How does a culture divorced from its native land survive? The conversation after my presentation at the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair delved into this question. Snow Lion’s goal of actualizing languages so as to inspire children to learn their mother tongue resonated with audience members. Ilse, an illustrator in the audience, spoke of her experience as a child growing up with Latvian parents in the United States. She never learned Latvian because there were no ways to practice the language.
Ilse’s story reminded me of the critical role that storybooks play in all cultures, even in those that do not come to mind when we think of endangered languages and cultures, like the communities of immigrants around the world. Language is the glue that keeps families and communities together. The site ourmothertongues.org offers a record of the current movement to safeguard Native American languages. In one video, a Navajo mother speaks about the special relationship that her own mother and her son share: while she never learned her native language from her mother, who was punished for speaking Navajo in the government boarding school she was forced to attend years ago, her mother now teaches her grandson.
And thank you again to Lynne Rudolph for helping with travelling costs. Lynne grew up in a family that valued books and learning. Her mother was a librarian and, following in her footsteps, she became a librarian too. During her 30 years as an elementary school librarian, she developed a deep love, appreciation and respect for children’s literature, its authors, translators, illustrators … And most importantly – its audience. “Bringing the love of books and story to children was the thing that I loved most about my job,” she says. “Making that connection was so profoundly important to me. I am proud to be connected with the Snow Lion Project.”