For over twenty years, Gruppo Albatros il Filo in Rome has hosted great literary personalities and emerging authors in its catalogue, creating a unique blend in the publishing sector, in Italy and beyond. One of the most successful projects carried out by Gruppo Albatros il Filo is the Nuove Voci series, dedicated to emerging writers, defined as the most awarded series of the sector in Italy. One of their emerging writers is Lorraine D. Cork, a British author who writes bilingual stories, plays and poems for children in English and in Italian.
So far Lorraine D. Cork has written two books: Recitiamo in Inglese! and Leo la Superstar! and she will be publishing a third in 2024. Her second book “Leo la Superstar!” has won her widespread acclaim in Italy and further afield. She recently WON the Golden Wizard Book Prize in the UK and she became a FINALIST at the 8th edition of the CONCORSO INTERNAZIONALE DI POESIA E NARRATIVA CITTA’ DI CEFALU‘ in Italy.
Following her successes Lorraine D. Cork was delighted to sit down and be interviewed by her publisher Gruppo Albatros il Filo.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of the character Leo, the vain lifeguard who becomes a superstar on White Shark beach?
Leo the character is based on the lifeguard with no name from my play “Danger at the Beach” which I wrote as a young girl. Over the years the play has evolved considerably and I have even put it into an easier form of English for children who want to learn English as a second language through Drama. This version of the play can be found in my first book ‘Recitiamo in Inglese!’ which contains plays and poems in English and Italian.
Due to the success of my play, I decided to turn it into a short story. I put the lifeguard at the forefront of my story and I gave him the name of ‘Leo’, hence…Leo the Superstar!
The inspiration for ‘Leo’ the character (from the play and from the book) is not based on any one person in particular, although it could be said that Leo is slightly similar to me because he lives by the sea (as I do) and he was probably born by the sea (as I was). Additionally, Leo and I are both big dreamers, and we love the theatre and being in the limelight. However, having said all of that, I am certainly not as vain and as easily distracted as Leo is!
On a deeper level, ‘Leo’ the character is so much more, as he represents so many things that have shaped my world over the years. First and foremost: I grew up as a teenager in the 1980s and 1990s and programmes such as “Baywatch”, “Chips” and “Wonder Woman” were extremely popular and highly influential. As a result, whenever I put ‘Danger at the Beach’ onto the stage certain characters and elements of those programmes definitely play out in my mind and are incorporated into my productions.
Aside from the television in the 80s and 90s, I have always been extremely interested in the 1920s: musicals, tap dancing, black and white films, mime, silent movies and slapstick comedy. In fact my all-time favourite comedy duo is ‘Laurel and Hardy’ who had a high visual style using slapstick for emphasis.
My love for the 1920s ‘Golden Age’ has really influenced my style and many parallels can be drawn with Leo (and some of my other characters too). For example, Leo’s highly visual beach antics are completely reminiscent of the silent era when mime was one of the primary ways that actors conveyed emotions. Incidentally, Roberto Vetrano, the illustrator for ‘Leo la Superstar!’ miraculously captures these factors in his depictions of Leo.
Roberto Vetrano & Lorraine D. Cork at the launch of ‘Leo la Superstar!’
What benefits do you think a bilingual book can offer to such a large audience as children?
Bilingual books are fantastic resources that can be used at home, at school or ‘anywhere’ for that matter! Not only are they educational, but they are also a lot of fun – people just need to know how to use them effectively.
There are actually many different types of dual language books. Some contain a parallel text and others have a different layout. For example, the Italian edition of my book ‘Leo la Superstar!’ has the Italian version of the story at the front of the book and the English version (the original in my case) in the second half of the book.
As with all bilingual books, the stories can be read in one language or in both languages – it is completely up to the individual! Some people prefer reading the story in the foreign language first while others prefer starting with the native language.
I personally prefer reading the story in the children’s native tongue first, so that they don’t feel pressured into learning another language straightaway; they can just relax and enjoy the story. Some people may disagree with me, but based on my own experiences of bringing up a bilingual child and working in a bilingual school, I have witnessed first-hand that reading the story in the native language first, always wins favourably!
It might also be a good idea to consider what you are doing from a child’s perspective and not necessarily from an adult’s perspective. A grown up may want the child to read the story in the foreign language first because they might feel that learning the other language is the most important part of the bilingual book. However, the child may not necessarily agree and could be more inclined to reach for the story in their own language first. Ultimately, it is important to do what is right for you and the particular child that you have in front of you, as everyone is different. Some children may LOVE reading the foreign version of the story first and even choose to do it…and of course that is fine. I would just say, whatever you decide: let it happen naturally and without force.
When you have finished reading the story in the first language (if you choose to) then you are ready to move on and introduce the other language in a FUN and practical way: through games, songs and creative activities. If your child does not want to approach the new language at all, then you should not push them to do it. The beauty of having a bilingual book is that you can easily just use it as a monolingual book!
Overall, there are endless benefits to learning another language: you can converse with people from other countries, you can learn about other cultures, you can understand a song you have always loved, you can order an ice-cream when you go on holiday, you can gain self-confidence, and you can even get a great job! Of course children don’t realise that there are all of these benefits because they are only children and they just want to play, but if you make language learning fun and really come down to their level they will always remember the fun that they had…and the experiences and the words that they learnt will stay with them forever.
The book introduces vocabulary related to the sea and it can be used as a starting point for important discussions about water safety for children and the dangers of the sea. What messages or lessons did you try to convey through these themes and how did you try to do it in an engaging and age-appropriate way for the readers?
Having lived by the sea nearly all my life I know how beautiful it can be, but I also know that it can be a very dangerous place and many people, especially children do not realise that. So, it is very important to talk about these dangers with them and discuss water safety. I truly believe that my “Leo the Superstar!” story will give adults the springboard they need to be able to approach this subject in a fun yet sensible way.
Let me give you one example from the book so I can explain what I mean. At about half way through the story there is a very serious moment when a little boy goes missing and for a moment the reader is left wondering about what will happen next. This is the point when adults can begin to have a very open and honest discussion with the children that are listening. And they could begin by saying:
- Where do you think the boy has gone?
- Do you think that he is somewhere making a sandcastle or trying to look for shells?
- Is it possible that he has gone into the water?
- Do you think that the boy can swim?
- What can happen if you can’t swim?
- Should you always stay near an adult and why?
Of course, there are so many different ways of asking questions and I am sure that parents/carers and teachers will develop their own questions and methods according to the ages of the children that they have in front of them.
Ultimately, I really hope that my story will encourage young children to ask for permission to go near the water and teach adults to stay within an arm’s reach of young children or inexperienced child swimmers.
Your book encourages young readers to be humble and responsible even if they make mistakes. How did you approach this theme in Leo’s story and what are the main values you want to promote through your characters?
We are all human beings and we all make mistakes. But what is important is that when we do something wrong we are able to own up to it, learn from it and move on and equally that we can learn to forgive others without judging them too harshly. This is the underlying meaning of my story and the theme that is inherently linked to four of my characters: the mother, the little boy, Tony the barman and Leo the lifeguard.
To begin with, the mother makes a terrible mistake by not watching her child and as a result of this she loses him. Fortunately, there is a happy-ending and although we do not see her level of regret played out we cannot help but feel that she must have regretted doing what she did. On the other hand, the little boy was only doing what any little child would do and that is ‘to play’. Of course, in hindsight, he should never have left his mother’s side and we can only imagine that his mother would have talked to him about this after.
Just as the mother and the boy are connected, so are Leo the lifeguard and Tony the barman. Leo’s vain and absent-minded nature causes the most terrible situation to occur, almost causing near tragic consequences. And in addition to this, Tony, Leo’s boss has his patience tested as he clearly feels that he has made a mistake by hiring Leo. In the end Leo accepts that he has made the biggest mistake of his life and a very humble Tony forgives him.
Although children will love how the story comically unfolds in ‘Leo la Superstar!” I am sure that they will certainly reflect on some of the more serious undertones.
In addition to being an enjoyable read, you have included many educational elements in the book. What are the main educational goals you want to achieve with young readers and how have you tried to make learning an enjoyable and non-strenuous experience?
As I mentioned before, ‘Leo la Superstar!” comes from a play that I wrote when I was younger, which was then transformed into a story. However, as my daughter and I both speak in English and Italian and due to the fact that I work in a bilingual school, it seemed perfectly natural for me to create a bilingual book. And so that is what I did: I created a book that contains the same story in two languages, which is enjoyable yet educational!
When you are learning a language (whether it is a first language or a second language) it is essential to master the following four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Although each of these skills go hand in hand, ‘reading’ is such an important part of language learning, as it gives you the opportunity to find out about different topics. As a result you are able to learn new words and expand on your vocabulary, which then helps you develop other skills. Dual language books give children the chance to read and become stronger in the first language, while at the same time they provide the opportunity for them to learn a second language, improving vocabulary, sentence structure, comprehension, quality writing, speaking and overall literacy.
‘Leo la Superstar!’ can help children develop their reading skills in the first language and in the second language. The first part of the book is dedicated to the story in Italian and the second section contains the original story in English, therefore it can be read in one language or in both languages. Younger children will enjoy having it read to them while older children will enjoy reading it for themselves to practise their reading skills.
Lorraine D. Cork reading ‘Leo la Superstar!’ with school children
Although my book is mostly aimed at primary school aged children, ‘older’ children (in their last years of primary or early middle school) may just want to read the story in the second language to help them with their language learning. For example the English version of my story coincides very well with the Elementary Level to Pre-intermediate Level English Programme that ESL (English as a second language) students study at school.
On a different note, if there are any children that already speak English as a first language and they would like to learn Italian as a second language then my dual language book is perfect for them too. ‘Reading’ is one of the best ways to learn the Italian language, and it is a wonderful way to familiarise yourself with common grammatical structures and build up a good vocabulary.
Aside from reading, there are endless creative and educational possibilities that children will love based on the story…and they will be working on all of their skills while having lots of fun! They could try: collecting shells and painting them; building 3D sandcastles, creating ocean-inspired drawings; setting up a beach role-play area; playing bingo to learn beach related vocabulary; creating a mosaic from an illustration in the book; singing songs or putting on a musical with a ‘Summer’ theme…to name just a few things!
Practical activities are particularly important if children are trying to learn a second language because this type of approach helps develop other skills: especially speaking.
I have also found that ‘Leo la Superstar’ is very successful amongst children with learning difficulties…and this outcome has also surprised ME. I regularly use my story (in English and in Italian) with children of middle school age that are having difficulty reading and just need a simple story with pictures for extra clarification. Some of the children I have worked with have even performed ‘Leo la Superstar!’ as a ‘play’ in English as a second language and I have witnessed amazing transformations in them…and to see their happy faces and new found self-confidence really makes everything I do worthwhile!
This interview can also be found at: www.gruppoalbatros.blog
Lorraine D. Cork’s third bilingual book will be coming out in mid 2024. For further information, you can follow her on her website and social media pages.
Website: Lorraine D. Cork