How then to choose a book for a child?
It is very important for children under the age of nine to have pictures in books. They are afraid of the hopeless mass of text – for them it is synonymous with boredom. And parents, in pursuit of improving their children’s reading techniques, buy them massive volumes without illustrations and completely kill the love of reading. A colorful visual is more inspiring. I follow this principle myself: the volume of text increases from book to book, but so does the number pictures. That is, children read more without noticing it.
It is also worth paying attention to the content of the text. Many fairy tales that have become classics were written not only for children, but also for adults. And it is completely normal that some of their aspects may incomprehensible or traumatic for modern children. As an adult, I reread a children’s book by a Soviet writer and found that the main character does not have his own opinion and adapts to someone else’s. It is clear that for that period it was not uncommon, and the book was commissioned, but for the fragile psyche of the child this is a direct path to low self-esteem. The formula “These are the books of our childhood!” is irrelevant. You need to go down to the level of the child and understand his/her experiences. And then find a book that will help respond to these experiences and inspire the child to try something new. Read the stories for yourself. Also pay attention to the authors themselves. Check out their biography, because every author gives a piece of their life to their books. I believe it has an impact.
In Kazakhstan, the writing and publishing environment is fundamentally complicated. What about children’s writers? Do you have a connection with any of your colleagues?
I agree that the situation is not easy. Stores do not seek to sell and advertise Kazakh literature. If you want to promote something, you have to do it yourself. I have a connection with my colleagues. I communicate and make friends with many poets and writers, and not only children’s ones. Now I plan to make an exhibition of children’s writers and get closer to those whom I know through social networks or in absentia. I really want to show that we have enough authors, and that they are all very cool.
Is it difficult to publish a book in Kazakhstan? Have you had to use to crowdfunding?
With the help of publishers – yes, it is difficult. Everything will have to be done at your own expense. Although as far as I know, Meloman Publishing sometimes releases someone. Some authors resort to the help of foreign publishers or agree to release for royalties. But for me personally, it is not profitable to work for royalties. I decided that it would be easier to produce and sell my books myself. I resorted to crowdfunding, I wanted to release books in Kazakh. But it was not possible to collect the amount, so the idea has been shelved for now. If sponsors suddenly appear, then I am ready to revive it. Any books that might come out of it would still have to be promoted through targeted events–otherwise they risk just gathering dust in bookstores. Of course, the first experience of book publishing was stressful for me, since I didn’t know a lot of things. But when you have already learned, there are almost no difficulties left. It’s just a matter of resources, you need to constantly pull money from somewhere. I print books in the amount of 1000 copies, so the circulation costs about seven hundred thousand tenge.
Do you test books on your own children?
Absolutely. My eldest son is 14, the youngest is 7. And when I write a story and doubt whether it is necessary to continue working with it, the children confirm, choose – this one is good, this one is not. They especially like books aimed at personal growth, so I rely on their opinion and try to write about it. Plus, they really help me choose names and colors for the characters, and the older one also proofreads after the final editing.
How are things going with the translations of your texts?
At the moment we have finished working with Nina Murray (American poet and translator), we translated four of my fairy tales. Two are already ready for release in English. I am now looking for publishing opportunities not only in Kazakhstan, but also abroad. My books are already sold in America, but in Russian.
Who are your favorite writers?
Of the children’s writers, I like Jacob Martin Strid and Astrid Lindgren. They both inspire me a lot, and Astrid has been an icon for me since I was a child. The adults are Isabel Allende and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Another one is Laurent Gunel, he is a specialist in human development.
What are your plans? Any ideas for future projects and books?
Now there are plans to develop events in Nur-Sultan and Almaty. Next – to release a new book in the near future and draw the next one. To hold a book fair — an exhibition of writers and several book presentations. And, as I said, to take my books to children around the world – maybe it’s a big word, but it’s a rush of the soul.
Sometimes interesting collaborations are born. Last October we did a concert with a book – I read, and an accordion player and a violinist accompanied. The music emphasized particularly emotional moments in the text, and it is difficult for me to express in words my delight at the result. So far we haven’t repeated this experience, it’s still an additional burden, but both we and the audience really liked it. Ideas for something like this appear all the time. And it is doubly pleasant that there are people who are ready to engage in such projects – it is very inspiring.
And finally: during the January events, I set myself the goal of writing something new. The result was bigger than others. To be honest, I cried while writing. This is a children’s book, but it is also for adults. Often parents read and understand something themselves. For me, this book is especially important in light of the events taking place in the world. It does not relate to anything heavy, but at the same time touches the strings of the soul. I hope the world will see it soon.
Agata Niyazova-Belova was born in Kyrgyzstan, since 2004 lives in Almaty. Founder of child development center. Since 2020 she has published 5 books from the series about the Ginger Fox and 1 book from the series about the Donut Penguin. In 2021 Agata staged a play on her books. She has developed 3 master classes on her books and conducts them in Almaty and Nur-sultan.
Alyona Timofeyeva is a novelist, publicist, theater columnist. She was born and lives in Almaty. Three times alumni of the Open Literary School of Almaty. Participant of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Participant of the Young Writers’ Forum of Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (2021). Co-founder and editor of the blog about Kazakhstani literature “The Alma Review”. Published in “Dactyl”, “Angime” literary magazines, the almanac “Literranova”. Alyona is engaged in journalistic activities on various media platforms. Studies at KIMEP University at the Faculty of International Relations.