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Pippa Goodhart reads her book A Bottle of Happiness at Greenwich Book Festival

By pippa Goodhart*

The subject of this blog makes me feel sad and angry and ashamed of my country.  Why?

Publisher Tiny Owl, already creating English language versions of Iranian picture books, decided to embark on a new and positive venture in children’s publishing.  They chose to create books across cultures by pairing up authors and illustrators from different story and artistic traditions.  I was honoured to be asked to write the first of these ‘Bridging the Cultures’ books.

With the world in turmoil, war between different peoples to be seen on our television screens every day, and a mood in Britain, the US and elsewhere for destroying international alliances, and for building walls between different people, I wanted to write a fable kind of a story to counteract that.  Children need to be posed moral questions about how we treat each other on the planet we share, and they need to be set positive examples to reinforce their innate sense of fairness.

 

Our two titles illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi

So I wrote A Bottle of Happiness.  The story tells of two communities of people living either side of a mountain, and how a child with seemingly ‘nothing’ to offer the richer people actually brings them something of great value; happiness through friendship and new ideas.

Tiny Owl asked me who I’d like to illustrate the book.  I chose Ehsan Abdollahi whose pictures in When I Coloured The World are so distinct and wonderful.  Ehsan made my story beautiful too, and it became our book.

A Bottle of Happiness has been very positively reviewed and has sold well.  It has been regarded well enough for the Edinburgh Book Festival to book both Ehsan and me to do events at this year’s festival next month.  There will also be a panel discussion on the importance of books in translation that allow us to share each other’s cultures.

Except that the British Home Office has now refused Ehsan a visa to come to this country.  He submitted all the paperwork needed, funding has been secured to pay all his costs whilst here, and his publisher took full responsibility for this world renowned artist’s proposed short stay in our country.

Ehsan Abdollahi’s self-portrait with his declined application

This isn’t one unfortunate mistake by the Home Office.  It is part of a pattern of refusing entry to people from Iran, even when they are booked for major national events which would enrich us all culturally.  This is the third year that Tiny Owl’s authors and illustrators have been refused entry, and those events have been cancelled as a result.  I suspect that strong feelings will be aired on the panel debate about the importance of sharing cultures through books for children.

We may not have built physical walls around ourselves yet, but this country is in the process of quietly closing minds in ways that most of us haven’t been aware of.  I find the whole thing shocking and shaming, and I hope that you do too.

*Pippa Goodhart is author of many children’s books.

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