An Interview on Hispanic Heritage and “Ten Little Puppies/Diez perritos”
By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: September 22, 2011
F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada recently published Ten Little Puppies/Diez perritos, a bilingual bonanza!
F. Isabel Campoy is a scholar devoted to the study of language acquisition. She is a well-known author of numerous children’s books in the areas of poetry, theatre, folktales, biographies, and art. She is the recipient of many notable awards, including the Reading the World Award 2004, for “Cuentos que contaban nuestras abuelitas;” and the Junior Library Guild Premier Selection Award, 2006.
Alma Flor Ada is an internationally published children’s book author. She is the recipient of several prestigious honors, including the Pura BelprÉ Award, the Christopher Award, the JosÉ MartÍ World Award, and the Museum of Tolerance Award.
TCBR: Hispanic culture and bilingual education are both topics that are important to you. Can you share a little on your background and how you became a children’s book writer?
Alma Flor Ada: Culture prepares us to understand the world around us. All cultures evolve, and no culture is perfect, but knowing our roots gives us a sense of community and belonging. The Hispanic culture, a product of multiple heritages, is very rich and has contributed much to the world and to the US society. Latino children have much to learn about their culture. We hope that as they do they will feel enriched by it. When non-Hispanic children learn about our culture they can develop a better understanding of their Latino peers.
Being bilingual has been one of the greatest assets I have enjoyed in life. I wish the same benefit for all children.
I have a strong belief on the importance of family. When children do not acquire, or lose, the ability to speak the language their parents know best, the language they can share feelings, experiences, dreams and beliefs, the parents’ role as educators is eroded and children miss out what should be a valuable part of their heritage.
Ten Little Puppies/Diez perritos is a vibrant rendition of the classic Spanish nursery rhyme, co-authored by F. Isabel Campoy and yourself. Can you tell us about your writing partnership and what connected you both to Diez perritos?
Both of us sang and enjoyed this nursery rhyme as children, Isabel in Spain, and I in Cuba. Later I sang it with my children who enjoyed singing along. At some point my son Miguel made me aware that sad things happened in many nursery rhymes.
Both Isabel and I believe that young children have a right to joy and happiness so, when we decided to adapt Ten Little Puppies for publication we made sure to find better, and not tragic reasons, for the puppies to disappear. And certainly we refused to end the book leaving the protagonist with no puppies and in stead made one of the puppies remain with her.
What age group is it intended for?
There is really no set age for children’s books. We see adults enjoying them as much as children. While, as a reverse counting book, one could imagine it geared to very young children, older children with a love for dogs can delight in Ulises Wensell’s illustrations and the non-fiction information about dog breeds in the back matter.
The musicality of the rhyme and the use of counting seem as though they would lend themselves to a positive learning experience for those crossing over from Spanish to English and vice versa. Would you agree?
Definitely. We already know of children who have learned to recognize numbers in both languages thanks to this rhyme.
Poetry, rhymes, and songs are powerful tools in the acquisition of a second language. This is why we have created Música amiga, a set of 10 CDs with a total of 120 songs, in the voice of Suni Paz; and the reason for our books Mamá Goose, Pío Peep, MuuMoo and Merry Navidad.
Are there any special considerations that must be made when creating a bilingual book?
One of the greatest mistakes made when producing bilingual books is to try to have both languages look as similar as possible. The truth is that a good translation is a new version in another language. Similarities frequently end up in false cognates, words that look similar in two languages but do not have quite the same meaning or are not used in the same situations.
Each language version of a bilingual book should be an excellent version in its own right that could be published as a monolingual book.
You have many published books. Which book from your own esteemed list of published titles would you consider to be the most personally rewarding?
Books can be rewarding for many different reasons.
The Gold Coin gave me the reward of the first national award I received, the Christopler award medal, but furthermore I have received, and continue to receive, extraordinary letters for children who have been moved by this book.
My Name is Maria Isabel touches on a problem of great significance for many immigrants, whether to retain or not their original name or change or Anglicize it. People of all ages continue to tell me that this book reflects their personal story, or the story of someone they know well. And according to teachers is one of the books children enjoy most discussing in class. Since it appears in several reading series many children have had access to it.
Under the Royal Palms and Where the Flame Trees Bloom are books of childhood memories and have given me the opportunity to honor my family. Having children and teachers get to know the story of my extraordinary grandparents has been most meaningful.
How much influence would you say your families have on the books that you create?
A great influence. My grandmother awoke in me the love for poetry, folktales, Greek myths and legends; my father the love for everyday stories as well as stories to explain civilization achievements. My mother provided me with as many books as she could, beginning with her own beloved copy of Heidi.
My children became the great inspiration for stories. Many of the books of the collection Stories the Year ’round were inspired by things they said or did. They have been, and continue to be, my best supporters.
And, of course, my nine grandchildren have been a motivation to continue writing, if nothing else to have enough books to dedicate to each and every one of them.
Which books from your own childhoods would you say have most influenced your life?
So many it would be hard to mention. As an only child, among many adults, Heidi was a constant companion. We share a passionate love for nature and trees, she cherished Peter’s blind grandmother, and I my blind great-grandmother. It made me feel we were soul mates. Then I read, and re-read, and memorized Little Women, convinced Jo was my alter ego. Corazon [Heart] by Edmundo D’Amicis made me cry and dream of heroic deeds, as it did for a large number of Latin Americans my age. I was inspired to not give up ever by Story of a Little Princess and was ready to discover my own Secret Garden and make it beautiful beyond what anyone could dream. Nicholas Nickle taught me compassion, while The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, Ivanhoe, and Salgari’s series on Sandokan, Prince of Malaysia, encouraged me to live life audaciously always striving to bring about justice. At twelve, held in bed by chicken pox and with no new books available, I read an unabridged version of Don Quixote. Unaware of the mystic and the scholarly analysis around the book, I read it for the mere pleasure of it. Laughed a great deal but also cried in earnest and probably discovered, even if not totally aware then, a new alter ego.
Can you give us any hints as to what you’re working on next?
Isabel and I have a forthcoming book Yes! We Are Latinos, which combines free verse portrait of Latino and Latina children of very different backgrounds living in different parts of the country. The non-fiction essays that accompany the portraits tell the history of Latinos.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Books are wonderful friends and their friendship lasts a lifetime. One may lose many things in life, but as long as our memory is intact, nothing will make us lose the friendship we have developed with books.
Books enrich us and give us the opportunity of understanding ourselves, and others, better. From them we can also gain the strength to be more courageous, more generous, kinder, more caring, more authentic… they are tools to learn to live life to its fullness and to be the better person we want to be.
All my best wishes to all who read these words.
Happy readings… Happy trails.
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