Summer is the season of travelling, discovering
new places, cultures, people, traditions... While many adults see travelling
and related activities as the best way of spending their free time, children
may not necessarily share their excitement: they find sightseeing boring, the
only highlights being ice-cream, local sweets and souvenir toys.
Imagine you're on your way to visit Prague or
Paris and your kids are too small to be left at home or too small to get
excited about the Charles Bridge or Notre Dame. Yet they're too old to quietly
observe the world from their pram in between many naps. Sounds familiar? Well,
the same question puzzled Karen York who has been roaming the world throughout
her entire life.
Karen York is a cosmopolitan and well-travelled
author of two guide books for children about Prague (Susie and Tom Travel the
World: Prague) and Paris (Little Globetrotters Visit Paris). It has been my
pleasure to meet her and talk to her about her life and work.
Karen, you speak both
Czech and English absolutely naturally. Are you bilingual? Can you tell us
something about your origin?
I was born in the Czechoslovakia and when I was 8 my parents emigrated first to
Sweden, and then to Australia a few years later. I lived in Australia until I
was 26. When I got married to my husband Richard, we spent many years living
abroad in different places thanks to his job, in Singapore, Jakarta, London and
Brussels. Then we came to Prague and stayed here for ten years. Now we live in
So you weren't a
naturally bilingual child, you had to pick up foreign languages due to the
Exactly. I remember my first time on the
playground when we came to Sweden. I was eight then and I thought to myself:
"How am I ever going to understand these kids?" But I was still
little, wasn't embarrassed and somehow picked it up quickly. I also had a few
extra classes of Swedish every week organized for immigrants by the school, so
that helped. Two years later we moved to Tasmania and it was already much
harder for me to learn English. I was older, more embarrassed, there were fewer
teaching programmes for immigrants... But somehow I managed after all. At home,
my parents spoke to me Czech all the time, we had many Czech books from exiled
authors that published in Canada so I was exposed to the Czech language during
my entire childhood.
You have two sons aged
9 and 14. Do they speak both Czech and English?
Yes, they are bilingual. My older son was born
in Prague and we stayed in Prague for ten years. So my sons were growing up in
a Czech environment, I spoke to them in Czech, they had Czech friends, went to
a Czech school. My husband travels on business a lot so in Prague it was
actually hard for us to keep their English up. Not to lose it, we enrolled them
in many English activities for kids, luckily there are many opportunities in
Prague. They also watched the TV cartoons in English only.
How about their Czech
now? You live in Luxembourg , they attend international schools... Does their
Oh, not at all, actually. Thanks to the EU
institutions, there's quite a large Czech community living in Luxembourg so
we're exposed to Czech regularly there, too.
You are the author of two travel guides for children. How did the idea to
write such books occur?
Me and my husband have always travelled a great
deal. Not just on business, we love travelling and visiting foreign places in
our free time in general. So it only became natural that when started a family,
we would take our kids with us. Unfortunately, kids often don't find travelling
so exciting, particularly the younger ones. I remember when my oldest son
Robbie was about four years old, we were in Venice. We took a gondola ride and
I was super excited, showing him all the sites around and telling him how
Venice is romantic and how lucky we were to be there. But unfortunately he
didn't share the excitement. :-)
It was then when I got the idea that it'd be
great if there was a guide book designed for children, that would relate to
little travellers and make the entire trip an entertainment for them.
So you decided to made your own
Yes, I decided to make my own guidebook for
children that would relate to little travellers. A book that wouldn't be
overflowing with facts. A book that would be based on an adventurous and
entertaining story to make kids enthusiastic about the place and travelling in
general. And also that would later become a memory for them reminding them of
the place they had visited. I also wanted to educate kids about the place in a
gentle, playful manner.
What about the design
of the book? It's a mixture of cartoons and photographs. Why?
Photographs are important because they
represent reality. But from a child's perspective, cartoons are more attractive
and children relate to them easily. I use two characters, Susie and Tom and they
both have their own personality that links the entire story. While Susie is the
smart and responsible one, Tom is more of a follower, a kid that finds most of
the things boring and prefers eating to anything.
So far you have
published a guide book for Prague and Paris. Why have you chosen these cities?
Well, Prague is just a natural pick: I was born
here, lived here until I was 8 and later with my husband and sons for 10 years.
Moreover, I love the city.
Paris is another city I love, I've been there
many times with my husband. It's also the most visited city in the world.
Do the books differ in
Yes, they do. The Prague book is based on a
narrative – an adventurous treasure hunt story of Susie and Tom. The city's
sights are introduced through a story filled with amusing dialogues, relating
all the happenings of Susie and Tom while they're exploring the city. When I
presented the book on the Bologna Children's Book Fair, I met a great number of
professionals from the field of children literature. They liked the book and
suggested to add some activities to my next books that would keep children even
more active and busy while travelling. So the Paris book is more of an activity
guide, filled with lots of puzzles, mazes and activities that keep kids
entertained, yet at the same time make them learn something new about the city
and the world in general.
Which age group are the books designed
I would say they're suitable for children aged
6-12, or even a bit younger if parents help them with reading and the
Where are your books
I decided to set up my own distribution network
so you won't find me on the list of a publishing house. My books are on offer at
many locations throughout Prague including BLUE Praha gift stores, RELAY,
Shakespeare & Sons, Globe Bookstore and Cafe, Boutique Shops at the Old
Jewish Cemetery, Four Seasons Hotel, Amadito & Friends, Neo Luxor and Bylo
Nebylo). You can also get them via my website littleglobetrotters.net. So far,
I have managed to sell over 3,000 copies.
Which cities can we
look forward to in the future?
I studied Japanese so definitely Tokyo would be
up on the list. And then other highlights such as Rome, London, Sydney and
Venice where actually the entire idea evolved.
Last question – what
would you recommend to Czech parents that want their children to be exposed to
English from early on but don't have the opportunity to live abroad?
As a start, parents could for example, let
their kids watch TV programs in English or simply play them any sort of
children's music that is in the English language. The internet is a great
source of information. I would only do a
little with the children each day or week, so that they do not tire of it.
Learning English should be fun and not a chore. Kids are like sponges and
absorb new languages quickly and naturally. They are not as ashamed or
embarrassed to speak foreign languages as adults might be and this is a big
In my opinion, it is best, if the children listen
to the English language in its 'unspoilt' form, so ideally from a native
speaker, so that they can hear the flow of the language as naturally as
possible. It does not matter, whether the accent is in British, American, Canadian,
Australian or New Zealand English, as long as it is spoken by a native. Czech parents can look up many different
internet sites from any one of these countries (one example is: cbeebies.com,
which is a great website from the BBC full of games, activities, songs and TV
Thanks, Karen, it's
been a pleasure talking to you. Good luck with all your travels!
Thank you very much, for speaking with me
Petra, and lots of luck with the new blog!
Štítky: Knížky, Rozhovory / Interviews