Interview with Melike Günyüz

This month we, Children’s Literature are guests of Erdem Yayın Grubu. Thank you so much for hosting us.

This month we, Children’s Literature are guests of Erdem Yayın Grubu. Thank you so much for hosting us.



You have been in publishing sector over 30 years now, there are thousands of books published by you. Even the existence of these books refutes the claim “Turkey does not read.” When you advertise you say, “Literature is litmus paper of a nation.” What does being a litmus paper mean?

Actually, what i emphasize there is not literature itself, but children’s literature. Because in Turkey childrenn’s literature and children’s book, i mention this in breackets, are seen as an essential part of education. The willpower which founds republic describes children’s literature and regards it as a tool to bring up contemporary Turkish youth and due to this mentality, children of a nation studies so-called poems in their Turkish books instead of their ancient heritage. And I personally thin that this still continues. However, it has been decreased in recent years. This results from the ideologic approach both towards chidren’s literature and chidren’s books because we want to bring up children for a state, we describe this, and children’s books are one of the most important tools for that. Under these circumstances children’s literature does not improve in Turkey. We sometimes encounter very strong authors, they produce very strong texts, but as i mentioned above, strong literature tradition should not be represented by these books. We should have earth-shattering Harry Potters or Lord of the Rings now. We come from such a culture, we are rich both in terms of folk culture, spoken culture and written iterature, divan literature and masnavis. Masnavis are full of fantastic items. We do not need anything else, the moment we take our masnavis and transform them into today’s literary forms we will automaticall have very rich fantastic novels. Litmus paper emphasisez this to some extend. Children’s book we publish represent what we think and actually how we consider education is the way we consider children. In another way, children's books emphasize need both in Turkey and in the world, and children's books are one of the healing ways we apply from the first hand when some problems start to appear in the society. How come? For example, divorce is spreading very quickly in the society and we see divorce in children's books, children of divorced couples are chracters we see in children's books. Why is it necessary? Because children's literature heals the soul with the character that the child empathizes, and it is good for him. Through fiction you can express what you can not express verbally, neuroscience shows how effective fiction is on the human mind. Science reveals which part of our brain we use while listening to a fictional text, what our defensive mechanisms are like, how we internalize that knowledge, or for instance, difference on our brain when we are listening to a conference and listening to a fairy tale. So, in a way fiction is very dangerous because you are lowering your defense walls while listening to the fiction. The subtext begins to be processed by the brain even though you realise it. The one who created us also says in the Qur'an; "I will tell you the most beautiful of the stories,", emphasizing the story and the prophet stories. In all the ancient religions, in all the sacred texts there are stories. So, story storytelling and fiction are really important, very effective in terms of educating people, changing the way of thinking... That sentence emphasizes all this, actually.


What are the essentials of a successful, good children's book?

The need or for what you use the book is very important. As a person who has reached the age of fifty, bears literary PhD, has taught literature, and has been trying to read many good children's books in the world, what I can expect and what a child expects to encounter or learn from that when reading a pictorial story book is totally different. So, in the expectation hierarchy, sometimes a book we do not like may be very good for someone else. For this reason, the primary goal of a good book is to teach the child their mother tongue. Therefore, the smoothness of its Turkish is a must for a child’s book. It is best if the book is able to maket he child sense child's mother tongue’s richness and the child begins to use it. I care very much about richness of Turkish. Children do not understand metaphor very easily, but Turkish language is a metaphorical language, it is very important to adjust the dose. The language you will use for a child of nine years old and a child of five years is not the same. You need to build a text so that the child will learn a lot of new words without feeling the need to look at the dictionary. If the child needs to look at the dictionary more than once while reading a fictional text, they are not reading it, the connection ruptures. What we care is not just telling stories or selling books. If we are producing for the child, it has to have multifaceted results. Balance of all these things makes a book well balanced or bad. Let me answer as a literary reader; because I do not separate children's literature from adult literature from this point of view. The best writer for me is the one that finishes the story in a clever way that I could not imagine after raising the excitement and dose of the story. Children's books are like that also, you overestimate it as you read, and if everything ends up in a dream at the end of the story, it becomes a big disappointment. I think I love the intelligent among writers, so I like them to surprise me.


And child reader never forgives.

Never! We can understand whether a book is convenient for that child in this way; If the child reads the book again and again after reading it once, it is a good book. Sometimes a child loves a book, but the other does not it at all. We have the wrong idea, we think that all children have to read and love all the books. It's so wrong ... No, it's not like that. Are we, adults, reading all the published novels, reading all the poetry, story books? There are writers we love, there are writers we can tolerate, there are writers we admire, not just love. There are also writers who would never put a book from them to our libraries... Reading hours imposed on children are already one of the biggest problems in Turkey. Instead of offering rich possibilities in school libraries, maket he children read a certain number of books for a year is one of the biggest handicaps in the way of educating children.


There are some campaigns aiming to encourage children to read as much as their heigt.

This is also very nice, of course. My only objection is this; It does not make sense when you make a hyperactive, mathematically intelligent child to read Heidi, they hate it. It was very meaningful in my childhood though. There was a compromise in our world, but today it does not make sense for the child who does not know whether tomato grows in tree or seedling, they find it very tedious and ridiculous. They probably like science fiction, what do we do though, there's an imposition here. Just as what mothers do when they force their children to eat spinach, putting the meal into the mouth of children, we were force them to read the book we chose.


When you answer this question, you also share your priority order as a publishing house... We have a file topic every month, and this month's file is "sensitive issues". Violence, death, abuse, divorce... If a child's book touches on these issues, what are the essentials for it to be good?

First of all, your target audience is so important... I object to the concept of children's literature in this sense; because literature is a field for all, children's literature only determines the age range. For this reason, you will see that many adults have bought children's books and made collections. They are pleased with it, because this is what it should be like, this is literature. Now we should not ignore this fact. We can tell the child about death and abuse, but our target group is very important. The way children at the age of three, five, seven, thirteen understand death is very different from each other. The words we choose, the sensibility of the story is very important. So, there is a fine line here. The book will be read by a child who has not experienced that sensitive subject, and there will be different ways of perceiving the same subject. When we published a book, it was about a good stepmother. A child reader of us said, "Mom, I wish I had a stepmother." The stepmother character there was so positively told... But for a child who experienced the same situation, let’s say their parents got divorced, one of them remarried, maybe the other one has not survived the process yet, this child's reaction will be very different. We have to deliver a book to the child according to their needs. So, everyone does not need to buy this book and read it just because we published it. Especially when we publish such sensitive topics as "problem-oriented children's literature", we get most of the reactions from the parents. Why do you bring up an issue that is not on their agenda? If you emphasize death as a good end, the child may say, "I wish would die." But when you show death as a very intense separation, this time the child can say, "Mom, I do not want to go to school because I'm afraid if you die when I am away." Each person's psychological limit is different, and this affects their perception of the text. For this reason, I think here is the most important issue that every book is not for everyone. Sometimes they blame us, why are you publishing such books. We say, "We do not publish it for you." You do not have to present it to your children as a parent or teacher without reading this book. If you think the book should not be read in the class, you should not maket he children read it, it is your most natural right. But you do not have the right to charge us by saying "Why have you published such a book?" They say, "We trust you very much. We buy books of Erdem Publications without looking at them. How can you narrate such a topic?” There is no charm of the children as a character who avoid meddling, who are constantly good and positive, who says good morning to the mother every morning, who has his breakfast, who helps his mother, brushes his teeth, says thank you, who prepares his schoolbag a night before. It is very clear that there will not be an adventure waiting for this character. Literature needs to touch our lives. Will we not produce texts that will be good for our childrens’ souls, that will relieve the pain in their souls when we build the future of theirs?


Then, as a precaution against random buyings, is it necessary to put a tiny note on the front cover or back cover showing that the book is problem-oriented?

There are controversial issues in Turkey, such as this age issue or there is a widespread perception that everyone can write children's books. Or that there should be no violence in children's books. The influence of violence in a fairy tale is very different from that of a socialist realistic novel... You can boil hue saucepans in a fairy tale, giants can cut heads off because this is a form of expression in fairy tale, itself, violence is not an element of violence. The mind does not read this in such a way, but if you present a true story and present violence in all its detail, the effect here is completely different. Therefore, it is editor’s or publisher's discretion; to examine how violence describeb the in the text, its dose, and the target audience. Sometimes you see that psychologists are commissioned. To be honest, it is because we do not read regarding these issues even a little bit. The fact that children's literature in Turkey is not an academic discipline and that these issues are not discussed in the academic or theoretical framework makes it possible for everyone to talk about these issues. What is the extent to determine whether a writer is a good writer? There is no such measure in Turkey. Good writer books for a publisher are best-selling books, but we know how children's books are sold, marketed. I know the best, best-selling is not a measure. Now, social media does not reveal whether a text is really good. There are illusions, we are all in these illusions.


Recently in social media, there is a children's book discussed. In fact, even a signature campaign was launched to make pedagogues read children's books.

Are there any exampes of this thing overall the world? This is ignorance. This is the result of not doing academic work in this area. If a mother wishes or a teacher likes to do so, they can consult a pedagogue before they make children read them. We have no objection to that, but getting all the books read means putting in a censorship mechanism. It means that everything in Turkey is done from scratch, so we are strongly opposing to it. Instead, let's set up research institutes, let's open departments, graduate programs on children's literature. Let academic world discuss them, and draw us a path map. In literature we speak of language, art, aesthetics. Book goes through a multi-faceted production process, after author another artist ilustrates it, another artist designs a graphic for him, and publisher and editor who produces cultural policies gets involved later on. It is so multi-faceted that your customers are also librarians, for example, even though librarians in our country are not regarded as an active authority, but internationally speaking, librarians are very active, and guiding in children's books. They are also an important part of the production process of the book. Therefore, these topics are not topics to be solved by getting all the books by pedagogues. A pedagogue’s reading chidren’s books without bearing an aesthetic literature consciousness, a language awareness would be like getting Yunus’ poems corrected by Molla Kasım.

If we are to talk about the subject you mentioned, that book was already removed from publications years ago, it was brought to agenda again. In addition, it is a fairytale book compiled for adults. What the whole story narrates was ignored and just a piece of it was presented. A Kosovo fairy tale that aims to make children aware of incest started to be debated. The public should argue the language of the text and whether it should be thirteen or fifteen years of age. Because children's literature determines that age limit. I have read posts on social media, lynch campaign against the writer. I was frankly expecting a person who devoted his life to compiling public tales to be protected by the state. We can ask the academicians, the pedagogues, by which ages we can get this text read. We do not have to get it read, we do not have such an obligation. The one who likes to read, reads; the other, does not. What is needed by intelligent people to do is to determine the target audience.


We take many texts about sensitive issues by translation; the child reader has a contradiction between the real life and the book. The projection on our society with the exploitation mentioned in the book are not the same. For example, can an uncle on the road come and give my child a candy or not, can hug them or not…

For our culture, everyone in the street can teach the child, you are right. It is seen in the case of abuse statistically that family abuse is much more than external abuse. We prefer not to speak openly about these issues. If we go back to the pedagogue topic again, there are books in our publishing house that have been approved by the pedagogues. My objection is that all books are examined by pedagogues, I think they should be examined only when it comes to sensitive issues. For example, is it okey to describe death in this way for the target group of six years. The pedagogue you work with should not be any random pedagogues, we have a media pedagogue with specialized media liaison, graduates of Psychological Counseling and Guidance departments are direct experts of this field. They are also closely related to children's books. For example, we are working with these friends because these topics are really sensitive topics... For example, in our Kırmızı Çizgi (Red Line) book, we worked with a media pedagogue who is a writer of children's literature, was a prize winner. Since the pedagogue was an expert in the field, we read each row together.


This month we have a review text on Kırmızı Çizgi (Red Line).

Kırmızı Çizgi is an interesting book, I met with that book years ago at a book fair in Qatar. The book of a Lebanese writer and illustrator, I loved it, it tells the story without a frightening the child through a constructive approach. I said, "I should publish this book," and our editorial board criticized the me in the way that we just talked about "Why do you bring the topics which are not on children’s agenda?" I think that if we are occupying these positions, we have to do it, I see it as a duty.


Can we see other examples of your publishing house on sensitive issues?

For example, there is this book we took years ago with great enthusiasm from the French: Eyvah Ela’nın Babası İşsiz Kaldı (Oh no! Ela’s Father is Unemployed) By the way, I realized that the French and Korean cultures were very close to the Turkish culture with children's literature. There is a closeness to the French upon the fact that we are both in the Mediterranean basin, and we have a similar family structure with the Koreans. For this reason, we have made quite a few translations from both countries. When I saw these books, I fell in love, but interestingly the books I loved are the ones sold least in publishing houses. We named this series “Küçük Endişeler Dizisi” (Series of the Little Concerns) We have a Fred, they live in the apartment house. This apartment is in Paris in fact, but it could also be in Istanbul, because it is a typical apartment. There is an adjacent aunt who is constantly disturbed of noise, for example, or a repairer uncle who helps everything. It refers to many issues through the conflict of parents. Eyvah Ela’nın Babası İşsiz Kaldı was written in the time of economic crisis, the father is trying to hide his unemployment, but it is given away in some way. There are tiny suggestions at the end of the book, your parents may be unemployed, you can help them in this or that way. Because generally in negative situations, the children blame themselves, have I done something, and if they are the cause. If this psychology can not be cured, it is a process that leads to serious distress in the long run. For this reason, we care for children to meet "problem-oriented children's literature". Because the characters in there recover at the final, coming over the problems. So, the message it sends is this: Yes, your parents may die, they may be unemployed, the dog may disappear, something may happen to your friend, but life is really going on. There are so many beautiful things that will make you happy when all these things happen in your life, so you should see them too. This allows the child to empathize and feel good at the end of the day…

What is going to happen in life is not clear. For example, there are Syrian immigrants in our country. It is a very important advantage for us to teach our children what immigration is. We also translated a book from Greek related to this topic: Mavi Çöl Develeri (Blue Desert Camels). It will be published in a few days. Our children's book authors are having difficulty in starting such topics. I think that's also about what we discussed at the beginning. Absence of critical reviews, the lack of serious criticism, and the ignorant criticism bombardment are leaving people back from walking on such a mined ground. Foreigners always work on the issue of refugees. Or, for example, we have taken the best book about death in Canada. We have taken the books about the divorce from France. We have taken books about children with Down's syndrome from England. This is a book I love so much: Kardan Kaleci (Snowman Goalkeeper). We hosted Sophie Smiley three times in Turkey. We did activities in many cities including Bitlis. This lady is in charge of computer engineering at Cambridge. She has a private research institute. The writer and her husband have dedicated their lives to the ones with down syndromes. In summer camps they write books on a project they have done as a social responsibility project, through children including their own child. There is such a real connection with life in these books... But I received a reaction from many schools about this book. Do you know why? Why is the family such a soccer fan and why is the book bringing football to the frontline? Football, although, is a team game. What the author does is to simulate the family with the football team in these books. Just as in a good football team a striker, a wing player and a goalkeeper try to win in the spirit of being a team, the family does the same. The mother or father is a referee, for example, because they set limits on where and what to do. When you go through the rules in the family, the referee will warn you. But a very ambitious school said, "This book brings football to the frontline, we do not find it healthy for children." which made me terrified.


Because our football understanding is holigan...

Yes, because we do not know how to be a football fan. We do not know how to be a political party supporter. We hold a political party like a football team. There are even people we are fun of on TV talk show programs. You like everything that someone says and support it, but you reject the alternative against him as if it is the opponent team’s player. In such a social setting, it is so difficult for a writer or a publisher to produce a good work ... We produce one hundred and fifty new books a year. We publish a few of these books for ourselves, a social responsibility project. We publish it even if we think that our target audience or client will not like it. We see it as a duty to do so. We have to show that these things can be done in Turkey.


Shall we look at the books translated to foreign languages from Erdem Publications?

Particularly Gakugukların Maceraları ve Parmak İzli were the best-selling copyright books to abroad. They were translated to Bulgarian, Chinese, Korean, German and Arabic in the following year they were published. I was talking to a British publisher at the London book fair, showing these books to sell the copyright. He told me, "We have more of these, why do not you sell us modern versions of your own tales?" Then I wrote Keloğlan. I wrote Nasreddin Hodja because these are the texts that reflect our changing attitude towards life. It is very important to follow his ironic way in order not to lose hope. Or Nasreddin Hodja falls down the stairs saying, "My robe rolled up to the stairs”. People reply him saying “But there was a lot of noise." Then he replies, “I was also in it.” It is a very important virtue to be able to mock him against the troubles he has. It is a sign of self-reliance that a person can have fun with himself. Nasreddin Hodja has these references in our society. For this reason, I wrote Nasreddin Hodja as a social responsibility project. One month after I wrote this book, the it was involved in an exhibition of world librarians' union around the world, now it is in France. Nasreddin Hodja and Keloğlan are currently touring the world and being exhibited. So, we see that we do the right thing here...


Translated languages are also very interesting.

Yes. Keloğlan was also published in two versions in German; German Turkish and German Arabic. But something important also happened, TIKA got these books translated in seven languages and put them in libraries that they opened in various parts of the world. These books also found a response in this sense. Made in our modern design, ours, written in a language that children can understand. Therefore, they were translated into various languages, ranging from Gagavuz Turkic to Serbian. There is a developing children's book market in Turkey. The number of books newly produced in the title of children's literature is about 7,500. It's a high number. When you produce a good book, the whole world is your market. We are opening to the markets of Far East Asia such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and other then these, Arab world in special. I think that we have a fortune in these markets and that the books we produce can now be sold not only in Turkey but also in the world. The book sries of ours called Kır Öyküleri (Wilderness Stories) was published last month in Persian. Mustafa Kutlu's Yıldız Tozu (Star Dust) book has been translated into Urdu, German and Persian. Miss Nuran's books named Uzaylı Ulya (Ulya the Alien) has been translated into German. What is needed is just to invest a little and be patient. Such initiatives are the result of long-term negotiations.


I will ask you to mention your last book; İlkbahar Prensi (the Spring Prince). It has an interesting fiction. It is close to the genre called postmodern metafiction. What did you pay attention to when you wrtie such a book?

First of all, İlkbahar Prensi (the Spring Prince) actually emerged as a project book. So, two years ago, that year was cultural partnership year for Qatar and Turkey and it was decided to publish a joint book of a Turkish author with a Qatari illustrator. I was offered to write a fairy tale. I wrote and sent it. The book was first published in Qatar in Arabic, English and Turkish with the illustrations of Qatari illustrator. But I thought it should not be published in Turkey with these pictures. I thought that the illustrations were not able to complete the richness of meaning in the story. As i was looking for an illustrator, I encountered with Vahgar and then she illustrated them again.

I try to write short texts as much as I can. I want the child to catch that message without wasting a lot of time with explanation. I'm telling a story. I give a small section and I expect them to catch the meaning. I do this to both young and older children. But my target group is seven or eight years old. I do not have time for long books. I think I can write longer stories when I retire. I write very few sentences with very deep meanings and a small number of sentences. Our editor even criticized me the other day. He attributed the fact that many of my books were not read much due to these references. So maybe it might be shifting the axis by younger readers, he said. I don’t agree with him though.

There is a question that children always ask me: How do you write? I go to schools and what they want to understand is how do i get ideas. For example, there is a post-modern element in İlkbahar Prensi (the Spring Prince). The author involves in text. I tried to refer to this in a way that the child could understand. One of the things I'm trying to do is to bring the heroes of eastern tales like the Iranian king, the Afghan king, and the Indian maharajah into the story. To draw attention to their clothes and the things they consume. I also tried to explain how the sentiments affected our worlds of imagination, but at the end of the day it was ourselves, our own acitons, our own ideas, our own thoughts. Let’s see whether they will like it.


There is an empty perfume bottle image in the text. Could you explain this a little?

Blank perfume bottle represents empty dreams and images presented to us in life. It is referring to all the dreams and images that we were made dream. In fact, what makes us happy is not having the objects of consumption, but the meaning we have placed on them. It is also refering to this. The bottle can be empty when you have it, but you can fill that bottle up. It's very important how you fill the bottle. The filling process is also very important. Happiness is something about the process, not the result. There are so many references in the text like these. But strict readers can catch them. I do not expect children to catch it. As I said at the beginning of our conversation: Brain works differently while listening to fictional texts. It chases a beautiful story. It waits for you to tell him a story that will make him happy, leave a nice whisper in his ear, and make his heart feel good. But you will tell these in a way that the unconscious takes them differently than consciousness. When it's time, they get out of there. The brain processes this. So, I do not expect the reader to discover these submissions. At least I do not expect them to discover it right away. Readers who are trying to analyze the text will probably understand these images, but my goal is children’s integrating this by doing other readings in a very long time. It's richness. The stones that the children's writers have taken are not from near, but far away. As the poet says, we are shooting an arrow to the future. I think their effects will come out in long term.


The sensitivity of your publishing house' regarding native language is very meaningful. The need you feel about children's literature existing in the academy is also due to a similar concern we felt the need of when setting up our website. It was a conversation that we really enjoyed. Thank you for welcoming us.

My pleasure. I want to say a few things about your site. When I saw this website, I screamed in front of our editors. I said: "Look, these guys did what we have not done for thirty years. We need to meet these people in any case " I do not know why we do not know these children, I said, I was pretty disappointed why our roads did not intersect. I want to say that your work is very valuable. In fact, we work here, you work there, and our other friends are working on children's literature also like we do elsewhere. I like it a lot: there are such little droplets, but after a while there are so many that they merge into one. I think that these studies on children's literature in Turkey will unite after a while, that it will be a strong voice and the effect will be very important. It is these small little drops that really matter. In the near future, be sure not in a distant time, we will do much better things together in this area. I congratulate you, too.