LOS ANGELES — “Thank you for moving our hearts,” was the concluding remark of moderator Alice Petrossian at the “Beyond The Book: Transforming Armenian Children’s Literature” webinar, organized by the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) to celebrate International Children’s Book Day. And move our hearts is exactly what the participants did. Gayaneh Aghabalyan and Laura Gaboudian, two young authors from Armenia and the United States respectively, and Mimi Zarookian, who has lived and taught Children’s Literature both in the US and Armenia, had come together to present a topic that is, more often than not, regarded as “lesser than.” “You’ve never been told to pick up a children’s book and read it,” deplored Zarookian.
“That’s for children,” is a derogatory comment we have all heard. Naturally, an adult’s world is different from a child’s world and consequently the experiences of the characters and the themes explored in literature written for adults are different from those in literature written for children. That difference, however, does not constitute an opposition and a hierarchy, a fact the participants were well aware of. Indeed, the three women succeeded in putting children’s literature on par with literature written for adults. Their aim was, in Gaboudian’s words, to “spark the joy of literacy in students,” not to categorize.
With their expertise and commitment to their careers as educators, the participants could have awakened anyone to the value of children’s books. All three articulated the importance of what they were doing effectively. Their rhetorical sophistication could match that of any student schooled in theories of writing and composition. It was a joy to listen to Aghabalyan, teaching associate at the American University of Armenia (AUA), talk about her revision process. “Distancing myself has been a challenge,” she avowed, “because something to revise always comes up.” The budding writer understands, however, that the process has to halt at some point.
The disarmingly gentle manner in which Aghabalyan expressed her anger at our culture’s reluctance to address “diversity and special needs,” themes she tackles in her stories, made her presentation even more compelling. Sunny Cook, her debut children’s book, is about a young man with the Down Syndrome that even teachers do not want in the classroom because he looks different. In her story, this “unique and wonderful” young man ends up with a loving family where exclusion is no longer an issue.
Gaboudian’s goal, on the other hand, is to expose others to Armenian culture and history, more specifically to the Armenian Genocide, “a difficult topic,” by sharing her grandparents’ stories of survival with the world. Her debut children’s book, Under The light of The Moon, is the true story of her great-grandmother. Gaboudian travelled to Western Armenia and actually climbed the cherry tree Uncle Stepan teaches Lucy how to climb in her fictional recreation of the memory. When a publisher rejected her submission with, “This is not essential history,” confessed Gaboudian, “Her curt rejection made me want to publish even more.” She humbly admits to “learning as I go, the whole publishing process.”
Gaboudian currently serves as the Glendale Unified School District’s English Language Arts and English Language Development Specialist.