May 29, 2012

Planeta Tangerina: Interview with Isabel Minhós Martins

Voilà, here it is, the previously announced much more detailed post about the wonderful Planeta Tangerina books, PLUS an interview with author Isabel Minhós Martins!

Really, I think, these are the most beautiful picture books published at the moment. Sure, that you stumble across them on the internet quite often lately. The Portuguese studio Planeta Tangerina was founded in 1999 by four friends: Isabel, Bernardo CarvalhoMadalena Matoso and Joao Gomes de Abreu. Some years later, in 2004, the growing Planeta Tangerina team began creating picture books. Besides their editorial projects they also started collaborating with educational services of museums, municipalities and agencies. Though the publisher and design studio is specialized from the beginning in communication for children and young people, their readers are not only kids. The Planeta Tangerina team knows very well that many adults are buying and enjoying their books, some with children, some without: "We believe books should be created freely and thrown into the air. Whoever catches them and enjoy them... is the right reader!" Love this idea (maybe because I am a bit tired of all the discussions at publishers about target audience and possible buyers).

Isabel Minhós Martins is the author of a long, long list of great Planeta Tangerina books, among them "How does a chicken", "Where do we go when we disappear", "Ir e Vir", "A Manta" and (her latest) "I've never seen a bike and ducks won't let go". Her first book, titled "Um livro para todos os dias" ("A book for every day") and illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho, has been reissued this year. But now, dear friends, have fun reading the interview:

(All book covers above by Planeta Tangerina)

Saskia: Isabel, what distinguishes your books from books in the assortments of other publishers of picture books?

Isabel: I'm not sure. It is not easy, as an author, to have the "big picture" of our own work. But with regards to the whole spectrum of Planeta Tangerina's books, I believe they are distinguished by a variety of aspects and not by just one in particular. I would stress the quality of illustrations and the graphic projects (created in the most part by the illustrator himself or herself), the simplicity of concepts and ideas (although simplicity doesn't necessarily mean childish or simplistic), the collaboration between author and illustrator. I also think that our books always talk about universal themes (i.e. to be born and to discover things, to grow and to ask questions, to look at our parents and then to look onto the world with a critical and funny eye).

Saskia: What do you like most about your job as a book author?

Isabel: Having ideas! That is my favourite part. And to have ideas it is really necessary to read a lot of books and newspapers, to listen to other people's stories, listen to music, go to the movies, playing with children (ours or not, it doesn't matter). So, part of the job is just living and listening to the world with an open mind. I also love to see, at first hand, what the illustrator has managed to create with the text: what were his or her solutions, how he/she is telling the story with his/her own voice. And, of course, I love to write. But as you have probably noticed, picture books don't require a great amount of text.

Saskia: Which group of readers do you primarily address with your books: children or young adults?

Isabel: When I'm working, I don't think a lot about the recipient of my books. I don't work for a specific reader or try to follow a set of rules or solutions that are proven to be effective with children or other readers. When I'm working, I write through my prism of looking at things, using my voice. But, of course, for me it is important that readers (big and small) feel that this or that book communicates with them. Sometimes this happens with one child and not with another. We think about children as a big group of noisy and smiling creatures, but children are different from each other!

Saskia: When you and your colleagues create a new book together, do you start with text or with pictures?

Isabel: Always with text, always with an idea or a theme or an ambiance that is transformed into a text. Sometimes this idea comes from a discussion with all the team, sometimes it just comes from the mysterious place where all the ideas born (some people say it is a tree, others a big cloud).
After the text is ready, the illustrator begins to work and during the process, if necessary, I make some corrections to the text: sometimes I cut (I cut a lot), sometimes I replace sentences.

Saskia: Planeta Tangerina also does projects together with schools, museums and kindergartens. Which projects are planned in the near future?

Isabel: We are organizing two weeks of activities in the CCB/Centro Cultural de Belém, a big cultural center in Lisbon, by the river. And it is not just planning; we'll be there effectively with a group of 35 children! The theme is "Books make SPLASH!" and we'll be providing activities about books and other ways to save, store, collect and record stories.

Saskia: It's quite hard to find your books in English. Which of your books are already available in English, and which ones are planned to appear?

Isabel: In English, you'll find "Quando Eu Nasci" / "When I Was Born" published by Tate Publishing. And very soon "Cá Em Casa Somos" / "At Our House" (also published by Tate).

Saskia: What are your personal favourite books?

Isabel: Picture books or novels? Well, at this moment I'm reading short stories from American writers:
Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever, John Updike. Nothing to do with children literature. "As Vozes do Rio Pamano", by catalan Jaume Cabré was (perhaps) one of my late favourites. But choosing a favourite book (picture book or novel) is not possible for me ...

Thank you so much, Isabel, for the interview!

The five images above are from "When I was born", which I really enjoy reading with my kids, who are as fascinated by the charming story and pictures as their parents. You can order it here or here in English. And over there you can watch Isabel reading this book herself.

Please don't miss their lovely Catalogue 2012 as PDF! To buy their wonderful books, head over to the shop. More about Planeta Tangerina they reveal on their blog and facebook page.