Interview with author/illustrator Bolormaa Baasansuren
Bolormaa Baasansuren illustrated her first story, told to her by her grandmother, when she was four years old. Her first picture book, Tales on Horseback, was published when she was in 10th grade at secondary school and was a "Distinguished Best Book of Mongolia" in 1999. She went on to graduate in painting from the Institute of Fine Arts in Mongolia and has also studied picture book illustration in Moscow, Russia.
Since the publication of Tales on Horseback , Bolormaa has gone on to win many awards, both in her native Mongolia and abroad, including twice being placed in the International Competition of Illustration (Teatrio/UNICEF). In 2004 she won the Grand Prize of the 14th Noma Councours with her illustrations for My Little Round House, which has since been published in Mongolia, Japan and Canada. My Little Round House was also selected for inclusion in the 2010 Spirit of PaperTigers Project.
Two years ago, Bolormaa moved from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with her husband, artist Ganbaatar Ichinnorov, to Japan, where she is currently a research student at the University of Bunkyo.
Your book My Little Round House is the story of the first year in the life of a Mongolian nomadic boy, narrated from the point of view of the child. What inspired you to create this beautiful picture book?
I grew up in city but I love travelling in the countryside. I had wanted to create a picture book about the nomadic life for a long time. In Mongolia, the nomadic people move four times a year so they are always encountering new surroundings and meeting interesting things. I have tried to express this sense of the nomadic lifestyle in My Little Round House.
What message do you hope My Little Round House conveys to young readers?
Firstly, I would like to introduce the nomadic life to young readers. Secondly, I want readers to enjoy Jilu’s story.
What are some of the responses you have had from children so far, regarding the book?
I've read My Little Round House to Mongolian kindergarten children. Some children said things like, “In summer I've visited my grandmother’s home in the countryside and stayed in her ger”. That was very nice. I haven't read the book to children from any other countries yet.
My Little Round House has been published in Japanese as well as English. How does it feel, having your work made accessible across linguistic and cultural boundaries?
I first created My Little Round House as a book project for the Noma Concours in Japan and was so happy when it won the Grand Prize. After that, it was published in Japan by the Japanese publisher Sekifusha. Hiroko Takada translated my original Mongolian text into Japanese then the famous picture book author Nagano Hideko adapted that translation. Later, My Little Round House was also published in Mongolia. The English version is also an adaptation, rather than a direct translation, and I think it came out well.
Of course there are cultural boundaries and it’s a good feeling to know that young children in other parts of the world are finding out about the nomadic lifestyle of some children in Mongolia because of My Little Round House.
When did you know you wanted to illustrate children’s books?
When I was 4 years old, my mother enrolled me in a children's drawing class in Mongolia. Since that time, my life has always been connected with pictures. Also, my grandmother always told many tales to me and my younger sister. I drew illustrations for those tales.I beleive these experiences have influenced me to want to become a picture book illustrator.
In 1999 I illustrated my first book. It is called Tales on Horseback and was written by Dashdondog, a Mongolian children's book writer. Since then I have illustrated about 10 more children's books.
Can you describe a typical day in your studio?
I share a studio with my husband, Ganbaatar Ichinnorov, who is also a painter. He wrote and illustrated a picture book called The Hunnu Empire Festival, (Munhiin Useg, Mongolia, 2005). At the moment, in the mornings, he and I are going through the dummy version of a picture book we are working on together (I’m not a morning person, though– I don’t like getting up early!).
In the afternoons, I like to relax for a bit and to go on the internet. Then I draw color illustrations, or do some sketches for my illustrations or paintings. That’s how I spend a typical day. Of course, sometimes it’s difficult to work and I struggle to find new ideas. That’s when I like to take a walk in the park.
How has your own cultural background influenced your work?
I am very proud of my culture, so I try to create work that reflects my background and my pride in it.
Do you have any new books coming out soon?
In August I Want to Ride a Horse (a 32-page story) will be published in the Japanese picture book magazine, Puuka. My husband wrote it and I illustrated it.
If you were to pick a place anywhere in the world to send My Little Round House, where would it be, and why?
I would like to send it to every country in the world! But right now, I would like to send it to Haiti, most of all. Now, after the earthquake, its people, especially the children, are going through very hard times. I like to imagine the children of Haiti forgetting their current hardships even just for a moment, by immersing themselves in a picture book.
*Marjorie Coughlan is PaperTigers' Associate Editor .
Posted February 2010
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