This month’s inspirational mum is Claire, bilingual author of some lovely children’s picture books.
My name is Claire Gray-Simon and I have been a French Teacher since we moved to Edinburgh with my husband Phil in 2001. Before that, I was living in Paris, France where I grew up.
We have two sons: Ben and Thom both born in Scotland. I speak French to them and my husband English. My husband and I speak French between us, my husband being himself bilingual (born of a French mother and an English father and raised in England).
When my sons were around 2 and 4 years old, we moved to NYC. There, we met many bilingual families with children around the same age as mine. I remember watching my oldest son Ben especially play and interact with his friends and I was fascinated by their unique way of communicating at the time. They would speak in English and then suddenly for no apparent reason, would switch to French, or sometimes they could start a sentence in English and finish it in French, or the other way round, they could even say the same thing in both languages to make sure they were perfectly understood. They were playing with the languages, it was something instinctive for them.
My idea to create two fictive bilingual characters came up during this period. I knew straight away I wanted to write stories about a little boy and a little girl both bilingual (English and French) approximately the same age my son and his friends were at the time. These characters would become truly good friends and have fun together. The specific ideas for the stories came afterwards.
Originally, the stories were intended to be published on a website. I always had the idea of a series in mind. I also had this clear vision of a different type of bilingual story. I wanted to write mainly in one language and translate the dialogue between the two main characters in the second language in order to reflect their bilingualism.
At first, I wrote the stories in French and translated the dialogues in English. Then, I adapted, or I should say I translated the stories in English with French as the second language. I therefore had two versions of these stories on my former website; The French version with an introduction to the English language and the English version with an introduction to the French language.
When I received interesting feedback on the website and I was told my stories had potential and should be published on printed paper, I decided to rewrite the first two in English (with dialogues translated in French). Why English first and not French? Well, this decision was easy to make, I was confident enough in my English written skills, we had always been living in an English spoken country since the children were born. It was definitely a no-brainer, I thought it was more relevant to reach an audience of Anglophone children and try to make them interested in finding out more about the French language. Rowanvale Books, a Publisher in Cardiff strongly encouraged me and worked with me to release the books.
My age group target is probably children from 5 to 8 years old, but these books can appeal to a wider audience: they can be read-aloud for younger children and can be a more challenging read for older children interested in learning French and improving their French written skills. Even adults studying French at a beginner level told me they were interested in my books!
These books are not French textbooks though, younger readers, if they wish, could easily ignore the French language put in brackets and still enjoy the stories. However, these young readers could also be seduced by the discovery of a different language, consider the other language as a secret code for example, they could even use their creative imagination to invent games to play with their friends, based on this code. I never wanted to be too ‘pushy’ in the learning of French, my intention has always been to offer a gentle and fun approach.
The first purpose of the books remains to entertain children and then to encourage them to learn something they might never have heard of for some, or to practice their French skills for others.
I’ve joined a little lexicon at the end of each book with a selection of words related to the main theme of the stories.
The books are called; ‘The First Day’ and ‘The Birthday Party’. They belong to the series; ‘The Adventures of Justine and Sebastien, the Bilingual Children’
Claire kindly sent both books for us to review. Emily’s review will be up in the next few days.
If you want to get hold of a copy, they are available here:
‘The First Day’
‘The Birthday Party’
To pre-order both books at once and only pay one postage, here are the links;
Watch out for our review of these books, coming up very soon.