A few weeks in Netherlands

Friday, 26 October 2012

Sevim Ak stayed in Netherlands for the month of October as a guest of the Netherlands Ministry of Education. Here is a description of her stay through her words:


My book “From Stamps, From Stone, From Cabbage” was translated into Dutch as Mol en de Levende Dingen (Mole and the Living Things). The limpid and clean translation of the book is done by the turkologist Hamide Doğan, whose native language is Dutch. The book was placed in the catalogue of books recommended to be read at the “Children’s Book Week” organized by the Dutch Ministry of Education. As a result, I went to Amsterdam to participate at some of the reading events held at schools and libraries.

I and my brother, who is the illustrator of my book, were invited together to the first school, the Onza Wereld Elementary School in Den Haag. The “Children’s Book Week” took start at this school with a ceremony that involved an introduction to my newly translated book. The speech of Marjan Hammersma, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education made me realize that my book was the first Turkish children’s book to be translated to Dutch. I heard that most of the people they have consulted, in an effort to choose a children’s book for the 400th anniversary of Dutch-Turkish diplomatic relations, agreed upon this book. The first information filled me with a feeling of sorrow, while the second gave a sweet sense of pride. By the way, the book aims to give rise to the thought of aesthetic, art, change-transformation through the stories of two protagonists.


Children’s Book Week


Netherlands is a country that embraces multiculturalism; It succeeded to create a genial people through many years of talking and discussing over concepts of tolerance, freedom and conscience.”

The Children’s Book Week greets children every year with a new theme. This year’s theme was set as “Hello World”. The logo consists of smiling children of different cultures holding hands over the globe… Netherlands is a country that embraces multiculturalism; it succeeded to create a genial people through many years of talking and discussing over concepts of tolerance, freedom and conscience.

We began the week in a school that goes hand in hand with the theme “Hello World”. Out of the 800 students in the school, 500 were Turkish, the rest were Surinamese, Moroccan and Somalian. We came across a surprise after the Turkish and Dutch reading sessions. A pleasant activity that emphasizes the book’s theme! Children got on stage with “recycled clothes” they handmade with many materials that we would throw away as garbage. They showed us how to revive plastic bottles, newspaper, paper bags, wires, curtain beads and rags. Their modest, natural and sincere presentation surely deserved an ovation. I would like to give my most sincere appreciation to Zus’teen, the group that produced this workshop with the children in just a couple of weeks…

We also found out that the song “Hello World” composed specially for the Children’s Book Week would be performed in every school for ten days…  When the children’s chorus that consisted of children of different colors and cultures united and sang this song as the bottom of their hearts, the audience couldn’t contain their enthusiasm.

“This world is ours

in thousands of colors,

much more than just red, white, blue

this world is ours.”


The following evening we were amongst the guests of the big ball that numerous writers, illustrators and publishers participated in, as well as children. The top and bottom foyers were swarmed with workshops for children. The writers and the guests in local attires or the costumes of the protagonists of my stories created an energetic and warm atmosphere.

Library Visits

I am beginning to understand the worlds of these children that are trapped in between cultures… Because for many years, I have been witnessing the worlds of the children, who live in the East and the South East of Anatolia, whose mother tongue isn’t Turkish.”

On October 3rd, we visited the Transvaalkwartient Local Library of Den Haag, which held 20 thousand books.  The students that occupied the computer section of the library were receiving assistance from the library staff in order to prepare their school home works. The hallways were very busy with those bringing back books and selecting new books from the shelves. The Turkish children came to the reading session with their mothers. Mothers were worried about their children forgetting Turkish. Since Turkish children stay at home speaking their mother tongue until the age of 4, their Dutch doesn’t improve. Once they start preschool at 4, their Dutch improves and their Turkish communication diminishes. Some state that since the removal of Turkish lessons from the school curriculum in 2004, the children’s interest in Turkish books has decreased. Language-conscious parents have been making an effort in raising their children bilingual.

After this exchange, I observed the mothers and children going through the shelves… The books selected for children of 8-9 years of age had little writing and plenty of illustrations. The thick and less illustrated books weren’t favored.

When we went to Deventer Library on October 5th,around 80 students from Mikado and Rivierenwicjk schools also showed up. The participation of the town council at the reading session was a pleasant surprise of that day.

The library staff was very organized; the book was already read and questions were determined. I was very surprised not only by the fact that the children chose to be the Simri character in the book who is a man obsessed with symmetry, but also by their cheerful and comfortable manners…

We better look at the comments about the event through the eyes of Sander G, a journalist from the Destentor newspaper:

When I first saw the heading of the article, I thought to myself, “I wish I hadn’t responded to the kid who asked my age with, ‘old enough to be your grandmother’”.

I felt very special at the Rotterdam De Mare Montessori School that we visited on October 8th.  How could I not; there is nothing like the joy and privilege of sitting on a silver engraved, throne like, elegant, purple arm chair! I can still hear the comments made by the children about my book:

Ø  “I learned about new things, traditions, sounds, which I found strange at first. I got more interested as I kept reading”

Ø  “I knew the book was different the moment I read the first sentence… I was drawn to the characters right away… That’s why I wanted to keep reading… I loved it once I read it till the end…”

Ø  “The author was reading the book in a language I didn’t know but with much compassion. I felt her warmth in my heart.”


The teachers read and studied the book as well; they shared their thoughts as follows: “An age appropriate, poetic, philosophical book that triggers the imagination…”

The teacher of the 25 students that came to the Lommerweg Town Library in Amsterdam, on October 10th, is a Turk living in Netherlands. Ahmet the teacher is a familiar face that I had met 10 years ago at a seminar in Istanbul. Most of these Turkish students were born in Amsterdam; their families come from Sivas, Nevşehir, Niğde, Konya, Kars… Some of the children mentioned wanting to live in Turkey, where they spend their holidays. I can understand those who have lived in Netherlands for 25-30 years yearning for returning to the land of their ancestry. I realize, however, in order to understand the choices made by the children who are trapped in between two languages, there needs to be an effective communication.

After reading the articles I was given and having the conversations with the Turkish teachers visiting our booth at the “Children’s Book Fair” in the Den Haag Atrium on October 14th, I am beginning to find it easier to understand the world of these children that are trapped in between cultures… Actually this isn’t difficult for me… Because for many years, I have been witnessing the worlds of the children, who live in the East and South East of Anatolia, whose mother tongue isn’t Turkish.

During our visit to the Dr. Rijk Kramer School in the Jordan district of Amsterdam, we met with groups of children that were mainly of Dutch origin. The children have read the book and prepared their questions. I still remember the light in the eyes of the girl who said, “If I had to give a grade to this book, it would be 8,25.” Each children have interpreted a different moment out of the book and turned it into a drawing… I was very touched when they presented their drawings to me one by one at the end of the session.

Here are a couple of them:

The decorations, at the entrance of the Amsterdam Joop Weasterwheelschool consisting of painted detergent bottles, puts a smile on one’s face. A meaningful demonstration of the importance of recycling and not throwing away…


My two week long journey following one book has enriched my life with new friendships and relationships. It allowed me to experience the joy of talking about a common text and improving on the limits of our sense of empathy with children from different cultures. It reminded me of the importance of listening to other’s voices, co-existing through the acceptance of differences and the beauty of those differences.


Sevim Ak