Today I have a guest post and author interview from Madeleine Editions author, Eleni N. Gage. Madeleine Editions offers travel-themed multi-sensory children’s stories with Apple Books that are pretty cool. Scroll down to read the interview and see a bit of a Madeleine Editions book trailer.
What was your inspiration for choosing Nicaragua as the setting for Wiggly Tooth?
You know how some moms say, “You don’t just marry a man, you marry his whole family?” Well, when I married my husband, I got an entire country—Nicaragua. He was born there, lived there until he was seven, and then moved to Miami. His family moved back to the country a few years later and he lived there as an adult as well.
I grew up in Athens, Greece, from the ages of 3 to 7—my father is Greek—so Emilio and I both experienced growing up between two countries. We now have two children, and we lived in Nicaragua for 7 months while he was completing a work project, I was writing my novel which is based there, The Ladies of Managua, and our oldest was 13 months to 20 months old. I really fell in love with the country, much like I did with the man!
As for the specific plot of Wiggly Tooth, last time we were in Nicaragua for Christmas, our daughter, Amalia, lost a tooth. And I have to admit, the tooth fairy did get a bit confused and showed up late.
That’s when we learned all about El Raton Perez, and we did wonder, who is responsible for teeth lost in international waters or to multicultural children?
Cross-cultural traditions and rituals is a theme that comes up in your writing: for magazines, in your books for adults, in Wiggly Tooth, etc. What sparked your interest in this topic?
My father was born in a small village in Greece and my mother in Minnesota. I grew up in Greece and then Worcester, Massachusetts, surrounded by my Greek aunts who were always baking magic cakes when they lost things, telling my fortune in coffee grounds, and wafting incense around the house, while my mother followed behind them, always pointing out, “isn’t that interesting! That’s a ritual!”
I was so fascinated by it all—how reality and perception are so different for people and how those differences can be culturally informed—that when I went off to college at Harvard University, I majored in Folklore and Mythology. (No, my parents were not thrilled with that choice of major.)
I’ve been writing about rituals and cultural customs ever since. My first book, North of Ithaka, is a travel memoir about the year I spent living in the small Greek village where my father was born, overseeing the rebuilding of my grandparents’ house, which had fallen into ruin after the Greek Civil War. My first novel, Other Waters, is about an Indian-American psychiatrist who thinks that her family has been cursed. Then came The Ladies of Managua, about three generations of Nicaraguan women, each with her own secret, who are forced to confront their complicated relationships with each other and their homeland. And my latest book is a nonfiction gift book called Lucky in Love: Traditions, Customs & Rituals to Personalize Your Wedding. It’s a cross-cultural collection of rituals meant to bring luck to couples getting married, especially those who may be mixing cultures or faiths, or designing their own ceremony. It draws on the years I spent as Executive Editor of Martha Stewart Weddings—which I so enjoyed because there’s nothing I love more than a good ritual!
Another topic that comes up in your writing is traveling with your kids. What tips do you have for parents traveling with kids?
A friend once said to me, “any time you travel with kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a trip.” And that’s true! It’s hard work, but can be so fun and rewarding and it’s really what they remember as they get older—my parents took us to Greece often, and my sister and I really bonded on those trips. My advice would be: 1.) Pack in as many trips as possible before they turn two and have to start paying for flights (also, the younger a baby is, the easier the travel—no running around chasing after them).
2.) Bring colored pencils, workbooks, card games, any small, flat activities you can find. And download lots of Madeleine Editions books onto your phone, so that they feel like they’re winning because it’s screen time, and you feel like they’re reading and being exposed to music and new languages. (Personally, I find it easier to control my phone than an ipad, so that’s what I travel with, although I know lots of parents swear by an ipad—my two kids would just end up fighting over it.)
3.) Kids LOVE a scavenger hunt. Turn anything into a game or contest–who can see the most cats, birds, trees, boats, whatever!—and they will be way more engaged.
4.) My kids are picky eaters, but we try to find a few local things they’ll eat everywhere so that we’re not always looking for pizza or chicken nuggets. In Greece it’s gavros, the little fried fish you eat whole. (People are always like, “Oh, your kids eat fish!” but these are the french fries of seafood.) In Nicaragua, it’s gallo pinto, red beans and rice. And they love a pancake or tortilla of any kind.
Do you have any sightseeing recommendations for families visiting Nicaragua in particular?
We lived in Granada for seven months and it’s so beautiful there–a Spanish colonial town on the banks of a lake. I always bring the kids to Cafe Sonrisa, which has a hammock workshop within it, an amazing mural on the wall and lots of info about sign language—it’s run by hearing impaired staff. My children also love taking horse and carriage rides and boat trips around the lake. When they were young enough to fit in hiking backpacks we hiked the cloud forest on Mombacho, one of the nearby volcanoes, and a trail to see parrots flying around a gorge in El Chocoyero natural reserve. There are also so many beautiful beaches both on the Pacific coast and off the Corn Islands in the Caribbean.
Wiggly Tooth is told not only with words, but also with music and lightly animated illustration – how do these other forms of media play into the story itself as well as its setting?
As a writer it is SO FUN to see your words take shape in other ways through art and music. I am just so delighted each time I watch Wiggly Tooth and the kids and I always notice something new—the way the kettle whistles in time to the music, or the green lizard darting up the wall. It’s truly magical. I can’t speak to the impact on children’s brains as they’re listening, watching, and reading all at once, or to the collective power of three original art forms (writing, music, art) together. But I can say how much I enjoy it!
I love the book’s takeaway: wherever you go, the people who love you will always find you. What other words of wisdom might you give children growing up in multicultural households, and what advice would you give parents raising children across cultures?
I think that I spent a lot of my youth trying to figure out where home is. It took me a long time to realize that you carry home with you, in the memories of the people you care about, the traditions you keep alive, the things that you see that remind you of them and the stories and experiences you collect to tell them.
When you love more than one place, and the people you care about are all over the world, you’re always missing something, somewhere, or someone. It’s easy to wander around a little bit heartbroken. But you’re also so lucky to have so many people and places to love, and the opportunity to connect to so much of the world.
I think what I’d like to impart to my kids is that the world is an adventure, and there’s nothing better than discovering it with the people you love—and finding more places and people to care about along the way.
Eleni N. Gage is the daughter of Greek father and a Minnesotan mother who has spent her life exploring cultures both foreign and familiar to her. She graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Folklore and Mythology before pursuing a career in journalism and earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. The author of the travel memoir North of Ithaka, the novels Other Waters and The Ladies of Managua, and the gift book Lucky in Love, Eleni is now a contributor to Martha Stewart Living magazine and freelance journalist living in New York with her Nicaraguan husband and their two Greekaraguan children.
Madeleine Editions merges traditional storytelling and digital technology to create a collection of children’s Read-Aloud Apple Books that provide a multilingual, multi-sensory, and multi-cultural experience. The unique design allows artists around the world to collaborate, weaving story, music, and moving pictures into magical books that keep the children interested in both native and foreign languages. Narrated by voice actors in NY, Paris, and Taipei, the collection offers easy exposure to English, Chinese, and French.