IN ORDER TO MAKE CHILDREN HAPPY…

Interview

“NOTES OF A BUCK-TOOTHED OBSERVER” by BEHİÇ AK

“Their relationships with books is what improves children.”

Behiç Ak, recently added a new one to his children’s novels enriched with his masterly drawings, all of which are reflecting the rich inner worlds of children, their curiosity and their way of questioning the life: “Notes of a Buck-Toothed Observer” (Tavşan Dişli Bir Gözlemcinin Notları). Based on his new novel, we talked about children’s literature with him.

In your latest book “Notes of a Buck-Toothed Observer” (Tavşan Dişli Bir Gözlemcinin Notları), you are again unifying children with animals and nature. This is quite a different fiction though. Besides being quite up-to-date with the problematic it is focusing on, it’s written with a somewhat sharp language. How did you decide to set up your story this way?

Actually, I always like to write multilayered stories. Just like the life… I’m inviting my readers to situations which include many complicated problems intertwined with each other, but easy to perceive; just like the life itself. The realities of daily life which seem simple and ordinary but filled with questionings and abstractions as you create the psychological changes, are attracting my attention. And of course, our relationship with nature is the most fundamental reality.

Nowadays, the relationship we establish with nature turns out to be the relationship of a barbarian with the civilization. In my book, I tried to tell the the violence caused by moving away from nature, by using the themes of hunting and war. I fictionalized that the relation between hunting and war is not as innocent as we think. Eventually, a very fun story came out, extending from hunting to war, and to the space which is turned into a cliché by anti-utopia.

MY PRIORITY IS IMPROVING THE READING PLEASURE

What is your priority while writing children’s books?

On top of all, I pay importance to improving the reading pleasure of children. We don’t have the right to make early readers read boring books. At the same time we need to treat them as real intellectuals. Not like a culprit to whom we are continuously giving advices. Making the reading experience creative and promoting is possible only by taking the readers seriously.

The most useful education is to let the children to improve themselves. Children literature feeds the faith in children that they can be the “masters of their own lives”. If the story you wrote for children is close to being a piece of art in terms of its literary value, the child reader establishes an intellectual connection with it.

Of course accepting the reader as an individual brings along the need of accepting their criticisms. I strongly believe that the world needs today more than ever those criticizing eyes wandering along the lines of a book. An individual is not a loneliness monument who is taking a backseat with the belief that he/she cannot change the world, but just on the contrary, is the one who knows he/she can change the world. It’s the relationship they build with the books is what improves children. There is no doubt that presenting this opportunity to children saves them from becoming anonymous patterns and helps them to become individuals.

WRITING FOR CHILDREN MEANS WRITING FOR ADULTS TOO

How your approach of writing for children while at the same time calling out to adults developed in time?

Writing for children means writing for adults too. And just the opposite has right sides as well. Writing for adults means writing for children too. Many literature books written for adults are based on childish thoughts.

My children’s books story has started in 1980’s by making picture books for preschool kids. For this age group, a book is something they consume many times, just like a toy. A world that is changed and renewed every time. Sometimes adults have difficulties in understanding this world. They may feel bored of having the same book at hand several times again and again, and they lose touch with the child. That’s why I always tried to find stories and perspectives which will be enjoyed by adults as well. When I started to write and illustrate books for the age group of 9-14, I continued with the same approach. Adults who read my books always tell me how much they are surprised when they read and like my books a lot! Some adults do it to understand how their book-hater kids began to enjoy reading books and just out of curiosity they take and secretly read their books. When they find out that the story is appealing also for them, they are really surprised.

The art which creates a relationship medium between the child and the adult has a liberating function here. Children’s literature is opening a new door for both children and adults by freeing them from stereotypes. This is an unbelievable “growing up” opportunity for adults!

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE IS A PART OF EDUCATION

What are the criticisms you receive from children?

They usually criticize the fact that here is an end to the story they liked. I mean, ending the story at one point. They always ask me questions like, “Will the story continue?” “And, what happens next?” “What did the characters do afterwards?” Some children on the other hand are never interested in the story, but rather in finding a practical problem, a mistake. What makes me most excited is to see that my books are encouraging children to write stories.

In your opinion, how does the primary education system in our country effect the children’s perspective about books?

Unfortunately, the quality of primary school education is continually decreasing due to political conflicts. Luckily, children can still get something out of this system thanks to idealistic teachers. Furthermore, something very important has happened during the last 10-15 years. It’s understood that children’s literature is a part of children’s education. In the past, it was seen as you can educate the children only with educational books. Those were the kind of books giving advises rather than knowledge. This understanding is over now. Those students who have qualified teachers are tending towards children’s literature. This is a very important development for Turkey. In a society of adults who are afraid of reading, the increasing number of children who enjoy reading is what makes us hopeful about future.

Translation: Banu Ünal, Hasret Parlak