Author of the book Santa Claus has Coronavirus, Michelle TANON-LORA is a Doctor of the University of Burgundy, a teacher-researcher at the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Cocody-Abidjan (UFRICA) and a lecturer in Spanish Literature, Literary Criticism and Social Communication (option Behavioral Strategies) and film analysis. She has written several books for young people and teaches courses in “African folk tales and games” at UFRICA.
She created an association called Pathé–Pathé which means “Patchwork, sharing culture” in Bhete. She is the author of storybooks for young people and works as a storyteller and cultural ambassador.
She travels around the world thanks to the Lec’Tour project which establishes libraries in rural and suburban areas. She is the recipient of several awards including:
The 2015 National Library Award for children’s literature, with the book “Le bébé de Madame Guenon.”
– The Jeanne de Cavally Prize for Children’s Literature 2016, with the book “Tavly’s Mishaps.”
Muna Kalati: How long have you been writing?
-I have been writing since 2009, the year my first children’s book “La ceinture de Madame Fourmi” published by Les Classiques Ivoiriens.
MK: You just published your book Santa Claus has Coronavirus, what is the theme of this book?
Santa Claus has Coronavirus deals with several themes: with the advent of Coronavirus, this book tries to put forward the positive side of connectivity. Indeed, more and more people develop a dependence towards screens which became impossible to circumvent in the daily life. Through this book, the children who could connect through their network, were able to make an act of solidarity: elaborate a global project to find a solution to the danger that threatens Santa Claus. Moreover, the issue of COVID protocols is raised to show that while remaining cautious and responsible, we can avoid getting infected with coronavirus. Awareness of values such as solidarity, fraternity, and altruism are highlighted in this book.
MK: What are your objectives in writing? Did you want to pass a message, awaken consciences, or simply tell a story like any other?
-By writing, I wanted to contribute at my humble level to the transmission of African culture through storytelling and to sensitize the young audience to the importance of reading, which helps children to grow up healthy by cultivating themselves.
MK: Did you write this book for a specific occasion or to testify about something in particular?
-The issue of the Coronavirus is topical. Obviously, it is a bait for both the young readership and old, given the importance of the main character: Santa Claus. How will he respond to the pandemic that has caused so much devastation?
The goal: make young people have interest in books, make reading a privileged leisure activity and no longer a constraint linked to school learning.
MK: What did you start writing? When (childhood, adolescence, etc.)? Why did you start? What made you want to write? (Find out if there is a triggering event, a specific context).
I have always loved to read since I was a child. My mother was a kindergarten teacher and she introduced us to reading very early. However, I really started writing at the beginning of my tertiary education. Paradoxically, it was my immersion in the tertiary institution setting that made me aware of the need for reading awareness. Indeed, the young adults I met in the university were not interested in books outside of textbooks. I therefore thought of a project to get them interested: this is how I created in 1999 the Pathé-Pathé Association (which means patch-work in my mother tongue, Bhété). The main activity of this association is to promote African culture through storytelling. In 2009, I went further and wrote my first book of stories for children.
MK: How did you get the idea to publish? What made you decide to publish? Do you find it an important step? Necessary? Or not?
-I started publishing to show children that the stories that captivated them so much in our storytelling workshops can be preserved in books and become accessible at any time, if you open the book.
MK: What did you start writing about (thematically)? Why this object?
The first children’s book that I published was La ceinture de Madame fourmi. Of the 26 children’s books I have published, it is the only one whose story is drawn from the folk tale repertoire. All my other books tell stories that I have created myself. I chose to begin my writing career by starting with this story that my mother used to tell me when I was a child. For me, it was a way to pay tribute to my mother and also to attract the blessing of my ancestors who bequeathed us this beautiful story whose moral is gratitude, a very important virtue for social cohesion.
MK: Have you written anything other than children’s books (poems, essays, etc.)?
I have academic writings since I am a teacher-researcher. I also have 3 novels being revised.
MK: What did you read as a child and teenager?
I read books from the Pink Library and then the Green Library, French authors such as La Fontaine, Flaubert, Beaudelaire, Hervé Bazin, etc., as well as works by the great African classics such as Bernard Dadié, Hamadou Hampaté Bah, Jean Pierre Oyono…
MK: Can you tell us briefly about each of the books you published (or if there are too many, about some of your choices)? Are they of a particular genre? Can you say a few words about the theme or story? About the characters? Does it take place in a particular time and place?
In my approach as a writer, I wanted to adjust a part of education in African schools; as a little African girl, I was exposed to French literature early and African literature only came into play whilst in secondary school. I therefore wanted to offer material in this area by creating educational content that could replace French classics such as Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Thumbelina, etc., because in my books there are cultural references specific to Africa; the animals, the spaces, the situations, everything is typically African and allows the young reader to identify with the story and to find well-grounded points that speak of him. In doing so, the objective is to restore the place of African tale in our nursery and elementary school. Therefore, in my stories, the characters have African names, wear African clothes and represent the Ivorian and African culture in all its aspects (gastronomy, rituals, civilities).
MK: Do you earn money with this activity or does it cost you more than it brings in?
Money is not the best benefit that one can get from the promotion of reading and culture. I don’t limit myself to writing. I do more: thanks to my association we set up mobile libraries in schools in disadvantaged rural areas. And this requires a lot of means. To do this we have a financing mechanism that allows us to meet the costs of the book caravans that we call “Lec’Tour”. Thanks to the support of publishing houses and patrons, we are able to reach disadvantaged people in the regions. We noticed a renewed interest for books in the framework of storytelling activities that we do in schools as well as during holiday activities such as storytelling cruises and training workshops for young storytellers. In short, we do volunteer work, but volunteering has a cost. Therefore, we don’t make a financial profit, but we do gain readership and cultural promotion and that is priceless to us.
MK: What advice would you give to young writers and to your readers who dream of becoming writers?
I would encourage them to read a lot because reading not only enriches your vocabulary but also gives you a culture that makes writing easier.
MK: It is often said that the author “passes a message”: is this the case for you? If so, what is this message?
My message is that of the transmission of my culture not only to the African youth but to the whole world. To write is to live and to keep values alive which aim at building humanity.
MK: What do you think is the main task of children’s literature? Should it entertain, teach, educate, enlighten, create models, liberate…
The first role of children’s literature is to build up young people solidly by giving them tools for analysis and by whetting their appetite for discovery and openness to others. The second role of children’s literature is to give good reading habits to young people who will grow up to be adults who read and think in a structured and constructive way.
MK: What is your vision for the future of children’s literature in your country?
For me, children’s literature has a bright future ahead of it because more and more people are interested in it. Novel authors are trying their hand at children’s literature because a young person who reads will later become an adult reader.
MK: What touches you the most in a literary work?
The emotions that the text creates. A text that leaves me without emotions will not hold my attention. The books that have touched me the most are those that have given me the opportunity to question myself, to question my fundamentals and to reframe my opinions on several subjects or even to reinforce them when they were not solid enough and the work has consolidated them.
MK: What topics would you like more authors to write about?
The subjects I would like more authors to write about are related to the problem of education, the transmission of values and the sanitation of morals. So many principles are neglected for money sake that moral references have deserted our societies. Corruption has become normal and the rules of propriety are now guided by private interest to the detriment of the collective interest. All these subjects would be of great help to clean up the current society which is without solid reference points.
MK: How many children’s books have you published so far? Could you name them?
I have written 22 children’s books.
1. La Ceinture de Madame Fourmi, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, April 2009.
2. Le Bébé de Madame Guenon, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, September 2009.
3. Siggly et son ballon, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, September 2011
4. Syggly ne partage pas ses jouets, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, October 2011
5. La tortue sur le dos, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, November 2011
6. Les larmes en or, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, December 2011
7. La petite fille au doigt mouillé, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, 2012
8. Le premier Noël de Férima; Ed. Les Classiques Ivoiriens, 2013
9. La mésaventure de Tavly, Ed Les Classiques Ivoiriens, 2015
10. Nouh Welly, Ed. COM’CEDIT, 2013
11. La Princesse Dato, Ed COM’CEDIT, 2014
12. Le voyage de Cabosse Tome 1, Ed Eburnie 2015
13. Le tabouret royal, Ed Eburnie, 2015
14. Le voyage de Cabosse Tomme 2, Ed Eburnie, 2017
15. Le moustique et l’elephant, Ed Eburnie, 2017
16. Thamima la princesse capricieuse, Cercle Media, 2018
17. Le secret de Zokou, Editions Les Classiques Ivoiriens 2021
18. La coccinelle et le papillon, Les Classiques Ivoiriens, 2021
19. Yènou ne veut pas grandir, Edition Vallesse, 2022
20. Bobo le Petit singe, Edition Eburnie, 2022
21. Le Père Noël a le Coronavirus, Massaya Edition, 2022
22. Saklou l’assistant du Bon Dieu, Cercle Média, 2019
MK: Would you like Muna Kalati to do an analysis of these books?
Some of my books have been the subject of doctoral theses. Yes, analyses of Muna Kalati would be welcome.
MK: Where can we find your books?
My books are sold in the big bookshops of West Africa and for France, they are available on the page of sale on line of the indigo bird which diffuses in all Europe. I also sell my books and those of other African authors for children online.
MK: Your last word
I thank Muna Kalati for this window dedicated to my work as a writer-storyteller. The promotion of reading and African culture is the business of us all.