My Betty & Cat bilingual children’s books came about when a French illustrator friend with grandchildren growing up French/English in Brussels approached me to do a bilingual kids’ book. Her English wasn’t very good and she was feeling left out of the kids’ bilingual experience. We needed something to build up her confidence, something she could share with her grandkids.
I’ve written all my life, but I hesitated. Then one morning, drinking coffee in bed, with Betty and Cat on the bed with us, the idea for the books suddenly came to me. However, it never entered my mind to do a translation. Betty was French, we were in France, and so it was natural for her to speak French to the reader. Cat was born in the neighbour’s barn and showed up one day – and stayed. It made sense for him to speak English – he was the foreigner.
The confidence-building idea became crucial. Not just with grandparents, whose knowledge of the second language might date from high school, or foreign holidays, but also for parents in a bi-cultural family – both parents don’t always have the same comfort level with both languages.
And then there are the kids themselves. Although most of the research being done today shows that kids being brought up bilingually have numerous advantages over kids being brought up with only one language, not all kids are the same.
It turns out that there are several speech therapists in Holland who have ordered my Dutch/English books for their practices to help kids build confidence with the target language. And it seems to work. Kids discover that bilingualism is normal (the power of the printed page?), and that it can be fun.