Le Jardin De Babel

Où avais-je la tête ?!?

C'est ce qui m'est venu à l'esprit la semaine dernière lorsque j'ai assisté à une répétition du Jardin de Babel. Répétition qui m'a tour à tour ravie et étonnée.

Mais dans quel monde bizarre m'étais-je plongée, il y a quinze ans, lorsque j'ai écrit l'histoire de Babel, dans laquelle évoluaient ces personnages à la fois invraisemblables et loufoques … qui venaient certainement d'une autre planète ?

Probablement de la planète où je passe une partie de mon temps à échafauder des histoires et des images qui se retrouvent dans mes albums ou dans mes pièces de théâtre.

Le Théâtre de l'oeil a dépoussiéré les marionnettes, les décors et les costumes qui dormaient au fond des boîtes depuis 1999, afin de rejouer le Jardin de Babel. À ma grande surprise, la poussière est vite retombée, les couleurs sont aussi vives et fraîches qu'avant, les marionnettes ont toujours la bougeotte et le texte reste absurde, surréaliste et plein d'humour. La musique résonne, la magie opère et nous sommes entraînés malgré nous dans ces aventures incroyables.

Voici Babel, jeune jardinier naïf et curieux, qui se trouve confronté à un monde sens dessus dessous. Il y rencontre Marcelle, un mouton volant qui passe sa journée à brouter les nuages, et un roi nain à la barbe bleue au bord du désespoir, ou encore un poisson polisson qui raffole des jeux de mots et qui nage dans la mer sous le jardin de Babel. Il fait la connaissance d'une princesse ensorcelée et invisible et d'un lapin aux oreilles en feuillage de carotte… toute une galerie de personnages qui l'entraînent dans une aventure abracadabrante.

Où avais-je la tête lorsque j'ai créé ce monde fantaisiste ? Plongée dans l'écriture d'une histoire qui captiverait l'imaginaire des enfants, pour qui la frontière entre l'imaginaire et la réalité est mince comme un fil de soie, un monde dans lequel les enfants pourraient vivre des aventures rocambolesques et palpitantes. En regardant évoluer Babel et ses compagnons d'aventure, j'ai retrouvé la joie que j'ai éprouvée, il y a quinze ans, à écrire cette pièce.

Le jardin de Babel sera joué sur la scène de la Maison Théâtre à Montréal, du 24 septembre au 12 octobre 2014


BABEL'S GARDEN

What was I thinking? What planet was I living on?

This is what came to mind when I saw the rehearsal of Le jardin de Babel last week, where the puppets I created 15 years ago, evolved and waltzed, flew and swam in the absurd, surrealistic world where imagination is king.

The story of Babel, a young gardener, naive and curious, is confronted one morning by his familiar world turned upside down. There, amongst others, he meets Marcelle, a flying sheep wearing red high heels, grazing every cloud in sight. As well, he spies Signor Rapini, an italian fisherman, fishing in Babel's very own vegetable garden where he is also astounded to see a talking fish popping out between two carrots. Add to that a ferocious crab, an invisible princess in distress and a desperate blue-bearded dwarf king and you have the ingredients of a fantastic adventure where the conventions of logic fly out the window.

I am thrilled that the Théâtre de l'Oeil has decided to recreate my story of love and friendship and acceptance of the unconventional. And that the magic still resonates in Babel's Garden.

Le jardin de Babel will be played at the Maison Théâtre in Montreal, from September 24th to October 12th 2014.

Only in French.

Stella, Star of the Stage

I am so thrilled that the Mermaid Theatre Company is producing Stella, Queen of the Snow as a puppet play. Mermaid Theatre has incredible experience with creating shows based on well-loved children's books.

They use the complete text of the book and create the puppets, landscapes, and costumes based on the illustrations. It's like the characters of the stories walked and skipped and ran right out of the books onto the stage. I can't wait to see Stella romping through a snowy landscape, building a snowman, skating, throwing snowballs, or sliding down a hill, with Sam and Fred in tow.

I spent last Mother's Day in Studio Inverse with Dominique Bassel, the sound engineer, and Steven Naylor, who will create the music and narrative track, and Jim Morrow, the artistic director, recording the story in English and French. I am used to reading to children and hearing their delightful reactions punctuating the story as I read. This was a completely different experience. I read Stella, Queen of the Snow over and over again into a huge mike, wearing earphones, alone in a sound-proof room.  But I am very happy that Stella and Sam will be speaking through my voice.

I am curious, though. How will they make the snow fall? What will the music sound like? We'll find out soon...

The show is premiering at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Halifax on June 21st and will be touring in Canada and the US in the fall and winter. Have a look at this great video of the Mermaid artists creating the puppets, as well as the sets, before going into rehearsals...

On my first day of school

 Me, as a little girl.

Me, as a little girl.

I was gripping my mother’s hand when we arrived at the door to the kindergarten. My baby sister held on to my mother’s other hand, sobbing loudly and dragging her feet. She had been scared to death by the smiling crossing guard who said hello to her. You would have thought he had bitten her.

 

 We had walked all the way from the motel where we had been living for a month. We had moved from Montreal to Oakville, Ontario for my father’s new job, but my parents couldn’t find an affordable apartment. So we were living temporarily in a tiny white decrepit cabin, part of the Miracle Motel complex on the outskirts of Oakville. The miracle was that the four of us could live, sleep and eat in one small, unheated room with a kitchenette.  My sister and I slept on the couch, my parents on the foldout bed. All our toys and books were in storage so we mostly played on the stoop with rocks and twigs. We were the sole guests of the motel. The days were long and boring. I missed my friends in Montreal.

So, as you can imagine, I had been waiting impatiently for this first day of school. My mother kept telling me how wonderful it would be: I would make friends, sing songs, draw pictures and read books. There would be new games and new toys. There was a playground where I would play tag, jump rope and play hopscotch with all my new friends. We went shopping for a new dress, new shoes, a pink schoolbag and a Babar lunchbox. I was so excited I could hardly sleep the night before.

We entered the kindergarten room. A big light-filled colorful room with children’s drawings taped all over the walls, shelves of books and mountains of toys. There were children playing, laughing, running. A tall smiling lady came over and talked with my mother, then bent down to talk to me. Meaningless sounds came out of her mouth. I strained to hear. More meaningless sounds. Puzzled, I looked at my mother, who laughed and said, “Voici ton professeur Madame Jennifer. Elle parle anglais.”

My mother had forgotten to mention one small thing: I would be starting school in English. I had never heard a word of English in my life. “Ne t’en fais pas, tu apprendras vite”— Don’t worry, you will learn English very quickly — said my mother as she kissed and hugged me tight. “Je reviens bientôt.” She left, pulling my sobbing sister after her.

I stood by the door. The colors drained out of the room. I felt cold. All the children seemed to stare at me. They knew that I couldn’t speak their language. This wasn’t going to be wonderful at all. I carefully put my new Babar lunchbox on the floor and stiffly turned my back to the class. Through the window I could see my mother walking quickly down the street with my sister in her arms. They got smaller and smaller, then disappeared into the distance.

“How long does it take to learn a new language?” I asked myself. I knew that if I didn’t move I would be invisible. But someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned slowly. A fat girl in a pink dress wearing sparkly blue glasses smiled at me and took my hand. She gently pulled me to the carpet where all the children sat in a circle. I sat down next to her. The children started singing a song in the language I did not understand. After a while I hummed along. The fat girl with the sparkly blue glasses smiled at me.

I hummed louder.

This blog post was originally published on the Groundwood Books and House of Anansi blog. Click here to read posts from my fellow Groundwood authors on their first days of school.

Behind the scenes of Read Me A Story, Stella, or How childhood books color your life

I think that of all the Stella and Sam books I have written, Read Me A Story, Stella is the one where I most recognize myself as the child I was.

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From the age of six, I was a voracious, omnivorous and insatiable reader. I read all the time and everywhere: in bed, when I woke up at dawn; at breakfast (mainly cereal boxes); on the school bus, with erasers and paper airplanes flying over my head; in the classroom, hiding my book under my desk; and in various forts built out of ferns and branches (see Stella, Fairy of the Forest) in the forest across the road from our house. I read in the bathtub (see On my Island), which waterlogged quite a few of my books; while walking the dog; and, of course, in bed with a flashlight under the covers (I think flashlights should be mandatory in children's bedrooms). I carried the stories and images within me, making connections with the world that I was discovering as I grew up. They became part of my life, and, even today, evoke moments of great happiness.

That doesn't mean that I was a quiet, bookish, introspective child  au contraire. I was active and enthusiastic, eager to discover the world around me. But I needed books to nourish me  I was always hungry. Their characters would inspire my daydreams, my games of role-playing with my friends and my theatrical ventures in the basement of our house (see Rainy Day Magic). Big bad wolves and sly foxes, wicked stepmothers and hungry witches would make me thrill with fear, knowing all the while that there was often a happy ending. I would identify with the emotions of the heroes or heroines  the mischievousness of Curious George, the fearlessness of Madeline, the wise and mysterious Petit Prince, the hilarious Petit Nicolas, the intrepid Tintin or the tragic sadness of Hansel and Gretel abandoned by their parents. Later on, I would identify with Velvet Brown in National Velvet, Lucy and Peter in the Chronicles of Narnia or Anne of Green Gables. I would go on and on, throughout my adolescence and into adulthood.

In Read Me A Story, Stella, I wanted to suggest that books are a powerful and dynamic part of a child's life. They connect the child to the outside world and offer new perspectives. Books bring forward questions and stimulate the imagination. Books reassure children that they are not alone. But I did not want Read Me A Story, Stella, to have a heavy-handed message about the joys of reading. I wanted to continue to write about Stella and Sam enjoying another day of adventures with minute discoveries and moments of wonder, which is what childhood should be like, building a perfect wolf-proof doghouse for Fred, teaching Fred to fly a kite, watching carrots grow, and wondering if there are crocodiles and rhinoceroses in the pond. Stella and Sam see rabbit-shaped clouds, soft wriggly caterpillars and frogs that wear green velvet jackets.

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But throughout this perfect summer day, Stella is seen reading books that make her laugh, that wax poetic or connect in unforeseen ways with the adventures that she and Sam are having.

Since a book shared with a child (or with a whole class) is meant to be read, to inspire the imagination and start a conversation, try this after reading Read Me A Story, Stella:

• Ask the child if she can think of a story where a wolf blows a house down. Does she think that Sam has read that story? Which is stronger, a wolf or a tornado?

• Stella says, "Caterpillars go to sleep for a long, long time and dream about flying." That's how they become butterflies. Is she right? Look up caterpillars in an insect book. Ask the child if he has seen any insects in Read Me a Story, Stella. Go through the book again and let him find them.

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• Has the child ever read a book about flying cats? (see Caramba)

• Or a book about making soup with stones? (see Stone Soup)

• Or a book about bats?

• Go outside, and find a soft patch of grass to lie on. Look at the clouds and spot different cloud-shapes.

A book doesn't really end, it is the beginning of a thought process that colors our vision of the world.

 

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Petites fenêtres sur le monde

À l'adolescence, j'avais des correspondants aux quatre coins du monde! Je trouvais leurs noms dans les petites annonces de la célèbre revue de bandes dessinées, Pilote. J'étais curieuse et avide de savoir comment vivaient les jeunes ailleurs dans le monde. Quels étaient leurs passe-temps ? Leur musique préférée ? À quoi rêvaient-ils ? Je recevais des lettres d'un peu partout, de l'Egypte, de l'Afrique, de la France ou de la Hollande, entre autres. Les enveloppes étaient toujours ornées de plusieurs timbres multicolores. On y retrouvait des plantes exotiques, des bêtes sauvages ou des oiseaux tropicaux. D'autres arboraient d'immenses palais, des pyramides ou de vastes déserts. J'étais fascinée par ces petites fenêtres qui s'ouvraient sur des mondes insolites et inconnus.  Je rêvais de voyager dans ces pays qui avaient choisi un éléphant ou un chameau, une mosquée ou une pagode, une oeuvre d'art ou un roi pour représenter leur pays.

Ces images inspirantes qui me permettaient de voyager dans mon imaginaire me sont revenues lorsque Poste Canada a proposé la création de deux timbres à l'effigie des héros de ma série de livres Stella et Sacha. Cette proposition me ravissait, je n'avais jamais imaginé que ces petits personnages que j'avais créés il y a quinze ans, en quelques coups de pinceaux et avec mes mots, auraient l'honneur de représenter le Canada sur des timbres. Mais j'étais surtout heureuse et fière parce que ces timbres allaient souligner l'importance de la littérature pour enfants, tout en faisant la promotion de la lecture.

Je suis très heureuse du choix des dessins. Ils représentent bien les personnalités de Stella et de Sacha. L’exubérance et la joie de vivre de Stella, suspendue à l'envers dans une branche d'arbre, imitant une chauve-souris… Et la douce ambiance de partage et d'amitié fraternelle entre Stella et Sacha qui lisent un livre ensemble. 

J'ai été étonnée que ces timbres, conçus par Peter Scott de Q30 Design, reflètent si fidèlement les couleurs des dessins originaux et

l'esprit de mon univers, jusque dans les moindres détails. Remarquez les cheveux de Stella qui débordent de l'image comme si le vent soufflait doucement, ou le voilier qui semble vouloir s'évader sur des mers lointaines en dehors du cadre. L'attention portée à ces petits détails donne une impression d'espace et de fluidité.

Quel plaisir d'imaginer ces timbres voyageant à travers le monde et, qui sait, inspirant peut-être des enfants à écrire des lettres ou à partager un livre avec un ami ...

Marie-Louise Gay's books are available from your favourite wholesaler or bookstore.
Or visit Groundwood Books.