We’ve interviewed Raquel Díez Real, a teacher and writer, winner of the Rosa Regás award for her collection of illustrated albums on Letras Coeducativas. This is a project composed of four books that talk about themes of equality, such as sexuality and gender roles. Each of those four books is marketed towards different cycles of pre-school and primary education. The author tells us all about these issues in this interview.
You have been working on this project for a long time, so you must be very proud for receiving this award. Could you, for those that don’t know about this collection, describe the project and what made you talk about these themes?
Letras coeducativas is a collection of stories to raise awareness and promote equality in schools and families. They are published by Onada Imagina, and have been illustrated by Sylvia Vivanco, Desirée Acevedo and Mónica Carretero, who are great professionals in the world of illustration.
I have been coordinating equality in schools for more than ten years, and it was precisely my training and awareness in this field that led me to develop this project. When we analyse some school diagnoses, we sometimes see that there is a basic problem of social awareness and, sometimes, of loneliness in plans that try to promote equality in schools, as short time is dedicated to teaching this type of content. In our reality, in the classroom, there is violence, bullying, lack of emotional self-control… which are continuous problems to which we have to respond.
Although globalised projects are becoming more and more relevant, curricular areas are often fragmented. So I thought, “how can I work on equality in an integrated and transversal way that also involves attractive methodologies?”. Hence the idea of creating a globalised project based on literature that could motivate students and raise awareness in the educational community.
Each story works on a specific series of objectives and contents of the strategic plan for equality, so that the collection as a whole forms the globality of the themes that we must work on the basis of these plans. To do this, I have developed a didactic proposal for each story with guidelines, activities and resources: songs, interactive games, didactic and audiovisual ?ashes… All this is available on my website: raqueldiezreal.com.
As you said, I have been working on it for many years. In fact, the project continues to progress, as I continue to develop materials and resources according to the needs that arise. Moreover, the quality with which the Onada publishing house has edited these albums stands out: these are large books, with resistant pages, rhythmic and funny texts, and very colourful illustrations. They are ideal to be read in the classroom!
As for themes, Pepota y Pepino, tries to eliminate gender stereotypes in primary socialisation, associating attitudes and models of behaviour free of gender stereotypes. Me encanta mi papá [I love my dad] works on the figure of an equal father in domestic chores and childcare. Mi mamá es única [My mum is one of a kind] promotes respect for diversity, the inclusion of women in society, and the double role as both caregiving and working mothers, making them visible in professions traditionally considered “masculine”. And El príncipe Serafín [Prince Serafin] totally breaks with the stereotypical gender models of traditional children’s literature.
How did you decide to adapt each of the themes for a different cycle?
As I told you, each title works with different themes such as family diversity, gender stereotypes, sexual identity, emotional education, personal independence… Therefore, each story is complemented by a didactic proposal to work in schools with the idea that they serve as a basis for the implementation of workshops on Equality and Emotional Education).
The type of text, the language, and the illustrations included in each book are aimed at maintaining attention at different ages. Pepota y Pepino cannot be used in primary school because the language it uses is simpler, the illustrations are more extensive… It is focused on maintaining attention and appealing 3-5 year old students. With the resources in this book, we work on the workshop Niñas y niños somos iguales [Girls and boys are the same].
The other two books are adapted for 7 and 9-year-old, although they can be used from infants onwards. I love my daddy is adapted to be worked on through the workshop The egalitarian father and My mummy is unique with the resources of the workshop The professions of mums. Prince Seraphim can be worked on at all levels, from infant to the last cycle of primary school, because it has different contents adapted for each level. The theme can really be worked on in any cycle, but I wanted that, at the school level, all the themes could be dealt with at the same time. Thus, I came up with the idea of making different titles adapted to different age groups so that each age group would work on a theme of equality, and then rotate them through the different courses, so that in the end they would have knowledge of all the themes.
Raquel also talks about the didactic content these books come with, which are available on her web (raqueldiezreal.com). Each title has its own didactic proposal with its activity books, adapted to the educational cycle each book is aimed at. On top of that, they include video tales, interactive games and coeducation workshops that guide the methodology to be applied at classroom in an appealing way. In relation to that, there are also different programs dedicated to making theater and, in fact, the author says that plays have already taken place in schools. This opens up a lot of possibilities of working the themes with a globalised and dynamic content, not only from a literary perspective.
What is the biggest difficulty when addressing these topics? In another interview you said that, sometimes, families are more complicated to deal with than children themselves. How do you deal with these situations?
It’s not the norm, because nowadays these topics are more accepted in society, but it is true that we sometimes come across families that are very traditional in regard to these concepts. Newer generations like our student body tend to naturalize it. When you talk about a prince that is looking for a partner, children don’t get surprised when both feminine and masculine candidates show up. In fact, this book is intended so that the characters’ sexual orientation can go unnoticed, so that no one wonders “Oh, Serafin. What sexual condition does he have?”. It’s nothing like that, the story normalizes a person going on a date with a male witch or mermaid or with a female pirate; the key is that this aspect goes unnoticed.
The text is written from a humorous point of view and what it works on is the portrayal of the characters themselves, and the interaction Serafin has with them, because he is going to learn about emocional education, tolerance to frustration, saying no —for example, when a character harasses him) … It focuses on personal treatment, on what makes Serafin happy and on seeking his freedom, that’s what matters. When El príncipe Serafín was published, it was considered as a pioneer in children’s literature, because it made the cis-sexual characterisation of the main character visible in a very natural way.
Whether the families who read the story receive it naturally or not will depend on the prejudices they hve. We still find cases in which, without causing conflict, these themes “grate” on them and question them. But that is precisely why it is so important to explain to families that this is gender equality content that schools must deal with by law, with the aim of promoting awareness and tolerance in society.
In El príncipe Serafín there is a dedicatory that reads: “To censorship, protocols, prejudices, conformism, oppression, taboos, conventionalism, exclusion… May nothing prevent you from showing the guts of your FREE being”. Could you tell us something about it?
I have dedicated it to the fight FOR EQUALITY, and for breaking with all literary censorship that even nowadays gets often masked behind a “hypocritical tolerance”.
For me, this book has meant a liberation as an author, a vindication of the feeling of freedom in literary creation. As I always say… Prince Serafin has finally been able to crawl out of the chest where he was locked in for so long because of protocols and censorship in children’s literature.
Prince Serafin searched on the memory chest and he found some shiny heels. He put them on and started stomping with all his strength.
And as he danced and danced,
he felt as free as a butterfly flying across the blue sky…
Are there any plans to translate these works to another languages and publish them in other markets?
This collection is currently only available in Spanish. The publisher is working to offer the publishing rights in other languages. It may happen. In fact, I do hope these books will be translated because it would be very good if this project could cross borders in its fight for equality.
What books or children’s and young people’s literature from your childhood would you highlight? What do you like to read and what books have left a mark on you?
In terms of books that marked my childhood, the collection of The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. It’s a collection that I loved as a child. In fact, I remember that at school they used to have literary competitions and when I won my first prize, I was given a book from this collection that I had already read. I told them and they exchanged it for another one, but I had already read it and I kept quiet so as not to be a nuisance, because I devoured books. Another one I remember having loved was Momo by Michael Ende…. And unforgettable for me are the mythical fables of Aesop, the poetry of Gloria Fuertes, or the Cuentos de la media Lunita that grew up with me. I loved going to the school library to get them.
Another book that had a big impact on me was Cinco panes de cebada [Five barley breads], by Lucía Vaquedano. It tells the story of a teacher who arrives as a newcomer in a village, and it is the story of what I was looking forward to, teaching. When I read it I was at school, I was 9 years old, and the author was invited to the school. I remember that, as I have had a vocation for teaching since I was a child, this book touched my soul. So, when the author came to sign my book, I told her that I wanted to be a writer. She then wrote down her number and email and told me to call her! At that time, I was living in the Canary Islands because my father was in the military and we moved from one place to another. When I left the Canary Islands I lost the book, I lost contact and I would love to get in touch with her again, because I was very inspired by that book, but Lucía is not active on social media.
Even in high school I was very influenced by books I love, such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or The Picture of Dorian Gray. I could tell you many more, but I was also very inspired by a literature teacher I had, Elisa Constanza, and in fact, today we have literary contact and we do projects together.
Raquel also enjoys different events in the world of books and has participated on several occasions at in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. She will also be present in this year’s ANILIJ (Spanish National Association for Research on Children’s Literature) conference, to be held in Salamanca in september this year.
You have participated in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What do you like the most about these events? Can you talk about your experience and what you do at these events?
Whenever I can, I try to be at all the book events because they are always a meeting point with publishers, with friends, with the circle of the book world with whom you only meet there because they are often from elsewhere. For example, my illustrator Anna Laura Cantone, who is very prestigious in Italy, many times when I’ve seen her I’ve had to go to Bologna. For anyone who is passionate about Children’s Literature, above all, the Bologna Fair is very good because it opens the door to novelties in Children’s Literature, you see the most pioneering and different things there are.
These events are very good to bring you up to date and to see other alternatives and possibilities, to compare with what you do. Above all, for me it’s a source to meet a lot of illustrators you don’t know, because you always see a lot of posters, you see illustrations of people who hang their work and leave their phone numbers. And there you also meet a lot of artists you want to work with because in picture books you have to have a lot of connection between the illustration and the text, so you have to have a lot of connection with the person who illustrates your stories. And that’s why the Bologna Fair is very good, as it allows you to meet many artists and find many options.
In relation to this, you are going to participate on ANILIJ’s conference in Salamanca. Are you going to talk about this project?
Yes, of course, if I am allowed to speak about this project, which has also won the Rosa Regás award, of course. It is also a very special collection because it deals entirely with the struggle for equality and I know that ANILIJ shares these values. In fact, I will always be grateful that it was this association that proposed the inclusion of El príncipe Serafín in the European G Book Project (Gender Identity: Child Readers and Library Collections and European Teens as Readers and Creators in Gender-positive Narratives).
You have a very extensive list of books on values, which other books would you highlight in your career as a writer?
I’d say Rogelio, el enano gruñón [Rogelio, the grumpy dwarf], a very fun story about friendship and emotional regulation on social relationships or El piojo saltarín en la biblioteca [The jumping lice on the library] that includes characters such as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Leonardo Da Vinci, Don Quixote and Maria Anna Mozart and it talks about equality and visibilizing women on history. These books have been published by Anaya, and they are illustrated by Anna Laura Cantone and Olivier Daumas.
Another outstanding collection is Qué siento [What I feel], published by San Pablo that addresses the emotional needs of children in the face of grief processes such as family separations, the loss of a loved one, complexes or video game addictions. This collection was ilustrated by Tamara Durán, with whom I also share other collections such as El duende Pepín [Pepin the elf] by Tramuntana Editorial, where an elf helps solve typical small problems such as jealousy at the arrival of a little sibling, nightmares or rejection of food. Lastly, I must also refer to Mi Padre del cielo [My Father on Heaven], which is one of my most special books and is focused on faith and transcendental values.
Finally, to end this interview we want to ask if there is any other project you are working on and that you can say something about?
My latest book, La Dinosauria (The Dinosaur girl) is about to come out. This is a very special and magical album because it’s going to reveal the essence of passion for reading, which only those who feel it can comprehend. I also have a new new title in the Letras Coeducativas collection that’s being published soon, and that one is tremendous, in the sense that it is very exciting. I can’t reveal anything for now, but it is so fascinating that I am sure it will move people’s hearts. I am also working with Santillana publisher on another very entertaining book and, God willing, other titles that are in the process of being illustrated will see daylight soon.
I am currently on a stage in which I am producing children’s literature stories characterised for being very moving, very inspiring and original, because I always try to include my personal “wink” in them. I hope people like them as much as I do, but the most comforting thing for me, even more than getting my books published, is that moment where you finish creating something your heart needed to transmit.
(Entrevista realizada y traducida por Sara Penas Bello, alumna del grado de Traducción e Interpretación de la Universidade de Vigo en Mayo 2022)