Synopses & Reviews
An Interview with author, Lynn Reiser
Q. As the author of three bilingual books, most recently "The Lost Ball, La pelota perdida, could you give us some background on why you want to write in both English and Spanish?
A. My interest in bilingual books reflects my interest in how people communicate with each other across barriers— whether of culture or generation or language. I am drawn to bilingual books in part because I am fluent in only one language and wish so much that I were multilingual. In my books speakers of each language are equally advantaged and disadvantaged. The books are written as plays so that readers will experiment with them, exchanging roles, trying out both languages, teaching each other. I think there is a need for books that not only demonstrate a new language or describe an unfamiliar culture but also address the process of reaching out across differences.
Q. You combined photography with art in "Earthdance and in your latest book, "The Lost Ball, La pelota perdida. What brings you to the decision to combine media?
A. Photography offers a unique way to convey emphasis and exact detail. I decided to use NASA photographs of space in "Earthdance. The photographs appealed to me because they looked exactly the way I imagine space to be. It was satisfying to be able to include them. (More frequently, one image is in my mind and another on the page.)
In creating "Earthdance, I remembered a childhood game where my paper dolls "traveled" across the pages of illustrated books. The use of photographs in "Earthdance achieves a similar effect. The contrast of the watercolor drawings with the photographs emphasizes the mystery of space.
In "TheLost Ball, La pelota perdida, the colored photographs of balls contrast with the black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings, calling attention to the balls as objects. This invites the reader to interact with the book on another level— finding the balls and naming them— as well as on following the story. The design of the endpapers reinforces this— matching pictures of the balls and their names in two languages becomes a game.
Q. You frequently use patterns— rows and columns— in your illustrations, to great effect. The symmetry of the art in "The Lost Ball, La pelota perdida is noteworthy. What inspired this?
A. My use of patterns reflects my fascination with similarities and differences and the appeal of things that are the same but different. I find orderly disorder calmly exciting. Picture books are like quilts. In traditional quilt patterns, something new is created by combining bits and pieces of something old in an orderly way. One pattern becomes many unique quilts. Picture books, too, represent variations within a pattern. Because they have a set number of pages and a conventional format, they are, like quilts, limited and defined by the practical limitations of manufacture— as well as by cultural expectations and the vision of the creator. Using patterns and symmetry— rows, columns, reflections, repetitions— is a way of expressing complexity within a predictable structure.
Making a picture book is like making up a game, then playing it. Selecting particular patterns is like adding new rules to the game. Rules may encourage creativity by imposing restraints that demand new solutions. In the creation of a book, happysurprises often emerge while the author is confronting situations that block familiar or conventional responses. For this reason, encountering a problem can be useful— it forces new ways of thinking and novel solutions.
Q. Were there different sources of inspiration for your three bilingual books?
A. I first began to think about bilingual children s books when I was asked to act as a project advisor for a Japanese student studying graphic design. After the assignment— a bilingual picture book— was finished, I continued to think about issues we had discussed. I wanted to write a book in two languages that would not privilege either language. I also wanted it to be difficult or impossible to read in only one language, and to invite the reader to engage both languages equally and simultaneously. In searching for an answer to this question, I set myself another question— how do children who speak different languages make friends? With this on my mind, I saw two sets of parents and children interacting in a video store— two polite adults trying to ignore each other, absorbed in choosing videos, and at their knees two children busy making friends. In my imagination, the video store became a park, and the interactions— now bilingual— became the central images of "Margaret and Margarita, Margarita y Margaret.
"The Lost Ball, La pelota perdida began as a companion book to "Margaret and Margarita, Margarita y Margaret. I began imagining two boys playing cowboys in the same park. However, it was not possible to find one Spanish translation for "cowboy." (The images I first sketched for this book later became "Best Friends ThinkAlike— a book about two girls playing horses and riders.) Meanwhile, I kept thinking about two boys playing. Finally my nephew s interest in "all kinds of balls, and my dog s lack of talent for accurate retrieving came together in "The Lost Ball, La pelota perdida.
"Tortillas and Lullabies, Tortillas y cancioncitas also began as a companion book. While working on "Cherry Pies and Lullabies, conversations with a Japanese friend and a Latin friend about our mothers and grandmothers inspired the idea of similar books about the continuity of family and tradition in other cultures. I could imagine these books, but I hoped to find artists who had grown up in each of those cultures to provide accurate and evocative illustrations in a style appropriate to each tradition. The inspiration for "Tortillas and Lullabies, Tortillas y cancioncitas was an exhibit of art by the Corozones Valientes, a group of women from Costa Rica who had learned to paint as part of a Peace Corps project. Depictions of their lives became the illustrations for the book. "Tortillas and Lullabies, Tortillas y cancioncitas is intended to be read with its "twin" "Cherry Pies and Lullabies. This offers a chance to learn that not only languages and generations but cultures are alike as well as different. In my imagination, as illustrators appear, a series of companion books— some bilingual— about other cultures will follow. What drew you to the children s book field?
A. I have never stopped being interested in children s picture books. I began loving them as a child— a child who was first constantly read to, then constantly reading. I loved the words, and I loved thepictures. I always drew, and I always wanted to be an artist. And I was always interested in nature. I expressed all of this in science classes, learning, observing, and recording. This path led me to becoming a physician. I continued to make drawings and paintings for my own pleasure and for friends. One day, a friend, the songwriter and singer Tom Chapin, asked me to illustrate a book about his children s songs. It was fun. After I finished the drawings, I hoped that someone would ask me to illustrate a children s story. No one did. Finally I made up a story myself that I thought did not need words. I sent a wordless dummy to Greenwillow Books. Susan
This bilingual children's book, Spanish/English, is a fun way to introduce simple words and phrases in both languages and is sure to be a welcome resource at home and in schools and libraries.
Margaret speaks English but not Spanish. Margarita speaks Spanish but not English. Can they still play? Of course they can Join two girls who aren't about to let anything spoil their fun.
Lynn Reiser's Margaret and Margarita/Margarita y Margaret has been used by generations of young learners. As a five-star review from a teacher put it: I would say this book is a MUST for bilingual classrooms.
Margaret and Margarita
Margarita Y Margaret
Margaret speaks English but not Spanish. Margarita speaks Spanish but not English. Can they still play? Of course they can! Join two robust girls who aren't about to let anything spoil their fun.
Margaret and Margarita
Margarita Y Margaret
Margaret speaks English but not Spanish. Margarita speaks Spanish but not English. Can they still play? Of course they can Join two robust girls who aren't about to let anything spoil their fun.
About the Author
Lynn Reiser is the author of many popular books for children. She is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University and practices psychiatry in New Haven, Connecticut. She lives in a house in a garden in a forest in a town on the planet Earth.
In Her Own Words...
"I am a psychiatrist. Much of my time is spent practicing and teaching at Yale Medical School. In recent years I have also found pleasure in making books for children.
"My books start out as images and sketches and evolve as I draw them. Out of the art comes a dialogue, and from this the story emerges. Putting a picture book together is like playing a game-there are rules and surprises. The book must have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and fit into a set number of pages and a particular size.
"I draw wherever and whenever I have time-waiting in a train station, sitting by a stream, even on an airplane. Sometimes I begin sketches for a book years before I have a complete story or text. I draw the whole book in whatever order the images come, then I cut and paste the drawings until they fit. I listen for the rhythm of the words and of the pictures-once I sense it, it becomes another guide and constraint. The finished book is always a surprise.
"I always knew I liked to draw. I did not know that I liked to write until after I began to do it. One of the first books I submitted to Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow Books was the wordless dummy for Bedtime Cat. I asserted that the words were obvious. Susan said, "Then write them down." Through this process of "writing them down" I became a writer. Now I collect interesting words and phrases as well as sketches, and play with words as I play with images.
"I like to learn as much as I can about nature, the world, and people. Studying biology and medicine and psychology satisfies my curiosity about these subjects, and practicing psychiatry and teaching fulfill my wish to work with people and to help them. At first glance this sort of work may seem very different from the process of making picture books. But I feel that it is similar in that much of what I do as a physician is help others to express themselves, to discover their own stories, and to fit them together to make more sense of their lives. Words and dream images appear in my work every day. Metaphors and stories are part of communicating with students and patients.
"I have learned to trust that whatever comes to mind and hand is likely to be relevant and useful, no matter how silly it may seem at first.
"Making books is hard work, but it is a joy."