Being free to explore

posted in: Ben Dawlatly, Elena Hormiga, Rafa Ruiz | 7

A book full of respect for the creativity and open hearts of children, Toletis by Rafa Ruiz (@rafaruizmad), illustrated by Elena Hormiga (@elenahormiga), and translated by Ben Dawlatly is an uplifting, funny and delightful collection of stories about a year’s worth of adventures enjoyed by a group of young friends in the small town where they live.

The very first paragraph sets the scene by introducing two themes which are central to the whole book; respect for imaginative play and a world view with nature at its heart. Stories about tree-planting, catching mist, and gathering hazelnuts follow, accompanied by chapters where the band of friends explore a local a haunted house, or dress up the town’s statues in scarves and woolly coats to keep them warm in the snow. Innocence, freedom and and an unspoken sense of safety ooze off the pages; the children are free to roam over fields or across town, and when the world of adults crosses into theirs, the grown-ups are kind, unpatronising and even sometimes fun!

Ruiz’ tales of childhood wisdom, curiosity and simple delights are told with a freshness and acuity that keeps them real. That their apparently simple charm doesn’t give way to a syrupy rose-tinted view of the world is in at least part due to the lithe translation (there is some glorious word-play) and the bold illustrations; whilst in some regards this collection of stories has all the glorious charm of Lindgren’s Emil, Lotta or Madicken (Meg/Mardie), full of good times and high jinks, it is never sentimental or old-fashioned.

Illustration by Elena Hormiga, for Toletis. Reproduced with permission

Unapologetically traversing freely between play and learning about the world, and between what is real and what is make-believe, Toletis captures a childhood I believe all young children deserve.

Illustration by Elena Hormiga, for Toletis. Reproduced with permission

Whilst I’m full of praise for this innocent yet profound book, I came very close to not reading it all. I know we’re meant to never judge a book by its cover, but what about by its title? The word Toletis gave away nothing, and indeed the only hook it appeared to offer was by way of an anagram to the smallest room in the house. I know I ‘should’ be above such things, but this was enough to keep the book from rising to the surface of my reading pile for quite some time. Whilst the book’s opening paragraph immediately hooks the reader, sparking lots of delight at the same time as explaining why Toletis, I wonder how many potential readers will never get that far because the title doesn’t work for them.

Illustration by Elena Hormiga, for Toletis. Reproduced with permission

All this got me thinking about when books (and films) change titles in translation (even if that translation is only between different varieties of English), for example The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay become ‘Deadly Games’ (Tödliche Spiele), ‘Dangerous Love’ (Gefährliche Liebe) and ‘Flaming Fire’ (Flammender Zorn) in German translations.

Focussing on Dutch, as that’s a language I have easy access to, Lois Lowry’s The Giver becomes ‘Number 19’ (Nummer 19), Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust becomes ‘Dust on the Piano’ (Stof op de piano) and going the other way, ‘How Tortot lost his fish heart’ (Hoe Tortot zijn vissenhart verloor by Benny Lindelauf) becomes Tortot, The Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart, and ‘Minous’ (a given name) becomes Annie Schmidt’s The Cat Who Came in Off the Roof. All to say, titles clearly matter and if the title Toletis doesn’t work for you, learn from my mistake, and don’t let it put you off finding this heart-warming, faith-restoring book.

The band of friends in Toletis plant lots of apple trees, and this was our prompt to try growing an orchard from seed. Having gathered our apple pips we placed them on damp kitchen paper in a sealed box and left them in our fridge to stratify (apple pips will germinate best if exposed to a cold period).

After three weeks we had several pips which had germinated, so then we planted these in seed compost and left them to grow on our windowsill.

Apple trees grown from pips are surprises; they are unlikely to be like their parent tree and they may not fruit at all. We don’t know how our three apple trees will turn out, but we look forward to planting these on our allotment, and forever having a little bit of Toletis as part of our personal landscape.

With this post I’m taking part in Gathering Books’ Literary Voyage Around The World Reading Challenge 2018. So far, for this challenge I’ve read books from Finland, Sweden and Latvia. Toletis was originally written in Spanish and first published in Spain in 2014.

7 Responses

    • Zoe

      There’s a brilliant explanation in the book, but it would be considered by many to be a spoiler if I explained it in my review so you’ll just have to track a copy of the book down :)))
      Zoe recently posted..Being free to explore

  1. Myra from GatheringBooks

    Faith-restoring book!!!! I am so in! Sadly we don’t have it in our libraries here, I’ve put it in my wishlist on Book Depository and will definitely get this as soon as my book-buying-ban is through. Added this as well to our linky! 🙂

  2. Simone Fraser

    Zoe, this book looks delightful and a treasure. I’m looking forward to looking at it in person… I want to say that your is very beautiful, evocative and articulate. Have you written any books, or do you intend to?

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