“D’you know what, Mummy? That book is actually far more interesting than I thought it was going to be.”
Praise for Na Willa from a nine-year-old boy.
Na Willa is a slender volume from Indonesia, written by Reda Gaudiamo and translated by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul and Kate Wakeling, with illustrations by Cecillia Hidayat. The cover is red with a picture of a little girl with pigtails – quite different to my nine-year-old son’s usual fodder of Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid – and he was initially quite resistant to having a go. The story is broken down into chapters, some of which are really short. So my deal was that he could choose one chapter, I would read it out loud and he would listen. Of course, he chose the shortest chapter: Fish. In this one page chapter, Na Willa, tells us about milkfish, her favourite food. Not only are they her favourite food, but the best bit to eat is the eyes (nine-year-old looks up – “What? Yuk!”). What she’d really like is a single milkfish with many eyes, but Pak (Dad) said that wasn’t possible. That made the nine-year-old chuckle – his interest was piqued.
After that, I persuaded him to try another chapter, A E I O U, where Na Willa is learning to read. Listening to me reading out “ba be bi bo bu, da de di da do” got him giggling and trying to peer round the edge to of the book to see what on Earth I was reading. And when bedtime came around later, he suggested that rather than read Tom Gates to himself, I could join him and we could read some more Na Willa.
While the story is written to read as a book from beginning to end with a plot running throughout, selecting chapters at random also worked really well, each chapter encapsulating a single adventure or pondering. When I spoke about it to publisher Emma Wright from the Emma Press, she shared that these stories were originally written as individual mini adventures before being collated together. No wonder our approach of selecting a chapter at random worked so well! While written in and about another part of the world, the tales and adventures are familiar enough for the younger English-speaking reader to recognise – playing marbles, flying kites, playing hide and seek. For all the fun though, and without wishing to give too much away, there are also serious sections to the book, including one chapter where Na Willa is on the receiving end of racist behaviour at the hands of her classmates.
The language of the stories is fun and it really conveys the excitement and curiosity experienced by Na Willa and her friends. When I was reading it out loud, there were lots of opportunities to really add expression. The other thing we enjoyed about Na Will was the footnotes. For this age group, you don’t often see footnotes in a book. They often expanded on the different foods or customs and it was really useful to have that input explaining what a certain dish was or to clarify a given term. Leaving the words in their original language and providing this extra information as a footnote worked really well and added to my son’s interest. It also got us talking about what we were reading, which doesn’t happen as often now that he is an independent reader.
The fact that one single page was able to hook my son and keep him interested speaks volumes for this little red book.
Available as an eBook download from The Emma Press website.