On the other side of a magic mirror: Elena Klepikova, Ksenia Zemskova, “The Adventures of Little Quarantine People”/”Карантинные человечки”

Елена Клепикова, Ксения Земскова. Карантинные человечки. Алматы: издано при поддержке Американского консульства в Алматы, 2020. 120 pages. ISBN 978-601-06-6508-8.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, there was a joke that every writer is obliged to create at least one quarantine work. And what if it is not just a work, but a whole quarantine world?

In just two years, our lives have changed beyond recognition. And if now we remember the first months of madness in quarantine almost with a smile, back when we were living through them, it was definitely not a laughing matter. Especially for those who have small children.

Kazakhstani writer Ksenia Zemskova was among just such people. Ksenia has three children, two of whom do not even go to school yet. I’ll let you imagine what fun reigned in the house during the quarantine. But Ksenia was not at a loss and, after watching the pranks of her toddlers, decided to write a book.

The second author, Elena Klepikova, has children who have grown up a long time ago. But a mother’s heart is always sensitive, especially if it is also a writer’s heart.

This is not the first book that the authors have written together. Before this, there was a poetry collection “Two Letters” (2018) and a teenage novel “The Queen’s Crawl, or Times of Change” (2019).

“The Adventures of Little Quarantine People” is a collection of stories about an ordinary Almaty family of four people. In the center of the story is a pair of siblings, Danik and Diana. Just when they are getting pretty bored in lockdown a magic mirror falls into their hands. From this moment, tempting adventures begin. The children encounter everyday problems, so routine they are hardly noticed, from completely different angles. Young readers, together with the heroes, go to medieval Paris struck by the plague epidemic; they travel into the human body to find out how the immune system fights viruses. They make masks and medicines for fairy-tale characters and invent new means of communication which no quarantine can disrupt.

“The Adventures of Little Quarantine People” is written in the genre of magical realism. ‘The Little Quarantine People’ is how the magic mirror—a character in its own right—refers to Danik and Diana.

“You must be having an epidemic then!” the Mirror said. “Now I see why I had to wake up. I am always there whenever the family is in danger. And—I do like you, little quarantined people.”

The book is written in Russian, and has been translated into Kazakh. Published in hard-cover, it looks like a flip book, complete with gorgeous colorful illustrations. The book is not sold in retail stores, because its publication was grant-funded.

The inventive and empathetic story delivers public health lessons: why it is important to wash one’s hands and wear a mask; how infectious diseases spread; and the use of quarantines to stop them. A thousand copies of the book were distributed to the Kazakhstani libraries. The book won the “Altyn Kalam-2020” award in the nomination “Daraboz” — the best children’s and adolescent literature.

“The Adventures of Little Quarantine People” is a book about children and for children. It is perfect for self-reading. It will also be a pure pleasure to read out-loud for parents who recognize their own children in the restless main characters, and themselves in the sincere and funny Mom and Dad.

 Dad had put on a shirt of his, and Mom was helping him button it. 

“Nope. No way,” Mom said, giving up. “Done with this shirt, I guess.” 

“Really? I love this shirt,” Dad said. 

“Daddy,” I heard Dee say, “are you crying?” 

“Indeed I am. I’m just keeping it inside.”

“But why?”

“Because I’ve gotten fat during the lock-down.”

“I put on ten pounds this month, too,” Mom said, sounding sad. “Take off the shirt.” 

“Fine. I like a T-shirt better anyway.” 

I heard Dad open and close the wardrobe. 

“Let’s go eat something to cheer ourselves up,” he said.

“The Adventures of Little Quarantine People” is a guide-book to the world of childhood. No matter how old the reader is, he or she will surely want to join the indomitable Danik and Diana. And then surely visit his or her parents. Because the main thing this book teaches us: no virus is too terrible if you have family around.

The complete English translation of the book is also now available.

Ksenia Zemskova is a poet, children’s writer. She graduated from the Higher Literary courses at the Gorky Literary Institute, was published in Russian, Kazakh and Ukrainian literary magazines. Participant of the young writers forums in Russia. Leads a seminar of prose and children’s literature at the Open Literary School of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Elena Klepikova is a novelist, children’s writer, and essayist. Author of eight and co-author of six books. Laureate of the literary awards “Golden Feather of Russia”, “Korneychuk Prize” (Ukraine), “Daroboz”, as well as laureate and prize-winner of literary prizes and competitions held in Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany. Has publications in literary journals and collections of Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Germany. Stories and fairy tales were translated into Kazakh, English, and German. Leads a seminar of prose and children’s literature at the Open Literary School of Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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