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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Marianne Dubuc, BEAR AND THE WHISPER OF THE WIND

Bear is happy at home, eating strawberry pie and spending time with his friends. But one day, the wind whispers to Bear, calling him to embark on a surprising journey to an unknown place. He isn't sure where he is going, but he knows that everything will turn out okay if he trusts his instincts.

Max's Boat Pick:


By Marianne Dubuc

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (March 1, 2022)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Bear and the Whisper of the Wind?

MD: "I often like to leave my books unexplained so the reader can decide what they want to see in the story. In this particular book I did leave it particularly open to interpretation on purpose. I wrote this book at a time in my life where I had lost important people and where I felt lost, trying to find a way to have faith in life again. I find that everyone doesn’t have the same life experience and that for some it can be upsetting to know my real inspiration. That is why I don’t say too much, and say more or less depending on the person asking.

I have found that for some my story seems to talk about changing school, parents divorcing, or moving away, or other more painful events such as illness, death or having to flee one’s country because of the war. All of these have been suggested as inspiration for the book, and I find they are all perfect. That is why I like to leave my books open to interpretation."

For those who love Bear and the Whisper of the Wind, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy? "I love L’ours et le chat sauvage by Komako Sakai and Kazumi Yumoto. I don’t believe it has been translated in English and it is a shame because it is lovely. I love Yumoto’s illustrations and the tenderness of the story although it is sad because the bear loses his friend bird. There is also Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec which I like a lot. The relationship between Big and Little Wolf, as it develops, always makes me smile. Little Fox by Edward Van de Vandel and Marije Tolman is another book that I love."

Restlessness and the desire for change is certainly a difficult topic to cover--much less in a picture book. Are there any other picture books you love that have explored this theme well? "The Trip to Panama by Janosch, in its own way, talks about looking elsewhere for something missing, to finally realize it was there all along. I love Janosch’s work. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know if it answers to the restlessness and desire for change, but it does talk about accepting a loved one’s desire (and natural tendency, growing up) for change. Stormy Night by Michèle Lemieux, where a little girl goes through a stormy night and goes through all kinds of questioning."

I'm curious how your writing process works. Do you translate your own books from French into English? Do you think there is a layer gained (or lost) in doing so? "I do write my books in French, but I do not translate them myself. The publisher who buys the rights hires translators to do so. It is fun to see how my books are interpreted by translators, and how, depending on the country, the story will be affected. One thing I learned with the translation of my books is the importance of verb tense. I had never paid attention to this in picture books before, but in French it happens very often that the story will be told in the present tense. I had never noticed that in English, they are usually in the past tense. It is the case in my book The Lion and The Bird. The French version is in present, while the English versions are in the past tense.

It doesn’t affect the story that much for this book, but in Up the Mountain Path, it does change how we read the story. The main character, Mrs. Badger, is very old and with the text written in the present tense we can assume she is still alive. When in the past tense we immediately assume that she has died. And, as I was working on the book, it was very important to me that she can be both: alive for those who prefer the main character not to have passed away, or deceased, if the reader wants her to be. (This being said, MY Mrs. Badger, the one I wrote about, is, in fact, deceased). Since I speak French, English and Spanish, I can see the difference in these translations of my books. But it is not the case with Japanese, Russian, Italian, Chinese and all the other languages in which my books are translated. I have to have faith in the translator's work, but also accept their interpretation of my story. It is kind of fun to think that my stories are probably slightly different from one country to the next."

What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this particularly well? "I wouldn’t know what book to mention. There are so many reasons why a picture book works and why children (and their parents) love to read them. One thing I love about a book is when, at the end of a reading, I close it and still have an emotion that lingers. It doesn’t matter if I can’t explain this particular emotion, it is even better when it happens. I love simple books that talk about small things, small moments. And I love when I can have fun with a book, when I have space as a reader to interpret, to explore."

What did you love reading to your kids when they were 3? When they were 5? "We used to read four books each night to our son and daughter. These were very important moments in our daily routine, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I was exhausted and had to go finish my own books once they were asleep. I wrote all my books at night for a long time, when the kids were young. They are older now, but I still like to work at night.

We started reading to them when they were three months old, and I don’t think there was a huge difference between the books we read at three or at five years old. When our son was five his sister was three, so… it was all the same. We did read pictures book for a loooong time to our daughter. Even when she was eight, and was reading Harry Potter on her own, she liked to pick picture books for us to read together.

My husband and I, both being authors and illustrators, already had tons of children’s books before we even had kids. So we had a pretty big library to chose from for nighttime stories. We read a lot of books from L’École des loisirs, so mainly French authors, but also a few American ones.

Some of my favorites were The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, and Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. I tried translating Dr. Seuss in French, but it was giving me a headache. Another author we read a lot was Anthony Browne (especially Gorilla and Voices in the Park).

Here are a few of our family favorites:

La visite de Petite Mort by Kitty Crowther. I love Kitty's books. And this book is on my top 10 of all time.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis. So much fun reading this with the kids. :)

La famille foulque by Anne Brouillard. Sadly not translated in English I think, but one of my favorite wordless picture books ever, and since there are no words it can be read in any language… :)

Flix by Tomi Ungerer. We love Tomi Ungerer at home and we've read this book SOOOO many times.

Petit panda et le tigre volant by Renata Liwska. Another major hit at home. I love Renata’s illustrations, too.

Il faut sauver le petit chat! by Chihiro Nakagawa and Junji Koyose was a MAJOR hit with the whole family.

A Place to Call Home by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz. What fun we had reading this book. We still laugh every time.

All Around Bustletown: Summer by Rotraut Susanne Berner. We have loved reading and talking while discovering the five books by Susan Rotraut Berner. I also love her work as an illustrator.

Ice by Arthur Geisert. I love wordless picture books and all of Arthur Geisert’s books were (and are still) loved at home.

Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry. I don’t know how many times I read this book to our son, while pregnant with our daughter. He wasn’t allowed to watch tv back then and woke up at 4 a.m. every single day for three months straight. I read this book every morning, half awake and with morning sickness. Still, I have very fond memories of those moments, so thank you, Mr. Scarry!

Blaise et le Chateau D’Anne Hiversère by Claude Ponti. Probably as untranslatable as Dr. Seuss. Ponti’s books are always crazy with ideas and words that seem to come out of a magic hat. We read this book hundreds of times and still love it. We have the huge format version and we love getting lost in the pages and the illustrations. And having fun with his invented words.

The Tiger Prince by Chen Jiang Hong was our daughter's favorite book growing up.

I could keep going on for ages so I will stop here, knowing that I forgot many of our all time favorites. ;)"

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?

"That is a hard question. I don’t like to make top 10 lists, or choose favorites. I like books for different reasons. But one thing I learned with my children is to never judge a book by its cover. Literally. How many times did they pick a book at random at the library and I started reading reluctantly (I didn’t like the kind of illustration and NEVER would have picked this book myself) only to realize that this book was AMAZING. My children broadened my taste in children’s literature, and I am very grateful for this. It does not really answer your question, though! ;) You can see the picture books I mentioned in the previous question. They would definitely make it in my personal list."

What picture books coming out this year are you most looking forward to reading?

"I have NO idea what picture books are coming out this year! But I like to go the bookstore and see what is new once in a while. Even though our children are older now, and read on their own, I still love picture books."


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