About Anthony Manna
“No, I’m not Greek, but I’d like to be.” That’s what I tell folks who ask about my affiliation with Greece once they learn about my attraction to Greek literature in the form of folk- and fairytales, those radiant gems of wit and wisdom. I’ve been in love with Greece, its people, and its traditions since 1992, the year I took up residence in the enchanting city of Thessaloniki on the Thermaic Gulf in Greece’s north central region. The more I absorbed the city’s Byzantine character and explored its ancient walls and ramparts, the more I came to understand why Thessaloniki is known as one of the most sacred and culturally rich regions in this legendary country.
I happened to come to Thessaloniki by way of Kent State University where I’d been working in literacy studies, my attention being held by methods of teaching literature, writing, and drama with aspiring and veteran educators. KSU’s Greek Exchange Program allowed me a two-year teaching and research stint at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
So, there I was at the onset of the fall semester of 1992 in the education department at Aristotle University wondering what might be the most meaningful way of coming to understand Greek society and culture and its educational system. My research in the literacy development of young children in culturally diverse classrooms in the USA had uncovered valuable illustrations of productive teaching and learning styles. Given the rewards gained by those experiences, I decided that I’d like to spend time in a school with Greek children and wondered what they would teach me as they interacted within the child-centered language events I’d encourage them to join.
It was my colleague Soula Mitakidou who led me to a kindergarten in Aristotle University’s Child Development Center. From September, 1992 – to- May, 1993, I moved within the inner sanctum of Greek life through the lives of kindergartners, collaborating with their two welcoming teachers who left enough space and time for Soula and me to invite these children into language learning episodes. Entrenched in the dynamics of classroom, I discovered the complexity of Greek culture by way of the country’s religious and secular rituals and traditions so tightly woven into the fabric of everyday life.
That preschool classroom also proved to be a great setting for mining the treasures of Greek folklore. Stories were told, read, and dramatized throughout the day. Traditional songs and dances often served as delightful transitions between formal lessons, with everyone—both children and adults, joining in the fun. Soula and I soon realized that we shared the same love and respect for tradition, particularly for the stories of old, and that it would be pure joy to try our hand at working up some of these wonderful tales and making them available for young readers outside of Greece. Thus began our Greek folklore project. Our project brought to light Mr. Semolina-Semolinus (Atheneum, 1997), published with Anne Schwartz’s invaluable editorial guidance and illustrated with Giselle Potter’s vibrant watercolors that glow with drama and humor. We followed that award-winning effort with the retellings of twenty eclectic tales in Folktales from Greece: A Treasury of Delights (Greenwood/Libraries Unlimited, 2002), which is enhanced by Georgios Katsagelos’ illuminating photographs and Anastasia Valavanidou’s traditional designs.
The more Soula and I collaborate, the more enthralled we both become by the mysticism, unusual music, and alluring wisdom Greek tales harbor.
About Christodoula Mitakidou
I grew up listening to stories. The oral tradition permeated every facet of our family life; story was one of the ways to explain life’s mysteries. My grandmother Christodoula had a story for everything that happened around us. They were mostly Nasreddin Hodja stories, since grandmother originated from Eastern Thrace and Nasreddin tales were part of that tradition. I knew many of the stories of what seemed an endless repertoire by the age of 3-4. However, being my grandmother’s favorite, the youngest, the only girl in the family, and also the one who inherited her name, I had the privilege of spending hours with her. She told me many stories, but my most favorite ones were those she saved just for me and told me in bed at night. They were our special stories. I am pretty convinced now that she made those stories up because in the tons of folktales I have read since, I have never found them. I can recognize bits and pieces, but the stories were hers. Unfortunately, I was too young to have the prudence to preserve them or the academic perversion of collecting them!
I will never forget how she ended her stories, maybe because she made her endings so personal. When the story ended with a feast, and most stories do, she as storyteller would always be offered gifts and treats to bring to me; but as some wild dogs would seize them from her, she could not deliver them!
With that background no wonder that I found a way to include stories in my academic endeavors! Anthony Manna’s enthusiasm and reverence for Greek folktales rekindled my love for them and offered me the opportunity to deal with them professionally. Our collaboration gave birth to our first children’s book, Mr Semolina-Semolinus, a picture-book treatment of a Greek folktale, enthusiastically received and published by Anne Schwartz at Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Our second book Folktales from Greece. A Treasury of Delights, published by Libraries Unlimited, was an anthology of 20 Greek folktales. The Orphan is our third book for English speaking audiences, again generously hosted by Anne Schwartz.
In the mean time, back in Greece, Anthony Manna, Evangelia Tressou and I started the big book tradition with our book H Gata Koumbara (The Cat-in-Law), published by Alexa Apostolaki at Kaleidoscope. Evangelia Tressou and I have just published our second big book, H Mairn Pineza (Mary the Thumb Tack) again published by Kaleidoscope.
I live and work in Thessaloniki, Greece, my birthplace. My love for tales remains and I have found ways to include them even in my teaching at the Department of Primary Education at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in a course on literacy development through literature.
About Giselle Potter
From the Illustrator, Giselle Potter
"I drew a lot as a kid because that is what everyone around me did. Everyone in my family was an artist and they all included me in their art. Both my grandparents were painters and my grandfather always invited me (and everyone who visited his studio) to add to his paintings. My dad made sculptures with found metal in the garage next to our house and the best way to talk to him was to think of something to make in his garage with him.
My parents had a puppet theater company called The Mystic Paper Beasts, with large papier-mâché masks and puppets. Some of their shows were stories like The Emperors Nightingale, the story of Queen Isabella of Portugal, the life of Toulouse-Lautrec, or one about the circus called Manimal Zoo. Until we were teenagers my sister, Chloe, and I performed and traveled with them, mostly doing street theater in the piazzas of Europe. My mom helped me a keep all my pictures, stories, and tokens from our travels glued into a journal that I still use for inspiration now. When missing school became more disruptive for me and my interest in being a normal teenager grew, I quit.
After high school I went to Indonesia by myself and studied Balinese miniature paintings. I realized painting is what I’m happiest doing and I could actually go to college where that’s all I would do. So I went to Rhode Island School of Design. I spent my last year of RISD in Rome where I painted lots of pictures of saints.
My first illustration job was a drawing for the New Yorker and soon after Chronicle Books published my book of saints, Lucy’s Eyes and Margaret’s Dragon. Anne Schwartz offered me my first children’s book Mr. Semolina-Semolinus, and I have illustrated over twenty since including The Year I Didn’t Go To School, about the experience of traveling in Europe with my parents’ puppet theater.
My latest endeavors with Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade are The Boy Who loved Words (Spring, 2006) and The Littlest Grape Stomper (Spring 2007). At the moment, I am working with them on a version of the 19th century poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod.
Now I live in the Hudson Valley with my husband, who is a furniture maker, and our two daughters Pia and Isabel, who are just discovering for themselves the endless joy of making pictures." --Giselle Potter, 2007