The Kids' Pocket Guide to the World
Simona Paravani-Mellinghoff is a book author and a world-citizen by nature. The Kids' Pocket Guide to the World (2015) is written for adult and children ages 8 to 12+ tells five stories of strong women living in different parts of the world from Kenya to Europe showing different cultures, life styles, places and people and introducing the reader to a number of topical themes from migration to poverty, from healthcare access to social mobility. We have conducted an interview with Simona.
How did you decide on the characters of your stories?
A writer is a bit like a thief: characters are inspired by a unique mix of people you actually know, of people you may get a glimpse of on a crowded train or of people you observe while sitting in a noisy coffee-place.
Part of the fun is to let the readers guess what is real and what is fiction in each of your characters. When it comes to The Kids Pocket Guide to the World, all the characters have been inspired by amazing people I have been privileged to meet in my life. For example, the character of Hope, the brave Kenyan pilot of the first chapter, is inspired by and based on the story of a girl I met in a school in Nairobi through the work I did with a local charity. Similarly, the character of Sister Luisa is based on a super-positive, larger than life Italian nun that I met in Asia and that unfortunately passed away a few years ago.
Which are the key themes of your stories in this book?
The stories touch upon a number of themes: from access to health care to social mobility, from education to migration. The stories are meant to be an introduction to such topics that kids will need to understand to grow up as informed adults, consumers, and voters.
In introducing such topics, the book is not shy in using numbers and statistics in an intuitive way and while this may be somewhat unusual in a children’s book, we need to educate children not to be scared or put off by numbers because the ability to understand and contextualize numbers and statistics is key to them growing up to be informed world-citizens.
The stories aim to convey the message that world challenges can also be opportunities. For example, The Green Cinderellas, the second story of the book, shows how waste can actually be turned into a goldmine of opportunities.
Which is one of your favourite stories in your book "Kids' Pocket Guide to the World (2015)"?
The book has five stories, each set in different parts of the world. I don’t really have a favorite story as each of them is special to me for a different reason. For example, Ming-Ming’s Merry Go Round, the last story in the book, is very close to my heart because it is set in places (China and New Zealand) I am very fond of. The Frog and the Flower, the third story, resonates a lot with me because it talks about education and social mobility and these are topics I am very passionate about.
Where are you originally from? Why are stories showing different cultures, life styles, places and people good for children?
I am Italian by birth, German by marriage and a world-citizen by nature. I am an “accidental” writer as my day-job is quite something-else and has to do with facts & figures.
I lived and worked in Europe, North America and Asia… and I met my husband in South America.
My own personal story is itself a testament to some of the topics the book explores: how education, migration, and hard-work have opened up opportunities for me that would have been unimaginable for anyone-else in my family. My grandmother was basically illiterate and I am the first member of my family to go to University. My great grandfather travelled abroad only to go to war, I travel for learning, working and life!
The idea of the book came about thanks to my godchildren and my hope that they will be able to see an open interconnected world as an ocean of opportunities and not a storm to shelter from.
Why do I think that this is important and cannot be taken for granted? It is enough to turn on the TV or read the newspaper to get a lot of negative coverage around our interconnected world. There is no doubt that we are faced with major problems, but the solution is not to turn back the clock (good luck with trying that, anyway!), but rather to embrace the change and welcome the fact that we can count on the brains, hope and dreams of seven billion people!
What would you like to tell your readers via your stories in your book?
Quoting from the book “The first piece of advice-to tell the truth, the only one in this pocket guide to this complicated world full of opportunities-is this: let the force of your dreams crush the fear-o-saurus [the opposite of dreamers] and their [self-constructed walls, barriers and] limits, so you will write the most beautiful story for your life and that of others!”
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