10-16 February 2017 #845

Teller of tales

Noted Swiss author who makes bed-time stories enchanting is visiting Kathmandu next week for a children’s book festival
Smriti Basnet

When The Rainbow Fish was first published in 1992, Swiss author Marcus Pfister’s multi-colored fish with hologram foils was a sensation in the world of children’s book publishing. The book combined his two strengths: art and story-telling. Pfister’s selfish fish not only taught children a valuable lesson in sharing, but also showed how children’s stories could be made to come alive with creative design.

It has been 25 years since The Rainbow Fish came out, Pfister has published many more books since but it is this one that stands out. Looking back, he regrets working too hard and too fast on his books and wishes he had more time to develop the stories. Many children who are now in their twenties may not agree, for them the books were perfect as it were, and inspirational.

“The most important aim that a picture book can achieve is to bring parents and children together for 15 minutes a day in a very intimate way,” the award-winning author told Nepali Times as he prepared to fly out to Nepal from Bern, where he is now based.

For as long as he can remember, Pfister says he had a deep fondness for drawing and story-telling. But it was not until he gave his entrance exams at the Art School of Bern did he realise its true value and saw an opportunity in the field. His first picture book was The Sleepy Owl in 1986, and since then he has written 50 more books, selling over 30 million copies in 50 languages. Questions Questions, Happy Birthday Bertie and The Yellow Cab have been translated into Nepali as well.

This year, he is looking to publish two more books, a new title in The Rainbow Fish series and a picture book without any text, using just illustrations and emojis, in September.

“As an artist you just feel the need to invent new stories, techniques, artwork and concepts,” said the 57-year-old artist. Apart from the hologram foils, the author has experimented with pop-ups, die-cuts, and innovative folding techniques in his books making them all the more exciting for children.

Children’s books have a power to lay the foundation for their early years, Pfister says, “It’s the first step to discover a new fantasy.”

The author/artist does not limit himself to simple adventure stories, they all come with an embedded message: friendship, modesty, tolerance, understanding alphabets, and appreciation of the environment and nature.

“To see the bright eyes of children while you are telling them a story, what could be more moving than that?” he asks. However, Pfister is disheartened by how parents today are not willing to invest as much time reading to their children.

Pfister will be attending the Bal Sahitya Mahotsav (see below) in Kathmandu next week and conducting hands-on trainings on drawing and inventing new characters.

“This is my first time in Nepal,” he says, “I am waiting for the country to take me by surprise.”

Literature for little ones

Bal Sahitya Mahotsav is an annual children’s literature festival and features readings, art and drama workshops, live performances, book stalls, and the Book Bus. The festival will have guest speakers from Nepal as well as Swiss author Marcus Pfister, and writers from the Kahani Project from India. This is the third consecutive festival Rato Bangala School is organising, and this year the two books in Braille will also be launched. The festival will also have children’s book reading under the Pipalbot tree in Patan Dhoka.

18 February,10 am to 5 pm, Rato Bangala School, Rs 200 per person, Pipalbot events are free

Read also

Children’s literature