The Children’s Bookshow kicks off this week in London and over the next few weeks will bring authors from home and abroad to thousands of children across the country . On 24 November, Finnish author/illustrator duo Timo Parvela and Virpi Talvitie will be in London talking to children (more information here). Their book, Bicycling on the Moon was translated by Ruth Urbom and published by Gecko Press last year. It is beautifully packaged junior fiction book, with Gecko Press’s signature sturdy cream paper which always make artwork stand out wonderfully. The book follows the fun adventures of friends Purdy the cat and Barker the dog. It is a really sweet, slightly zany collection of little stories perfect for newly independent readers looking for longer texts but still needing them to be in accessible chunks; this is also helped by the full colour illustrations (again, the cream paper works wonders here) which really convey the mood of the story and characters. This will works well as a read-aloud too, and the humour will be a hit by adult readers also!
I was delighted to be given the opportunity to ask Timo and Virpi a few questions about their work together.
Welcome to Library Mice Tino and Virpi, and thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions. To begin with, could you tell us more about yourselves and your background in children’s books?
Timo: My name is Timo Parvela and I am a Finnish author. I have written some 90 books, which have been translated to over 30 languages and they have sold approximately 1.5 million copies. If the essence of my works could be described in two words, these words would be humour and school. I believe that humour is like a language, which both adults and children understand in the same way. It is, therefore, my aim to get a whole family to enjoy my books and laugh together. School, on the other hand, is a place I am very familiar with as I used to be a teacher in a primary school. My most popular series of books is about a young pupil called Ella and the stories take place in a Finnish school. Many of my books feature a school in some context.
Virpi: My name is Virpi Talvitie and I am a Finnish illustrator and artist. I have illustrated about one hundred books of which 60 are children’s books. The rest are school textbooks and adult literature. I have been working with several famous Finnish authors but my longest co-operation has been with Timo Parvela. So far, we have made twelve books together and they have been translated to several different languages and now to English as well. When making illustrations I often imagine myself diving into the story, under the words and lines. When coming back to the surface I try to bring pictures that give joy and visual pleasure for the viewer. In addition, there must be a thought, insight or great emotion in every single picture. That is what I demand from a picture to deserve to be made. Half of the process of illustrating happens in the brain and the other half with hands – the wonderful and horrible fight with colors.
I’d love to find out more about your partnership; how did Bicycling to the Moon come to life?
Timo: Before the book in question, Virpi and I created a trilogy and the first part, “Seesaw”, won the most important award for children’s literature in Finland – Finlandia Junior. Because our co-operation had been so uncomplicated from the beginning, we decided to continue it by creating a new series of books. I am delighted to work with such a talented, skilled and artistic person as Virpi. We might start planning a new book before even writing one line and we often exchange messages, ideas and pictures when creating the story.
Virpi: After the award-winning Seesaw, Timo sent me a compilation of stories about Purdy and Barker he had written. I fell in love with these two immediately: it was like they were describing my own life! I am Purdy and my husband is Barker – and our children agree! Later we noticed how readers of all ages can easily relate to the characters and laugh at themselves and each other. Moreover, Timo is able to use humour to discuss even deeper feelings. After Bicycling to the Moon, there were more stories and one book became series of books full of other interesting characters too.
Some author/illustrator teams work in close collaboration while others prefer to work independently. How did your collaboration work for Bicycling to the Moon?
Timo: We have worked in both ways described above. Some books we have planned together and had close contact with each other also during the writing and illustration process. Some we have worked on rather independently trusting each other’s views and opinions. Bicycling to the Moon was more like an independent project. I had a strong vision of two friends who don’t always agree with each other but succeed to share a home and a life somehow. It was, however, easy to give the finished stories to Virpi for illustrating, because I knew she would understand what the stories were about and find the style and form best suited for the stories.
Virpi: We trust each other very much and appreciate each other’s work. It is also important to give the other freedom and peace to work on the text and pictures. However, I find it important that we can both stand behind what we have done and share the responsibility together. We do not need to go over every word and picture together. Depending on each situation we share ideas and discuss themes, plots or details, or we just stay in contact talking about everything else apart from work.
If I am not mistaken, this is your first book translated into English, despite both of you having a large backlist of titles, including several books created together. This is pretty common here, with still very few international books making it to the British market. Can you talk to us more about your experiences of having your books being translated?
Timo: You are absolutely right about English translations. Although my books have sold hundreds of thousands copies in Germany alone, for instance, it is extremely challenging to enter the British markets. As far as I know, only about 5 % of the literature sold in Britain is translated. That is why we in Finland find, for example, Germany more important but we would hope, of course, that we could present our production in Britain as well. Having books published has opened a whole new world to me, quite literally. I have traveled to almost 20 countries, of which Japan and Chile are furthest away. Every country is obviously unique and therefore the experiences are also very different. Nevertheless, I find it amazing to notice that the stories I’ve come up in my quite study on cold winter days create joy and make people laugh in the sunny Argentina or the hot Spain.
Are there a lot of international children’s books translated into Finnish?
Timo: Yes. About a third of the books published in Finland are translated. There are about 600-700 children’s books published yearly.
Do you think it is important for children to be exposed to books from other countries?
Timo: I find it important that children are offered high quality reading despite of where it originates. Obviously, books offer an opportunity to relate to someone else’s life and other cultures, which really is a great asset of books. That is why it is extremely rewarding to read stories from close and far away.
Virpi: Well said, Timo. I agree.
You will be visiting Britain in November as part of The Children’s Book Show. Are there any children’s British authors and/or illustrators that you particularly enjoy?
Timo:I have always admired A.A. Milne and Winnie the Pooh and thought that it is a good example of the stories I want to write. Full of humour, smart and without age restrictions. Other authors I consider important to me are, for example, Enid Blyton, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sue Townsend and Kenneth Grahame.
Virpi: I am also very familiar with Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, and the very sweet and expressive illustration by E.H. Shephard too. In addition, Roald Dahl has absolutely amazing books and the illustrations of Quentin Blake are just superior.
Finally, could you tell us a little bit more about your forthcoming projects and/or soon to be released titles?
Timo: I’ve been writing a series of books called Kepler 62, set in space, together with a Norwegian author Bjørn Sortland. It features a group of children sent to inhabit a planet far away in another universe. The series is published simultaneously in Finland and in Norway and it’s an incredibly visual, almost movie like, six-part series. I am also on the process of writing a new part for Ella-series. A CD is added to the book which features songs composed for the story and performed by a symphony orchestra.
Virpi: I am currently working on illustration to a children’s nonfiction book, a poem anthology for children and a Christmas story compilation. Unfortunately, all of them are still in progress and I can’t describe them in any further detail. In addition, my daughter is a musician and I am designing pictures for her band to be displayed in the background during their shows. Also some of my children’s book illustrations have been featured in the background of music and theater performances.
Thank you so much for this insight, Timo and Virpi. I hope you have a wonderful time in London!