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Valeria Kiselova and the magic of turning children’s stories into a passion for reading

Valeria Kiselova, a native of Odessa (Ukraine), but living in Benalmádena for years, has always been interested in writing. Perhaps it was seeing her mother create poetry or because of the horror and science fiction books that her father liked so much and that she secretly read with passion as a child. At only 11 years old, she published her first story in the newspaper of her hometown. Mother of a girl with autism, she has done extensive research on the development of children with special needs and is a tireless creator of specific materials (stories with pictograms, material for children with ASD and SLI) aimed at children with language comprehension problems.

Although she moves in the world of imagination and creativity, she has his feet on the ground and has not missed the opportunity to deal with social issues and current problems aimed at children, bringing real events to the world of fantasy as with The wandering cat and the reality of refugees o The princess glued to the mobile, in which it captures the dependence of young people on technology at an early age and a possible solution linked to reading.

Among her artistic production there is a bit of everything. It helps us work on language comprehension with children, especially those with special needs. Her stories also make us laugh, children and adults alike, bringing to light a practice that is perhaps more common than is believed, although few recognize it, with The richest mucus in the world. And she is capable of making us go from laughing to critical thinking about compassion, tolerance or solidarity, to ultimately questioning things, and in her case, at a very early age. She invites us to dream of magical worlds full of beautiful pictures in which unicorns have a great time at fairs… In her works we can find life itself: with a less friendly face, which we cannot ignore, and that other part full of of fantasy, dreams, laughter, that they complement each other in our day to day life, they feed our soul and make us grow in values.    

-Being your mother a poet, I imagine that from a very young age you have had contact with the world of letters…

-Since I was little I saw my mother write and I shared with her that love for literature and especially for poetry. My father also read a lot… he read science fiction and horror and I loved reading his books on the sly because they weren’t for children (smiles). When I was 11 years old I wrote a story and my mother took it to the Odessa newspaper and they published it. After I stopped writing for a while…

-Cast?

-Because I wanted to write a long novel, but it was difficult for me. As an adult, they told me that perhaps I was more of a short genre, with its well-defined parts, after all, stories that can be written quickly, in one breath.

-Your first book The princess learns to speak is inspired by your eldest daughter…

Yes, I wrote that story about her. My daughter has autism spectrum disorder and I was hoping she would speak up one day. I watched how my daughter interacted with the speech therapists in her classes and I even had to stop speaking to her in Russian, -Valeria is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian- and I don’t know, at that time I thought I would never be able to read her books… For me, literature is so important in I spent hours in my life crying, not so much because I couldn’t leave my native language, but thinking that I would never be able to read him a story… In therapies with speech therapists I learned about books with pictograms and saw what worked, having visual support my daughter was beginning to understand the words, the sounds. That’s when I wrote The Princess Learns to Talk, about a girl who begins to talk thanks to books and her therapist.

-You have a special interest in creating adapted materials for children with language comprehension problems…

-I have published two more books and many others in Ukraine. It is a topic that interests me a lot. In fact, I was a professor of Linguistics Applied to Speech Therapy for a few years at the University of Malaga and it is something that I am passionate about. Now I continue with this adventure and together with the same illustrator of the books with pictograms that I have published, I am working on several new books with these resources, which can be found on Amazon, and which can reach any reader in any country in the world. We realized that in the United States, England or Australia, for example, these types of resources that are so useful were not used, so I have several books with pictograms in a very manageable format that just now have just been released. In addition to helping with language comprehension, they are great for learning new languages.

-Sometimes I think that illustrators are for children’s books like colors are for food, in the sense that little ones are guided by one color or another to encourage them to try this or that food…

-I think that the illustration is even more important than the text in a children’s book, especially lately. In my childhood there were hardly any illustrated books, but now it is the most important thing. I cannot imagine my books without the wonderful illustrations of these professionals. I have beautiful illustrated albums, such as Corni, the unicorn that went to the fair orThe nougat factory, which are beautiful… they are one of those books that you want to keep as a treasure. These drawings have a special beauty…

-You are sweeping The richest mucus in the world, what do you think is the secret of this great success?

-I think the secret is that I’m talking about something that no one dares to say: that we eat our snot (laughs), even if it’s so scandalous… The children have a great time with this book, they laugh a lot. To the storytellers that I have been, I see the surprised face of the parents when I ask: Who has ever eaten a mucus? Because there is always someone who raises his hand or points to the next (laughs). The secret like that of Who Moved My Poop is because they are really fun books.

-You have also dealt with immigration in your stories with The Wandering Cat, how did you come up with the idea? The book is open ended, what was your purpose?

-I wrote this book when I saw what was happening in Syria… I was in a lot of pain and I think that writers when something hurts so much we have to get it out. The wandering cat It is the story of a cat whose country the tigers come to and they are not allowed to live in peace, so they have to leave… The ending is open so that each one ends it according to their feelings… It hurt me so much to see how the Syrians had nowhere to go … now with the war in Ukraine this book has been republished.

-As a Ukrainian, what is happening must be very hard…

-Very much.  I did not expect that Ukraine would be attacked by a neighboring country and even less in such a horrific way.  I am trying to restrict watching the news a bit because it is something horrible for me… I try to see only where the aggressor is going in case there is more people I can help. My grandmother and my mother, a friend, have come to my house… I thought more people would come but Spain is very far away… although it has surprised me how people in their private capacity have helped so much… all my friends have sent food, clothes, collaborated with money… there are people who have crossed all over Europe to bring humanitarian aid and have returned with refugees… It is amazing.

-How was the visit to the Arroyo de la Miel Library by the Ukrainian children who have come to Benalmádena as refugees? You read them in their native language…

-It went very well… they had a great time and also, I brought them a lot of sweets, so it was a complete success (smiles).

-Rhymes are also present in some of your works, for example, in the book of riddles that you fuse with culture: One, two, three, what painter is he?…

-Yes. Ten of the most famous Spanish painters appear, while teaching children to behave in museums. I was teaching Russian at the Popular University of Mijas and one of my students had done Fine Arts. I showed him this book of riddles, he liked it and he began to draw to make the illustrations, he also illustrated afterwards Flowers rebel. One, two, three, what painter is he?…It is the best-selling book in museums.

-Many adults, and more and more children, live like The Princess glued to the mobile… she found the solution in the Library, do we go to the Benalmádena Libraries enough?

-(Laughs)… I go a lot. I think a lot of people go because the Benalmádena Libraries have good books, they invest in new titles, and they offer many interesting activities… I am also a little princess glued to the mobile, don’t believe it… because in the end, the promotion of my books requires me to work a lot on social networks… We have to disconnect from the mobile, we are intoxicated…

-Besides writing you also do storytelling…

-I make storytelling from my own books and also specific ones for children with special educational needs. I was recently invited to Madrid, I also went to La Palma and well, I had a great time… I don’t even know how to explain it. When you see that your fantasy amuses the little ones, that they laugh or get excited about the things you have invented, you feel so good…

-Are you going to encourage yourself to make the leap to the adult public?

I have ideas, but I haven’t sat down to do it. The thing is, I now have children’s projects and I don’t have time to cover everything…

-And for the little ones,  what can you tell us ahead of time?

-I haven’t closed contracts yet, but two or three new books will come out next year.

-As a curiosity, have your books been developed in Benalmádena?

-All. Maybe an idea occurred to me outside, but everything has been done from here…

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