienced with my children, things that they asked me about were all inspirations for my stories. While some childhood incidences stayed between the families, others developed some more and were published in my books. It took me at least 10 years of telling stories to my children, writing them, giving stories for illustrations when they finally came out in my books. We had so many stories in the house but I didn’t think I will become a writer till it reached a point when I understood that these stories should come out and be published because a lot of children are interested in such a book. Especially boys whom I think have fewer books that girls in our society. For me writing a book is writing for both children and adults at the same time.
Which is your favourite book from your childhood?
I really like Kadia Molodovsky’s works. She was a children’s author at a time when Jews were forced to live in a ghetto and they were very poor. Kadia was a kindergarten teacher and she was an excellent writer. The children who came to her used to be hungry and frightened, but she used to tell them stories which would transport them to beautiful imaginary places. She wrote in Yiddish—a language in which a lot of Jews in Europe used to talk. I read her books as a kid and later I translated her books when I became an author. I think she understood children really well; she related to them so beautifully.
How can parents raise their children to be readers?
Parents need to understand that children not only love to hear stories but they also like to read the stories themselves, even if they don’t know how to read. For example, when a little boy doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle he will still try to do so and we help him by providing the extra wheels to ride the bicycle. Similarly, children’s books should be such that they can read them on their own even if initially they don’t understand the illustration or remember the text and repeat it while turning the pages. We have to let children feel that we really appreciate them reading; this is how they become readers who will value themselves in the process.
I think children are very talented—look at how they teach themselves to talk! So why not let them teach themselves to be able to read as well. When a 5-year-old picks a book with less text we might discourage them by saying that it is a baby’s books—the kid, on the other hand, wants this book because that is the only way s/he can continue developing their reading skills naturally.
It’s important for children to have books with little text, rhyming text and good illustrations. That will help them in their way, in their time, to learn how to read. I really don’t recognise the concept of teaching your children how to read. I think children should be the ones who should pick the books while we should just be there to give them the right conditions to succeed.
And good illustrations also help children in reading…
Of course! The illustrations help children in understanding where to turn the pages, in remembering the texts and aids in reading. In my books, I also like the illustrations to tell additional stories which are not originally present in the texts, but when kids see if they start to talk and you’ll notice that no two kids say the same thing.
If the parents sit and listen to their child, they will get to know a lot about them— if the child is afraid about anything, what they want, how they feel, etc. So, reading children’s books together is really very important for parents.
As a children’s writer, what is the most rewarding thing for you?
That, I can bring a change in the parent-child relationship in a family…
For example, my latest book ‘An Egg for Shabbat’ is a story of a young boy who is asked by his mother to get an egg, but each time he fails by breaking it in different ways until he learns how to handle it with care. When parents and children read this book together and the next time when something similar happens to them, the parents will be more patient and forgiving towards their child. They will understand that learning is a process and we don’t succeed in it immediately; we have to fail because knowledge is gained through experience.
Was it easy or tough to get your stories published in Israel?
I think I was lucky to get published at a time when we didn’t have so many books. Back then, if you met a known publisher and had a good script, then they would take it. By the next time, they already knew your work as it got good reviews.
But these days it is harder to get published because there are many writers. I don’t think the quality is really better than what it was earlier. Now a days if a publisher would not take your book, you can self-publish it and it will be available in the stores. But many times the audience can’t really see the difference between books that are really valuable and those which are colourful and beautiful but don’t have great content.
How long does it take you to write a book?
A very long time! The first book that I published took me more than 10 years to finish writing it… I have some books that took me more than 20 years to finish working on them… And I have only a handful of books which I wrote in less than a year.
I take writing my books very seriously. I check my story with children, with parents, and of course in my family with people whose opinions I appreciate. If it is a book of rhymes then I sometimes have to wait till I find the perfect word which fits in the sentence, and that can take a long time.