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Jitka Nešporová: Czech children’s books often lack straightforwardness when it comes to difficult topics

Since 2002, the Magnesia Litera book awards have been presenting to the public a selection of publications that expert juries found to be the most successful in the past year. Books for children and young people also have their own category here. What qualities does a degree have to meet in order to get the attention of the judges? Not only that, Deník talked to translator and literary columnist Jitka Nešporová, who sat on this year’s jury for the selection of the best title for children and youth.

Jitka Nešporová.

| Photo: Jan M. Heller

In the longlist of nominations for this year Magnesia Liter popular science titles as well as publications reflecting history and the present appeared in the Books for Children and Youth category. Do you try every year to make the list of shortlisted books as diverse as possible?
The longlist, which is a wider selection of up to ten books, is new this year. The juries of the individual categories agreed that more titles often deserve attention than the final three. The variety of the longlist naturally reflects the variety of the offer on the market. This year, eight dozen titles were entered in the Books for Children and Youth category, and there were, for example, about five books about mushrooms. Which of them was the best in all respects is reflected in the nomination of the book
Myko Jiří Dvořák and Daniela Olejníková on the shortlist. But it certainly does not mean that we have pre-determined categories or perhaps themes along the lines of history versus the present, fictional story versus scientific publication, mushrooms versus “cojavím” and that we would perhaps be looking for ways to fill these boxes. Each title must stand on its own.

Jitka Nešporová on this year’s Litera nominations for a book for children and young people:

Source: Youtube

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What would according your shouldn’t there be a book for children and youth that has a chance to be nominated for Magnesia Litera?
The book must be successful in all aspects. An original and stylistically polished text is not enough. In the case of a children’s book, its artistic concept, overall graphic design and careful editorial preparation are also particularly important. Typos in the text are unacceptable, word and image should ideally complement each other, the book as a whole must be an aesthetically beautiful work of art that conveys a supporting idea, poses questions that each reader often has to answer for himself. In short, the book has to move us somehow. Even after reading it, it must continue to resonate with us and invite us to continue to deal with it.

Saunas are gaining more and more popularity in our country. A stay in a sauna has beneficial effects on the human organism, it is part of a healthy lifestyle. But is sauna suitable for children?

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Children and literature.A book that has a chance to be nominated must be successful in all aspects.Source:

The best books for children

Do you notice an upward trend in the category of books for children and young adults nominated in recent years?
It is not an easy task to abstract trends based on the laureates of a literary competition, because each year has its specifics, the composition of the juries changes, and perhaps the winning title of one year would not even succeed in the competition of titles of another year. But, for example, based on the nomination lists, we can get a fairly representative picture of which publishers in our country publish the best children’s books in the broadest sense of the word. We repeatedly encounter the publishing house’s production
Treadmill, Baobab tree, Labyrinth, GuestPassover, Argo whose Albatross.

We know the presenter Martina Hynková Vrbová mainly from TV shows, most often from the journalistic show Sama doma. However, her first book was recently published, based on interviews with women who, for various reasons, decided or were forced to remain childless. What did the author say about the publication for Deník?

According to Martina Hynková Vrbová, childless women are just as important to society as those who have children.

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Is there a trend in the field of Czech books for children and young people that you personally do not like?
I guess I can’t really call it a trend, but sometimes I get my hands on books that make me wonder why they were published. Banal stories that do not convey anything new, splash colors on shiny chalk paper and do not move us anywhere. Sometimes the authors publish them at their own expense, and this can then be seen as the fulfillment of a secret personal dream. So be it. But if such non-conceptual titles are published by a publisher and just flood the market…?

The digital age brings more frequent myopia in children already in kindergarten or primary school. Previously, this eye defect manifested itself to a greater extent only at a later age, for example in university students during their studies.

Today, every twelfth child at the age of four has an undiagnosed eye defect.

The digital age causes myopia in children already in kindergarten

Name things directly

Babies and mothers project.Source: Diary/Jan LakomýIs there something you are missing in the field of Czech books for children and young people?
I lack openness and directness about difficult, big topics that are difficult for us to talk about. I think that the Czech tradition of writing books for children works a lot with poetics and gibberish, we are afraid to name things directly, we take it a little detour every time and think around the corner. It is not always beneficial. Fortunately, translated literature can fill these gaps in our country. And I also think that we are not exactly the fastest when it comes to introducing new, current social issues into children’s literature. I mean, for example, fake news, non-binary, volunteerism or environmentalism.

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