Community, children's author combine language preservation efforts.
By Shannon Burns -- Today correspondent
GUELPH, Ontario - Children across Canada have grown up with humorous books by author Robert Munsch. His silly stories, such as ''Smelly Socks,'' ''The Paper Bag Princess,'' ''Mortimer'' and ''Thomas' Snowsuit,'' are staples in Canadian libraries, and many of his books have found fame in other countries as well. ''Love You Forever,'' a story about a mother and her son, is a tear-jerker worldwide.
In the past few years, Munsch has taken an active role in the effort of First Nations to preserve their aboriginal languages. He has given several First Nations groups permission to reproduce his stories in their Native language at no cost.
The Akwesasne Mohawk community first approached the author about translating ''Love You Forever'' several years ago. Margaret Peters, a language curriculum specialist in Akwesasne, had been introduced to the book when she was a teacher at a Mohawk immersion school. When she later began working for Akwesasne's board of education, she looked further into the idea of translating Munsch's book.
Along with translating the story, Peters also worked with several community members to create audio compact discs of the story so students can read along, hear the Mohawk words being spoken, and look through the pages of the original book. The CDs also include songs performed by local singers.
Munsch has never denied Peters' requests.
''We approached him about translating the book and he said yes,'' Peters said. ''After the audio version was aired on our local radio station, CKON, community members wanted to know where they could buy it. So we approached him again about selling the books and CDs, and again he said yes.''
Peters has since had two more of Munsch's books translated into Mohawk, including one about a little Mohawk girl, called ''Ribbon Rescue.''
''We also have an agreement with Scholastics to translate any Bob Munsch books and sell them,'' Peters said. ''I only have to provide them with 10 copies of the work we do. That is the only stipulation.''
The author views the projects positively and has visited Akwesasne twice, seeing with his own eyes how Mohawk children respond to his stories in both the English and Mohawk versions.
''When I got asked to have 'Love You Forever' and 'Ribbon Rescue' in Mohawk, I thought, 'Hey! There is never going to be a commercial print run in Mohawk or Cree or Ojibway or any other Native American language,' so I decided to let any First Nations group use any of my stories at no cost, and either use the present artwork or re-illustrate them,'' Munsch said. ''The CD of 'Love You Forever' done in Mohawk is wonderful.''
Other First Nations communities in Canada have since approached the author and have translated several of his books as well.
''So far, Ojibway has the most,'' Munsch said. ''They have done about six and have even done some that are not in English.''
Munsch has recently completed a book about an Ojibway boy from British Columbia named Vincent. Vincent is a real person who wrote to Munsch in 1988 about his Native fishing community and the drowning of his father and uncle. The story is called ''The Ocean Goes on Forever.''
''This story is only published in Ojibway - neat!'' Munsch said. ''I think having First Languages books is vital for group identity and pride.''
Through her job as a language curriculum specialist, Peters said she has translated many children's books besides Munsch's, but hasn't been able to sell them with audio CDs due to copyright issues.
''As a result of the audio that we did with the Robert Munsch books and the community demand for them, I am going to focus only on his books for the time being,'' she said. ''He is most gracious and willing to share.''
Peters and other individuals who worked on the translation projects traveled to Guelph to visit the author.
''He autographed many, many copies of our translated versions of 'Love You Forever,''' she said.
The translated books are used in Akwesasne's schools, in both regular and immersion classrooms.
''Kids love his stories,'' Peters said.
For other First Nations communities thinking about translating the books, Peters offers some advice.
''Keep it simple, fun and interesting, and add your own cultural background to the stories,'' she said. ''And music is also important. I always include music with all of the books I do.''
She added, ''For any aboriginal people who are doing translations ... keep in mind the fluency level of children when translating. If fluent speakers have a hard time reading them, imagine second language learners.''
Munsch's collection of books, including those translated into Mohawk, can be seen at www.robert munsch.com.