It’s a bit lonely, self-publishing. So when something amazing or fun or interesting happens, it’s the fuel that keeps me going. Here are some highlights:
Christine made me this birthday card – love her style, don’t you?
An – anonymous – version of this card is available for you to send when you buy two or more Betty & Cat books. Check the order page on this website for details.
Indigo in Montreal is a loyal fan:
See Il neige chez Betty & Cat In the snow top right at Indigo in Montreal. Although they say ages 3 to 5, I know the book is also read by a slew of 5 to 9 year olds – kids who are growing up in two languages (or more!) and who are pleased to see a book that reflects how they talk.
Elodie Combes, born in Corsica, feminist (she likes Betty & Cat because they don’t conform to stereotypes), and until recently professor of French at the University of Montreal, has this to say about the method used in Betty & Cat (beware: it’s in French – a good way for you to practice your French!):
Dealing with booksellers is fun, but what really gets me going is hearing that a bilingual child somewhere, who has been given a copy of Betty & Cat, reads it – and likes it! Does my heart good.
Nikki, aged 7, has her own video on YouTube, explaining how she likes the book. Cecilia, aged 7, reads the book to her sister Delphine, aged 5, explaining what *raining cats and dogs* means, and that sometimes you can’t translate phrases exactly; that each language has a different way of saying things. Aren’t kids amazing!
The girls’ mum sent along this link from the NYTimes:
Thanks Kyra. Fascinating reading, and another reason I’m going full speed ahead with sequels to Thuis bij Betty & Cat At Home (besides the fact that they’re so much fun to do!). Do read the article – especially if you speak more than one language (it will make you feel good about yourself, too!)
Het boek Betty & Cat is tot stand gekomen toen ‘n vriendin van mij, met kleinkinderen die tweetalig opgevoed worden, zich zorgen maakte dat zij zich soms buitengesloten voelde. Zij had weliswaar Engels gehad op school, maar dat was, volgens haar, in het verre verleden! Waarom geen tweetalig boek schrijven – en niet met ‘n vertaling, want wij waren daar allebei mee eens: niemand heeft het geduld om iets twee keer te lezen: eens in de vreemde taal en dan weer in de eigen taal! Op ‘n ochtend lagen Jeff en ik op bed met de beestjes, en het idee floepte zomaar in mijn hoofd: Betty en Cat in de hoofdrollen, ieder in zijn eigen taal. Lekker makkelijke spreektaal, geen moeilijke constructies, maar ook niet neerbuigend: dit kunnen we allemaal best aan!
Dus mijn eerste motivatie was: ouders en grootouders van tweetalige kinderen wat moed geven en zelfvertrouwen in de vreemde taal opbouwen – dat is mij gelukt, hoop ik. . .
The Betty and Cat books came about when a French friend of mine, whose grandchildren are being brought up in French and English, complained that she felt left out of the bilingual experience. Her English skills were there, but rusty. She asked me if we couldn’t do a bilingual book together (Marie’s an illustrator of children’s books). And not one that was translated. We both agreed that no one has the patience to read something twice: once in the foreign language ad once in translation.
One day, while Jeff and I were having breakfast in bed, with Betty and Cat at our feet, the idea came to me. Thus my primary motivation was to help parents and grandparents feel more at home with the budding bilingualism of the kids around them. Kids themselves are so flexible and so greedy for learning new things, that I figured they didn’t need any more help! They would just *get* it. So far, it seems to be working. Lots of sales have come from grandparents who bought the book as a gift. They then read it to or with the bilingual kids around them. That makes them feel good – and me feel good!
On October 12, 2011, an article appeared in The International Herald Tribune, the gist of which I would like to share. It was called “The bilingual brain from early infancy on”, by Perri Klass, MD. In it, Doctor Klass explained that we have moved away from thinking that kids exposed to more than one language would suffer “language confusion”. In fact, kids brought up bilingually “develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking skills which are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.” (Ellen Bialystok, professor of psychology at York University in Toronto)
There is now a relatively new science of bilingualism. More and more research groups using the newest imaging devices have determined that bilingual babies are “more open” (Dr. Patricia Kuhl, professor of speech and hearing sciences, University of Washington). They’re “more cognitively flexible” than monolingual infants. According to Dr. Kuhl, “. . .what you experience shapes the brain.”
Self-centredly, I see this all as reinforcing my belief that Betty & Cat books are good for kids. Whether they’re reading it themselves, or better yet having it read to them, Betty & Cat speak to kids, they never speak down to them. Kids are so smart. They know to skate over the bits they don’t get yet, to look for learning clues elsewhere: in the tone of voice, pictures, and the reader’s expression. Everything about their experience so far has taught them that “tomorrow is another day” and what I don’t get today I will tomorrow. That’s the beauty of learning!
One of my most vivid childhood memories are of a sunlit room somewhere in our church (St. Ignatius of Loyola in Montreal). After Mass one Sunday, aged about nine, I discovered CS Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I would have had only three years of English by then, not that anyone would have noticed, or that it made any impression on my young self. Books were books, and English was what I read. If words like “pitter-patter” and “wardrobe” were new to me, and the idea of an allegory years beyond my ken, it didn’t seem to bother me – the magic of the story swept me away, and understanding just seemed to happen eventually.
Anyway. . .this anecdote, in the context of Betty & Cat, is meant to justify the fact that the books aren’t translated. Kids are amazing creatures when it comes to language. Not much fazes them. They seem to know that they’re there to learn, to absorb. And that if something’s not clear today, well, tomorrow’s another day. Experience has taught them that. Also, if you think of yourself in a foreign country with some knowledge of that country’s language, you know that the actual words are only part of the communication: there’s context (there are only so many things “it” can mean), your mood and energy level; for the spoken word, there’s all that plus expression, and tone of voice . . .
The amazing thing is that kids – the younger they are the better – don’t analyze any of this, they just skate on, as though learning another language is the most normal thing in the whole world! Bliss.