Once upon a time…

Arina Stoenescu

Once upon a time, on a lovely spring day in Romania, more precisely on April 26th 2016, together with a group of kids from the Giulești neighborhood (Bucharest), we proudly inaugurated the Roma library for Children, that was meant to collect books about Roma culture, written and illustrated for children, for all children.

We were also joined by the Swedish writer Gunilla Lundgren, who initiated this project and supported us through funds that she raised in the memory of Donald Kenrick, an English linguist, writer and activist, and an important figure for the Roma culture. Our friends were also there: Anneli Lindhal Kenny, the Sweden Ambassador in Romania, who gave our library the story of a brave, one of a kind girl, Pippi Longstocking; Soraya Post, a Swedish Roma politician; our friends from IKEA Romania who helped us furnish the library. At the same time, we were also launching the Romanian – Romani edition of the comic book Sofia-4515 about another brave girl. Sofia was a Polish Roma who survived the Nazi extermination of August 2, 1944, and was rescued by the Swedish white buses; she lived to be in her 80s, and told her nephew the story of her life.

This year in April, the Roma Library for Children hosted by the Museum of Roma Culture in Bucharest will celebrate two years of wonderful activities organized for all the children of Giulești. Just to name a few: a letter exchange with the children of the Rinkeby Library Book Club from Stockholm, a visit to the 2016 edition of Bookfest, a Romanian book fair in Bucharest, and the energizing project Live from Giulești. This last project also led to Where are you from? From Giulești, a short comic book written by Adina Popescu and illustrated by Alexandru Ciubotariu. Where are you from? From Giulești is the first Romanian comic book whose main character is Roma, and it was published in English by the Swedish publishing house pionier press. The Roma Library for Children is also part of another project, Harap Alb - House of Stories, dedicated to illustrated children literature.

Once upon a time, on a winter day in Sweden, I met with Staffan Götestam, the founder of Junibacken, a cultural space for children in Stockholm, and we discussed the idea of a similar space in Romania. Of course, this space was going to tell Romanian stories – that is why we named it Harap Alb - House of Stories, or just Harap Alb. The Swedish space created in 1996 was inspired by the stories of the well-known Swedish children author Astrid Lindgren: it is called Junibacken, after the name of an imaginary place in the story of a little girl named Madicken.

There will be a time when you will enter the world of Harap Alb and first see a display of countless stories. You will meet and play with some of the most beloved characters from Romanian children books, such us The Goat and her Three Kids, Harap Alb, Păcală (Ion Creangă), Haplea (Nicolae Batzaria & Marin Iorda), Fram The Polar Bear (Cezar Petrescu), Ionică the Liar (Alexandru Mitru), Zdreanță (Tudor Arghezi), Mister Goe (I.L.Caragiale), Lizuca and Patrocle (Mihail Sadoveanu),  Ela without words (Victoria Pătrașcu and Cristiana Radu), the cat Arpagic (Ana Blandiana), the dragons from Mircea Cărtărescu’s encyclopedia, Apolodor the Penguin (Gelu Naum), Ciorică from ”Gispy Folktales” (Viorica Huber), and so on, and so forth.

Yes, once upon a time, there was a book called ”Gipsy Folktales” that impressed everyone with the power and inventiveness of the Roma tales collected by Victoria Huber, a writer born in Timișoara in 1927, who left for Germany in 1985. This book had a tragic destiny after being published in 1959 by the Romanian publishing house, Editura Tineretului. As a result of the changes in the politics of minorities during the communist era, the book was destroyed, and was to published again only in 1997 by another publisher, Universal Dalsi.

There will be a time when the Train of Stories will depart the Humulești railway station, and will take you on a journey through the stories of Ion Creangă: we will recast these stories in a new, modern language, that describes a world from a long time ago, but full of joy and tears, adventure and emotions, a world for every one of us. In that train coach that will gently rock you, you will start your journey from Creangă’s childhood house, to his village outskirts, where Nică is bathing. We will then travel through stories and tales, and we will see The Woman with Three Daughters in Law, The Goat and her Three Kids, The Little Purse with Two Half-pennies, The Pig’s Tale, Danilă Prepeleac, Harap Alb, The Old Man’s Daughter and the Old Woman’s Daughter, Ivan Turbincă, Ion Roată and the Union, Five Pieces of Bread, The Story of a Lazy Man, and Childhood Memories. You will be able to listen to all these stories not only in Romanian, but also in English, French, German, Russian, Romani or Hungarian.

You will then get off the train at the house of one of our best storytellers, Ion Creangă. In his house, you can run, you can climb to get the wood pea from its lime tree nest, you can go down in the cellar, you can wear clothes from villages across Romania in the 19th century, you can play in aunt Smaranda’s kitchen, and you can follow your imagination while riding grandpa David’s horse.

There will be a day when, after a whole day spent in this wonderful space, playing in the Stories Market, taking the train thorough the magic world of Ion Creangă, stopping by Nică Creangă’s house, having lunch in the kitchen of Harap Alb, you will finally get to have another surprise who will keep you even longer in the world of an author that you love – a library full of new books that will be waiting for you only!

There will be a time when all kids will find in books beloved heroes who look like them, and who will make everyone embrace cultural diversity. There will be a time when you will find in our library the book of the New Storytellers, The Story of the Lost Kendama, written by Adina Rosetti and illustrated by Irina Dobrescu. Their heroes will inspire us all to create a better world.

And I promise you, this will be a journey like no other!