A few years ago I interviewed a group of immigrants. I hoped to get some ideas I could use in a storybook for kids. Some of the interviewees were persons that I knew already, but the majority were people I met accidentally in meetings, in seminars, in parties or in other gatherings. Consequently, they had very varied backgrounds and very different reasons for leaving their home country and starting a new life elsewhere. Some were university students, professors, artists, refugees, and business people. Interestingly, many had moved because they had met their future husband or wife, a friend for life and decides to move to the country of their new partner.
However, after a while, I got stuck. When I mentioned that I was interested in writing culture related stories for kids, then my interviewees happily started to tell me stories told by their parents or grandparents long ago. These stories had a very strong cultural connection and emotional value indeed, but I knew that libraries are full of books with traditional folktales. To assemble another collection of well-known fairy tales was not what I had in mind. Hundreds of excellent writers had collected folk tales long before me and they had done it better than I ever would do.
I wanted to use the interview material in some other way. In every interview there were details that stood out to me as striking and true; details that were genuine and coming out of a real-life experience somewhere on this planet. I decided to use these sometimes dramatic experiences and to do it in a way that would be both engaging and educational for young readers.
Having written the initial collection of stories in this way, I realized that I was on to something. I could organize the stories into groups based on the big global challenges of today: climate change, search for education and employment, social unrest and need for security, etc. The big global challenges facing mankind today were all present in these interviews! With hindsight, this was not surprising. The world is changing in an unprecedented way and the changes are of course there in the life experiences of all of us, sometimes in the background, sometime in the front as dramatic experiences, sometimes as painful losses.
My fairy tales had become a book for kids about globalization and sustainability! Each story got its background from the challenges of the world today. But instead of frightening the reader I wanted each story to offer a positive and constructive resolution.
The way we – we who are adults today – manage the resources of the planet will determine the living conditions of our children. We all know that. We also know that continued over-consumption of planetary resources will ruin the life for our children when they grow up. Or, do some of us doubt still it? For me, both the simplest and the most convincing indication that mankind is approaching its biggest change ever in its history is the fact that, during my lifetime, the world population has increased more than six-fold. At the same time, the resources of the planet have probably declined. In a nutshell, the recent explosive population growth is the source of the global challenges we are now confronting. When animal populations experience a phase of explosive growth, the population normally collapses to a lower level, because of food shortages and deteriorated habitats. The obvious conclusion is that, with its big brains, mankind must fight this collapse with all its resources.
One way to fight is to become better prepared. I would like my stories to open up at least some concepts of the current and future world to kids, to their parents and to their teachers. I would like my stories to help their readers to develop ideas of how to navigate in this new world. Creative out-of-this-world fantasy books for children are still needed. But more important for me is to make everyone ready for the big change. The immigrants I met showed me one way to do it!
Thanks to all of you!