BY HAIG NORIAN
Roslin Press, a New York based publishing house known for its Western Armenian publication of “The Chronicles of Narnia” recently announced its latest publication, “PISO” –“ՓԻՍՕ,” an illustrated book series for children aged two and up. The first volume, “Piso Has a Scary Dream” –“Փիսօն գէշ երազ կը տեսնէ,” deals with a very common occurrence in any household with young children. Little Piso has a very scary dream and turns to his parents for safety.
Anna Isabekyan, the author and illustrator of “PISO,” has done something very unique in her debut work. She has created a highly interactive Armenian language children’s book. Rather than explicitly laying out the dream that Piso found so terrifying, she does not go into the details of this scary nightmare. She leaves that as a potential discussion between parent and child. The book thus can serve as a starting point for a child to feel comfortable describing his or her feelings with the parents.
The Western Armenian version, edited by Nanor Mikayelian, uses vocabulary that is crisp, clear, and easily understood. This volume is perfect as a read-aloud to children two and up. Even better, the words and expressions have been selected such that it is even easily read by a 6-year old.
“PISO” is not only a fantastic addition to Western Armenian children’s literature, but with its beautiful illustrations, endearing prose, and interactive subject matter, “PISO” is world class content, on the level of Arnold Lobel, Dr. Seuss, Gianni Rodari, and David Kherdian.
We recently sat down with Anna Isabekyan to discuss the work in greater detail.
Haig Norian: Why did you decide to start writing children’s books in Armenian?
Anna Isabekyan: I have two little children at home. When my son was born, I would constantly read him stories. As he grew up, I noticed that he was very interested in the colorful pages that I would turn as I read the stories. The years quickly passed, and I noticed that the books grew up with him, too – more challenging vocabulary, new characters, more complex stories. He is now eight years old and simply in love with books.
I believe that it’s never too early to foster a love of reading in our children. Not only reading I suppose, but love of all art forms – of music, of drawing, of anything that requires mindful concentration to bring your vision to life.
Living in France, my son’s books have been almost exclusively written in French. There is an expansive book culture in France with truly a book for every age group, for every theme, for every interest. When I would travel to Yerevan in the summers, I would seek out appropriate books for the little ones. Oftentimes, I was unable to find books that truly fit. Either the vocabulary was too advanced or the subject matter was too mature. Thus, the spark: to fill in the gap that so needs filling. I have set off to provide books that our little ones can truly connect with and cherish, in Armenian.
H.N: Where do the ideas for the stories come from?
A.I.: The ideas originate from my day to day dealings with the little ones. I’ll observe how they interact with their friends. I’ll note how they play. I’ll even spy on them when it seems things are too quiet. Overhearing their conversations also provides quite a bit of insight into the child’s psyche.
Simply put, inspiration is plenty and all around.
H.N: Why did you choose a cat? Why not a dog or bird or some other animal?
A.I.: Because this character is first and foremost for the Armenian youth, I wanted to make sure that the animal itself has a native connection to Armenia. It couldn’t be an elephant or a hippo for instance. Furthermore, I wanted to choose an animal that would be soft and caring. At first, I had considering the Gampr (the Armenian shepherd’s dog) or the brown bears of the Armenian highlands, but I settled upon the Van cat, since its cute endearing smile will surely win over the hearts of the little ones.
H.N.: What was your favorite book when you were up growing?
A.I.: We had a huge collection of books at my home. When I was younger, I would look at them in awe, almost unsure if I would be able to ever truly grasp their meaning. Then one day, I remember picking out a book with a blue cover and reading it through and through. It was about a young boy who was always getting himself caught up in all sorts of adventures. It was “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” by Mark Twain. That said, as much fun as this novel was, the stories that have come to cherish the most are the tales that my father would tell.
H.N.: What, in your opinion, must be done to keep Armenian alive in our diaspora communities?
A.I.: I can speak from my own personal experience. I am convinced that parents must absolutely speak Armenian to their child from the day they are born. No matter what country you find yourself in. Never doubt your children’s ability for language acquisition. They will most certainly be able to grasp both Armenian and the local languages. Since they are learning multiple language in parallel, it may take a bit longer for them to start speaking fluently but what’s a few months in the grand scheme of things?
Children truly are the future of us, the Armenian people. We must continue to read Armenian books and, whenever possible, visit Armenia.