Danny Kragelj is the author of therapeutic fairy tales Living in the woods in Living in the sea, which are intended for preschool children. They are special collections of fairy tales that help the child process feelings and situations in which he does not yet find himself. In the conversation with the author, you will learn more about her work, the impact of fairy tales on children and their parents, about a fairy tale that is still in its infancy and much more interesting. Because we work well with the author, you can also find her works at Slovenian bookshelves, we decided to tick in the interview.
Slovenians in England already know you from two excellent collections of therapeutic fairy tales. How would you describe yourself?
It's true, I'm very glad that you invited me to participate in the wonderful project Slovenian bookshelf. I see myself as a special person. I work as an educator for children with special needs and I say that we are all special in our own way. I am proud of my difference and try to think outside the box that the system sets for us. This is where a lot of ideas come from. But I also have weaknesses, just like any human being. I'm stubborn and independent, which is sometimes difficult for people around me (laughs).
Can you tell us more about yourself (where do you come from, where did you grow up, what did you study)?
I finished high school in Rijeka, Croatia, where I lived all my childhood. I can say that I come from a perfect family. My parents are still happily in love, and my sister and I have already become independent. Love brought me to Ljubljana, where I studied social pedagogy at the Faculty of Education. After college, it was also the end of love, but I still decided to stay and live in Slovenia (laughs).
Fairy tales are probably a big part of your everyday life. But how do you fill it when you’re not dealing with them?
Fairy tales are definitely a big part of my everyday life mentally. I look for ideas everywhere, new collaborations are formed and I am in genuine contact with customers. But I have a lot of other hobbies. I have been an aerobics trainer for many years, a Pilates instructor for the last few years, my passion is salsa, and I also teach zumba. I spend my mornings at work, where I am a class teacher. So, morning work, evening workouts, and in between I dedicate myself to my kids. But fairy tales are in all segments of my life, and I usually write them over the weekend or in the evening when the child falls asleep. Yeah, I know what you're thinking now - how many hours does my day have (laughs). Too little!
When did you start writing fairy tales and where did the idea for therapeutic fairy tales come from?
During my studies, I became fascinated with the idea of instructive fairy tales and trained in storytelling. I have worked as a babysitter in many families, organized animations, conducted various workshops and projects for children with autism, with behavioral and personality problems, for the deaf, blind, juvenile delinquents, young addicts and so on. I have found that I am always looking for a common thread or a story that will bring us closer. I have always managed to gain the attention of those who deviate the most by telling stories. I started educating with fairy tales. I redirected all the problems to the animal world and all of a sudden it became much easier to convey criticism to the child without resisting what I heard. The dot on the i was put by my daughter, who is convinced she is of royal descent (laughs). Not all the methods learned helped her; we are two stubborn bulls. Only with fairy tales can I lead her in the desired direction.
What about writing ideas, where do they come from?
Contact with children is key to ideas, at least sometimes it was. I created and forgot many fairy tales in real time, I did not write them down for many years. My princess led me to this because she wanted to hear the same story several times. Then other parents and various professionals started advertising with a request on a particular topic. Shortly after the publication of the first book, a list was created for a few more books. At this point, all the experience I have gained over the years helps me a lot, as each suggestion reminds me of some child I have worked with. My dear special ones, however, are like a light above my head, reminding me to write a fairy tale that they will also understand.
We can learn more about the impact of therapeutic fairy tales on children and their parents?
Exactly that, yes, to the parents. I wasn’t so aware of that at first. I got some responses from adults who thanked me for helping them understand the children’s world or solve their problems. One gentleman called me and confided that he had read the whole book at once, and then sat and cried for quite some time. He reworked his childhood and traumas, many things he found out only then.
My purpose, however, is to bring the world of adults closer to the child in a way that is understandable to him. It’s easier to say you feel like a deer and it’s easier to advise what a deer should do to make you feel better. It’s hard for a child to be open, just as it’s sometimes hard to apologize. They don’t feel safe in this “adult area,” they don’t fully understand it yet. Many times we are not aware that they lack words to explain their well-being. Therefore, through the experiences of the characters, my fairy tales teach them to separate feelings and emotions, to name them, to show them and, if necessary, to resolve them. I emphasize that we must treat the youngest with respect, as well as our partner. His distress needs a serious approach to show him that we hear him, understand him, sympathize with him.
We recently read that Life in the Forest and Life in the Sea will be translated into other languages. Which ones can you trust us with? Which countries will you delight everyone with with your therapeutic fairy tales?
It’s true, I’ve been putting a lot of energy into translations lately. I wasn’t focusing on specific languages, I was looking for quality. We currently have English, German, Spanish, Italian and Polish translations. I don’t limit myself and I don’t have clear goals. But I have one big one (laughs)! I want to reach as many children as possible around the world.
Appropriate translations are probably very important in this type of fairy tale. How did you find good translators? Was the search challenging?
The search was not demanding, a lot of them responded to me, but my clear criteria quickly made a selection (laughs). I'm looking for translators who are native speakers. ”For example, I asked a French student what children in France are afraid of, who their“ bav-bav ”is. Of course he didn't know. It was then that I realized that I would only be working with those who had grown up abroad and had experience with children. I have to admit that I have found really quality translators and only in this way will I continue to work.
We know that illustrations also play a big role in the overall image of the final product. How did you choose the illustrator?
I made the first illustrations myself. The more I watched them, the less I liked them. I looked for ideas from other artists and found that I would not be able to get close to the ones I liked the most. So I started calling them. Kajo Lukač and I immediately felt it and started creating together with enthusiasm. I kept sending her fairy tales and her illustrations were a reflection of my ideas. Even I felt the characters more when she drew them.
Third therapeutic fairy tales are in the making. Can you trust us more?
That's right, the book Life in the Hills is being written. It should be available this year if everything goes according to plan. I like each new book even more. I am aware of the breadth of the population I am writing for. I work with even more experts to review and validate fairy tales.
I can trust that we have “hidden” a story in this book that gently opens up the topic of abuse. This will help adults find out if a child has experienced something controversial. He, on the other hand, will find it easier to speak up and perhaps even figure out what happened.
What are your plans for writing in the future?
I connect, gain experience and new knowledge, write about increasingly sensitive topics. I have 5 collections of 10 fairy tales in the plan, which will be very general and everyday. Then I would like to delve more closely into the individual areas.
What kind of fairy tale readers are Slovenians? What do you expect from abroad and foreign readers? Maybe you can draw some parallels and highlight the main differences?
In Slovenia, therapeutic fairy tales were quite unknown. They suggested I protect the name, and I explained that it wasn’t something new. It is true, however, that it is not yet widespread enough. I am glad to see that others have started writing with a deeper purpose. Reading is very developed in Slovenia and parents are critical in choosing literature for children. Maybe that’s why there was such a strong positive response already to my first book Life in the Woods. They found that they are not just fairy tales, that they also have a pedagogical background. It is difficult to generalize abroad, each country has its own characteristics and habits. There’s definitely a lot more competition, which I don’t take negatively. In some places, I won’t need to explain so much what therapeutic fairy tales are (laughs). I spend most of the summer in Croatia and when I look at tourists, their children and their upbringing, I have often thought that I have to hurry with translations, because it is high time to change something for certain nationalities (laughs).
And purely for the end; have you ever visited England?
Oh, I didn't, but it was planned quite a few times. This year I really wanted to do a workshop for Slovenes in England. I never imagined that 2020 would be so special (laughs). I promised myself this was my next destination and I can’t wait!
Thank you very much for a pleasant conversation. We wish you a lot of ideas and success in writing and sparks in children's eyes while listening to your fairy tales. See you in London!
photo: personal archive