Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Author Interview: Katia Novet Saint-Lot
Yesterday, I reviewed Katia Novet Saint-Lot's picture book, Amadi's Snowman, and today, I'm honored to present to you an interview with Katia.
Jill: What inspired you to write Amadi's Snowman?
Katia: My husband was the UNICEF state representative for the South-Eastern region of Nigeria. One evening, he came home, full of stories about young boys quitting school because they preferred to earn quick money doing street business. My character, whose name was Ifeanyi, at the time, was born right then.
Jill: In the book, Amadi doesn't at first realize how important it is to be able to read. Can you talk a bit about why you believe literacy is important?
Katia: Literacy means education, education means freedom, independence, understanding, being able to grow, to expand one's horizons, to stand up for oneself. I grew up with a Spanish mother who never went to school until the age of 40, when she finally learned to read and write. My father had to quit school when he was 15 to earn a living, in spite of his teachers having tried to convince his parents to let him continue with his studies. He did go back to school after I was born, studying at night for years, and he did well for himself. I suppose my background made me realize certain things, early in life. The way people treated my mother in shops because she was a foreigner, and obviously not very educated, for instance. These things had a profound impact on me, as a child. Having lived in several developing countries, I also have and continue to see the way uneducated people are taken advantage of by those who were lucky enough to have the means to get an education. Education opens doors. The lack of education keeps people from moving up the social ladder.
Jill: By the book's end, Amadi is excited about learning how to read. Do you think that children who love to read get a bigger benefit from reading than the ones who merely read because they have to for school? Why?
Katia: That's an interesting question. I suppose you get a bigger benefit simply because you take pleasure in doing it. I'm pretty much an autodidact, and one thing I've learned over the years is that it is so much easier to learn quickly and efficiently when you like a subject, when you're motivated. If books give you pleasure, then, it seems to me that what you read will have an impact on you, will stay in your mind, as opposed to kind of entering your brains from one side, and getting right out the other.
Jill: What advice can you give parents and teachers for helping children learn to love reading?
Katia: I'm not sure I have any qualification to answer that question, but having books around and reading to children, reading stories that spark their interest and curiosity, that get them involved, that make them feel concerned, that move them, fascinate them, all these would seem like good ways to foster a love for reading. Just like Amadi.
Jill: I see in your bio that you have two daughters. Do you read together as a family?
Katia: I read a lot to my daughters, yes. I wouldn't say as a family, because they are four years apart, and the oldest can now read books on her own. But the little one has inherited all her sister's books, and the older one still loves me to read for her. Or we read one page, she reads the following, etc.
Jill: What are some of your daughters' favorite books?
Katia: There again, it depends on the age. My older daughter loved Dr. Seuss's "M. Brown can Mow" as a baby and a toddler. I knew it by heart. I also read her Anastasia Suen's "Baby Born" a million times at least. And we both loved Robert Munsh's "Love you Forever." I actually composed a little tune to go with the song in the book, and I still sing it to them at night time. Kora also loves "Bringing Asha Home," by Uma Krishnaswami. It's a lovely book, and there is an Indian baby, and we live in India. She's starting to read longer books, now. She seems to be very visual, so illustrations, art, graphics really catch her eye. As for the little one, she's never really had a favorite book so far. She'll ask me to read the same one several nights in a row, and then, it will be another, and another.
Jill: What message do you hope to send to children who read Amadi's Snowman?
Katia: Apart from the obvious message about the glory and magic of books, and how they open doors, I think that I also wanted to show a child in a different setting. Something familiar to a western child, like snow, can be totally foreign to another. And yet, Amadi is such an universal character. He's stubborn, slightly defiant, in a hurry to grow up, and also immensely likable because he's smart, and curious, and wise enough, in the end, to change his mind.
Jill: Do you have any plans for future books?
Katia: I have stories going around, absolutely. And several projects in the draft stage. Keeping my fingers, toes, and eyes crossed :)
Thanks so much for stopping by Katia, and I wish you the best of luck with all of your future endeavors!
Be sure to come back on Friday for an interview with Dimitrea Tokunbo, the illustrator of Amadi's Snowman.