A fish in foreign waters- a book for bilingual children-

Munichmom is continuing her quest : smart books for smart kids 🙂
Our paths crossed  with  a beautiful and talented young author, who resides in England who is, however,  a full-fledged Italian. Her book touched the right spot ( new job/new language?) and the idea that when you double the languages you double the friends , stayed with me until today ! Munichmom was lucky enough to Skype with Laura for a few hours after the kids were in bed. With a glass of wine in our hands. Literally.

MM : Munichmom

LCW: Laura Caputo-Wickham

MM  How did your book come to life?

LCW My interest for bilingualism has started with the birth of my first child, Elisa. I was fascinated by the progress that her language was making.

At the age of three though, I’ve started noticing some hesitation in speaking the minority language, and the same I could see in the children of my friends, who were older than she was. While doing a bit of research, I came across a quote from Professor Colin Baker, who writes in his book, A Parent’s and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (Multilingual Matters, Third Edition): “Children often don’t want to appear different. They want to conform to the status-giving behavior of the peer group. This may entail a temporary non-use of one of their languages.”

Not only children don’t want to be different, they are also very aware of what language they should invest energies in learning and often this ends up being the majority language.

This made me feel quite sad. They are not aware of the great benefits that speaking two languages brings, and by the time they realize, they have probably wasted prime years where their brain would have been very receptive to the language.

Something needed to be done! And this was the inspiration for my book.

MM Did the story come first or did the illustrations ?

LCW The story came first. My publisher matched the manuscript with the illustrator whose style best complimented the story. When I heard that Pamela Goodman was going to illustrate the book I was over the moon. Her portfolio (pamelagoodman.com) is absolutely gorgeous and I knew from the start that her pictures were going to add so much to the story.

When the publisher sent me the sketches that she made of Rosie Ray and her family, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was so much better than what I pictured it in my head!Even after reading the story times and times again, I still find myself lost in the pictures and I notice new details every time.

MM How do your children live their being ‘ other’ in their daily life?

LCW It’s hard to know for sure what goes on in their heads, because they are still very little and they can’t quite express more complex feelings and emotions. But I can see in my eldest daughter a desire to fit in and being just like her friends. She wants to wear the same clothes, watch the same shows and of course, talk the same way. I think having been there myself (I was raised bilingual and so was my mother), helps me to understand a little bit more of what they might feel and this helps me to empathize with them.

MM What was the biggest surprise after the publication of your first book?

LCW Every twitter about my book, every review or comment is a very welcome surprise, but if I had to choose one, I would say my daughter’s reaction when I read her my book for the first time. She asked me to read it again straight away and then she offered to read it back to me in the minority language! I was flabbergasted! All of a sudden she started listing so many Italian words, most of them I didn’t even know she knew! Needless to say that I was in tears! A voice inside my head was shouting: “It works!!!”

MM You live between two cultures : the British and the Italian one. Can you name one positive and one negative aspect of the way children are raised in the UK vs Italy?

LCW I love how children are so organically included in the Italian society and everyday life. They are not treated as a group apart; they are part of every event, gathering, night out and they learn right from the beginning to socialize, to interact with adults and to be comfortable in a crowd. What I don’t like so much, is how institutional and cold some Italian schools can be. But I’d like to think that this is changing.

In the U.K., I love how creative the teaching methods can be. I visited a few schools and I was so impressed with the amount of drawings, crafts, projects that were covering every inch of the walls. What I don’t like so much, is the pressure put on children since a very young age. I’ve seen parents teaching their two years old children to read, and others who would hire a tutor for their three years olds. This makes me feel a bit uncomfortable as I enjoyed so much the carelessness of childhood and I wouldn’t want to deprive my daughter of it.

MM Thank you Laura, it was a pleasure e-chatting with you!



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