Note: This interview was conducted by Greg Nedved, NML President
Gina Valle ‘s work has focused on diversity and has chosen to examine and share it through the creation of books, documentaries, exhibits, research, storytelling. Dr. Valle holds a PhD from the University of Toronto (OISE) in Teacher Education and Multicultural Studies. An overview of her work is at www.Diversity-Matters.ca & www.AtOnePress.ca
Why did you write The Best of All Worlds?
The Best of All Worlds (link) is the first of its kind anywhere. It celebrates multilingualism in children’s literature. This book is not only for children however. It is also for parents and grandparents who understand the value of teaching the little ones in their lives about other cultures, languages, ideas, and people. Kids deserve to see that no matter their language, culture, or place of birth, we are equal.
Why should someone buy this book?
There are 7 stories in 7 languages, but actually there are 14 or 21 stories because each story is accompanied by a French & English translation. All the stories are original and all the illustrations are original. UNESCO endorsed this book for what it represents to children and their communities.
What problems did you encounter in writing this book?
Getting men to be involved in the project. it was important for me to show that men are active and engaged in their children’s education and personal growth and so men had to be part of it, as storytellers and illustrators and graphic designers. In the end, we had a fabulous project team full of talented women and men. Another challenge was that no publisher would pick up the book. I suppose they could not see the value of such a book, so I had to finance it myself, but somehow I did it, with the help of dedicated, caring people, all of whom I name in my acknowledgements.
What universal message/s does the book convey?
Kids deserve to see that no matter their language, culture, or place of birth, we are equal.
How did you decide on the seven stories you chose?
The Best of All Worlds is a collection of 7 of the best stories that were submitted over the years for the Rainbow Caterpillar Multilingual Kid Lit Award. The stories found in The Best of All Worlds were originally written in Arabic, Farsi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Each of the stories are translated into English and French, and have illustrations. In this way the book will not only showcase the mother languages of the writers and create pride among the children speaking that language, but will also promote “diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism” among young readers.
How did you become involved in Diversity Matters?
In Canada, we pride ourselves on getting things right when it comes to diversity, and overall we should, but we all know that there is a long way to go before poor kids get a decent education, aboriginal communities get more respect, women break the glass ceiling, and the list goes on. I became involved in diversity issues over twenty years ago because I believed that each individual, no matter their accent, their skin colour or their God, should lead a fulfilling life in this country. In the end, each one of us needs to decide if we want to work towards a solution, or not. That is why my work is in diversity – to look for solutions and share them. Each of the projects that Diversity Matters undertakes works towards that goal. I have decided that in my own way, I would like to be part of the solution.
What is the purpose of your Diversity Matters initiative?
Diversity Matters is an effort to address not only the personal but also the national challenges that come with living in a multicultural country. In the end, what we have in common must take precedence over that which is different. Without a doubt, each one of us brings different strengths and richness of experience to the dialogue, in the hopes of reducing barriers and increasing understanding. Diversity Matters encourages us to think, see, and feel outside of the box, and to build on what is common between us as citizens of this country and beyond. In order for diversity to strive here and elsewhere, we need to move beyond the rhetoric, the policies and procedures, and talk to people in our community and to those who are our neighbors and have experiences different than ours. You will see how Diversity Matters has gone into the community and talked to diverse people, and learned quite a bit along the way.
How does the U.S. approach towards diversity compare with Canada’s?
Our scar is our indigenous past, yours is slavery. Our multiculturalism is within a bilingual context and your multiculturalism is within an official unilingual context, which is unofficially bilingual. I see and hear Spanish everywhere. Our public education and healthcare system allow communities to thrive and within one generation of being Canadian can surpass goals they wished for but never be sure that they could attain.
What is your own language background?
I was born in Canada. My parents are post-war immigrants from Italy. I speak English., French, and Italian.
What is your next writing project?
A while ago I completed an exhibit Horizons https://www.atonepress.ca/horizons-exhibit.html which celebrates the book. I am focusing my work on Diversity Matters http://www.diversity-matters.ca/ and hope to return to writing soon.
What is the function of a language museum?
A language museum validates the relevance of language, as an extension of our identity. When I speak italian to my parents, I feel closer to them and that we can have an authentic conversation. When I speak French to my children, I feel that we are honoring their family’s past. A language museum showcases that the cornerstone of who we are begins with language and the way we connect with it. Bravo for such a museum.