by Dalaram Ghanimifard
I came to the UK with my family in 2010 to start my PhD studies is sociology. The first months of our immigration were difficult. Even before we came here, I worried about every simple thing, like where we were going to live, children’s school, the weather, money, and the different language I had to communicate with. In the first days I was struggling with our new ways of living. Finding housing, figuring out travel, getting used to driving directions and crossing the streets were easiest things to cope with. Making sense of different accents and jargon to sort out insurance and rent were more difficult. And then of course homesickness began.
When you travel with family, and when you are taking care of your children, you sometimes forget that they face hardships too. If feeling responsibility to take care of my children was hard on me, what would it be like for a child to face a whole new life in a strange country with a language they knew nothing of, and to leave behind everything that brought them the peace and comfort of being “home”?
My (at the time) nine-year-old son, Nikan, was learning English fast at school, but he had also become a bit depressed and anxious when we left Iran. I would do anything to bring “home” to him and make him feel safe. We’d go to the local library every day and choose books that I read to him each night. We looked for familiar stories, the ones he could relate to.
There I observed that the totality of children’s books did not reflect the reality of children’s demography in schools. We couldn’t find books that represented the beautiful diverse classrooms. The rich literature, art and culture of ethnic backgrounds was absent. There, the first thought of starting a publishing company for children’s books sparked. The name of this company would be Tiny Owl.
The initial motive for publishing was personal for me, but I knew this journey was not going to remain personal. Children outgrow their immediate needs, but making books is for more than a life time. It could remain for generations. I took this work very seriously from the beginning, in choosing and producing our books. Lots of research and consultation followed. With my husband, we decided to publish the best existing literature and art from our country, Iran, and then find the best from other countries. It took until 2015 to select our list from hundreds of published and unpublished titles from Iran. These consisted of traditional fables like tales by Rumi, and modern stories like The Little Black Fish. We carefully chose artwork by award-winning artists, as this was a very important aspect of picture books. We wanted to expose children to different artistic styles with our books.
In 2016, when we wanted to commission our own titles for the first time, we started a new project. We paired authors and illustrators from different parts of the world, to make an intercultural dialogue. The first title in this project was A Bottle of Happiness, by the British author, Pippa Goodhart and Iranian illustrator, Ehsan Abdollahi.
Now after three years of publishing, we are expanding. We are publishing authors and illustrators from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Italy, Finland, Slovenia, Switzerland, USA and UK. We have started a new series called One Story, Many Voices. In this series we our publishing famous fairy tales, from different cultures from around the world. The first in this series, Cinderella of the Nile, which is the Egyptian Cinderella story, by Beverley Naidoo and illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian, is going to be published in May 2018.
Looking at what we have done to date, I think we have faced many challenges and come a long way. Still Tiny Owl have to fly far and high. My son, Nikan, grew up without reading Tiny Owl books when he needed them, but books remain for all children who want and need them.
This is a blogpost by Dalaram Ghanimifard. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.