International Children’s Book Day | 15 April 2020
‘We need more books in Creole, written by Seychellois, for children’
Celebrated every year on or around April 2, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is dedicated to inspiring a love for reading and to call attention to children’s books.
In light of this, Seychelles NATION spoke to Pierre Joseph, director of Performing Arts at the National Conservatoire of Performing Arts (NCPArts) to learn more about children’s books written in Creole by Seychellois.
Seychelles NATION: What are your thoughts on the number of children’s books that are currently available in Creole?
Pierre Joseph: We need more books in Creole, written by Seychellois, for children! Looking for Creole stories in literary form sent me off to the Lenstiti Kreol (Creole Institute), Antigone Bookshop and through the national collections of books.
I have always been curious to find out how many of our stories are already written down, transcribed for plays and illustrated by artists. To my dismay I realised that adaptations of European tales have been made, some local plays have been registered, but very few original stories are published for children.
Altogether I could not count more than 10 books for children published in Seychelles. Out of the few works published, only a limited number of copies could be bought still – as they were either out of print, in private collections or out of stock. I could, however, find more content in the form of adult novels, coffee table publications targeting tourists and books summarising historical facts of Seychelles.
Seychelles NATION: From your research, who write for children and can you briefly talk about their work?
Pierre Joseph: Lorina Barbe of Beau Vallon has a number of short stories, one of which is a collection called ‘SILWET’. This was published by Lenstiti Kreol in 2016; it won the Pri Antoine Abel (Antoine Abel Prize), one of the most prestigious awards for literary works in Seychelles. This book provides for an easy read, I would imagine, for children who are above 12 years old. The text is quite large and each chapter is nicely summarised in an average of ten pages, with sub-titles for each chapter.
I started off with her writing because it illustrates what has been customary in Seychelles – a teacher turned poet and writer, inspired by the environment and island of Silhouette, as well as filling in a need for literary works in Creole. Often, when teachers start working with content issued for their work, they realise that they can contribute and the brave and creative ones make this their hobby.
Many other authors have contributed in similar genre, for instance, Ruben Lespoir's collection of poems in 2013, the collected works of participants in UNESCO's project, ‘Bardzour i Fer’ and several other titles.
Seychelles NATION: What about younger children?
Pierre Joseph: What strikes me however is the earlier work of Marvelle Estrale, ‘Revanz Bann Zanimo’ as it is very well illustrated; it takes the view of animals – something that many children are used to. Giving animals “human” voices is a very normal thing to do as children. They expect animals to have similar feelings, concerns for society and the environment as we do. In fact it is not uncommon for children to have imaginary friends with animal names and clothed in fur! This thirty-page illustrated book was published in 2006 under Lensiti Kreol.
In fact all the books in Creole that I have come across are published by Lenstiti Kreol so we have this organisation to thank for promotion of our language as well as the works of artists. As a Publishing House, it has really put a lot into pushing literary works of writers for publication. Maybe if the Ministry of Education had a publishing house, then I presume more literary works would be published for schools.
For the time being, books to be used in schools are imported and any Creole translations are being done by Lenstiti Kreol. Other publishing houses assist as and when they can, as has been the case with Unesco's programme 2000-2002.
Seychelles NATION: Why is it, in your opinion, important that children read books that are published locally?
Pierre Joseph: Have you seen the faces of children as they eagerly anticipate the conclusions to stories? Have you observed how fun it is for children to learn that animals have habits, emotions and that places beyond our borders have children with similar tastes as theirs?
Many of us, who grew up with books and have been fortunate enough to learn about computers very late, will have this urge to pick up a book before our tablets. Some of the best discoveries and life events are written down and illustrated in books.
Seychelles has some very unique stories of which we share a part; the disappearance of shipping vessels and planes in our oceans, the disasters at sea, the landing of the first aeroplane on Mahé and many more. I feel that these should form the basis of some stories for children and that through this cultural discovery, they can relate better to their identity and find out what makes them special.
- ‘Madanm Mizlen ek Konpanni’, en seri zistwar, poenm ek fars pour zanfan – Lenstiti Kreol 2002
- Kont ek Lezann volumes 1 to 9 – Lenstiti Kreol (volim 8 - zistwar rakonte par Eleonor Finesse, volim 9 par Jeanne Lemiel)
- Lorina Barbe, ‘SILWET’ Lenstiti Kreol 2016
- ‘Revanz Bann Zannimo’ Marvelle Estrale, Lensiti Kreol 2006
- ‘Bardzour i Fer’, en seri zistwar, poenm ek fars pour adolesan – Lenstiti Kreol/Minister Ledikasyon 2002
Compiled by F.P.