Children’s literature and the power of stories: an interview with the author

3 min read

Januaria Alves writer

Winning author of the Jabuti Award, Januária Cristina Alves talks about children’s literature, the power of stories, and the launch of her personalized book.

Most of us have heard many times in our lives that reading is essential for learning about the world and ourselves. And that children’s literature plays a very important role, as it stimulates contact with stories and fairy tales. However, to go beyond the surface on this topic, we must ask ourselves: why?

What does children’s literature bring to the little ones that make it so powerful? Where does the power of stories come from to transform us and allow new ways of seeing the world? Why do books remain essential in an increasingly digital reality?

To seek answers to these questions, we spoke with writer Januária Cristina Alves, winner of 2 Jabuti Awards for Brazilian Literature.

Its most recent release is the personalized book “Now I Am…”, co-edited in partnership with Playstories and FTD Education. In the story, the child visits the dressing room of a theater and lives different roles through their imagination. Between one adventure and another, the protagonist is faced with interactive activities that enhance the literary experience.

See what the author shared about the new book, the power of stories, and her view on children’s literature:

Playstories: In addition to being a writer, you are a journalist and have a master’s in communication. How did your journey to children’s literature take place?

Januária Cristina Alves: My relationship with books and literature comes from very early childhood. I am the daughter of a family that loved to tell stories, my parents and grandparents are from Pernambuco. I grew up listening to stories of oral tradition – folk tales. When I learned how to read, I started reading everything that I could find: fiction books, newsletters, encyclopedias, and comic books, just to name a few.  

At the age of 12, I helped at my school’s library and I was so happy to do it because I borrowed a different book every day. From reading to enjoy writing my own stories was a small step: I always had many ideas, and my parents and teachers always encouraged me to write them. At the age of 11, I sent a story to the Children’s Supplement “Diário de Pernambuco”. When it was published, I decided that this is what I would do for the rest of my life: telling stories.

Playstories: You have experience with projects developed with schools. In this moment of social isolation, how can children’s books stimulate children’s learning at home?

Januária: Books are great companions, whatever the situation. They are safe havens; they always teach us and show us how to solve the problems that life throws our way. In a safe environment, which are its pages, we can live many situations, many adventures, experience sensations and feelings that, if experienced “out there”, could be too challenging or dangerous.

Therefore, when parents read with their children or offer them books, it will certainly be a great opportunity for children to get in touch with feelings that appear in this pandemic: fear, anxiety, loneliness, and feeling of helplessness. These books will be like a beacon for them, illuminating the shadows that are around us, bringing hopes of a happy ending, or that everything will pass and transform.

Playstories: In the book “Now I Am…”, the children discover the magic of the Theater to transform themselves into astronauts, clowns, firefighters, and many other characters. Would you say that literature also has that same power?

Januária: Yes, certainly. The magic of theater, movies, and books comes from stories. Storytelling is intrinsic to human beings, we need stories to live, to deal with our problems, to express our feelings and emotions. Every time we hear, see, witness, and tell stories we are exercising our empathy, our ability to understand others, and thus, we understand better the world in which we live.

Playstories: Today children are exposed to countless forms of narrative: cartoons, web series, videos, and podcasts. Amid so many options, what are the benefits of having contact with physical books like this?

Januária: The child’s contact with the physical book is irreplaceable. The book has a smell, a texture, we can start in the middle, or the end, skip pages, read in full, in short, there are so many possibilities. It is an object that invites stillness, a peaceful place within us. The stories contained in the electronic media are surrounded by lights, sounds, and movements. There are many stimuli, which often distract from the plot and focus of the story. The narratives told in the physical books can be “digested” one by one, and by turning each page, the reader can rethink and reinvent the story. I think it is very important that children have access to different narratives so that they can build a rich and diverse reader repertoire.

Playstories: Because it is a personalized story, what differences do you see in the children’s reading experience?

Januária: Every reader dream of becoming a character one day. The experience of “seeing oneself” and feeling literally “inside the story” is something extremely healthy for children’s literary education. In addition to having closer contact with the narrative creation mechanism, the child can exercise their creativity, have fun and especially, experience the power of making choices, realizing how they determine the direction of our life, or what we call our destiny.

Playstories: What tips would you give to families who are going to read this story at home with the children?

Januária: That they feel together with the children, that they read the different options of the story talking to them, showing the different paths that it offers, giving plenty of space for the children to read the text and observe the images how they want to, that is, respecting their hypotheses about the narrative universe of that story. In the end, parents can also put their alternatives to the story and even invent others, inviting children to do the same. But the important thing is that reading this book is pleasurable for everyone.

See also: The importance of reading aloud to children

Januária Cristina Alves

About the author

Master’s in social communication, Journalist, Educommunicator, Info Educator, Storyteller, Video Screenwriter for comic and dramatized stories. Writer, with more than 52 published books, mostly intended for children and young people, and educators. Awarded twice with the Jabuti Award for Brazilian Literature, the Abril Journalism Award, and the Wladimir Herzog Human Rights Award.

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