This collection of 40 short, illustrated poems explores a variety of situations, objects and emotions both in the school environment and outside it. WiFi hotspots, chalk, the demands of school work, mobile phones, wearing a mask in class, a snake called Slodze-Odze – they all get a look in.
Oh, how I have enjoyed dipping into this wonderful collection of illustrated poems! Ieva Flamingo manages to convey so much in so few words, both in terms of content and emotion. I should take a leaf out of her book!
Several key themes struck me during my reading of the collection, notably modern technology and its impact on young people’s lives. WiFi hotspots, Skype and virtual friends all feature and not in the most favourable terms either. One of my favourite poems is ‘Archaeological Excavations (Year: 3014), which propels us into the future with the discovery in a jacket pocket of a tiny box with a wire coming out of it. Those that unearth it muse: “Why did he keep it so close to his heart?/Was it thought to be part of his soul?” And then they ask themselves whether early man was really a snail and the “talking box” his shell. What an original way of looking at our terrible attachment to mobile phones!
Other poems really pulled at my heartstrings, such as ‘A Wish’ voiced by a young boy Rūdolfs whose parents are getting divorced. It opens with the poignant line: “If they would both just go for a walk/in the same place, at the same time.” Or “I Like to Look in Windows” where Rūdolfs’ classmate, Māris, wanders around the city at dusk looking through windows and reading the stories he sees inside. He likes the happy scenes and hopes that one day “my own window will shine/with the light of a gentler story.”
Readers are introduced to both Rūdolfs and Māris, along with their classmates, in the collection’s endpapers, and are invited to spot the characters throughout the book. It’s a clever way of generating additional interest in the poems, but it is perhaps more than this. The short profiles provided for each character also enable readers to establish connections with them. Readers may be in a similar situation to Māris and Rūdolfs; they may identify with their stories and feelings, and the poems may help them to make sense of their personal experiences.
School does feature in the collection, too! Sometimes it is presented in a positive light, such as in ‘The Medal’ written in praise of a school teacher, or ‘In the Twilight’ where a couple of fairies work their magic on the messy classrooms. On other occasions, the poems take a more negative tone. “School doesn’t ask how I feel today,” laments Pēteris when confronted with the demands of school life. And the accompanying illustration, which shows him balancing an impossible stack of books on his head, reinforces the point. In ‘Nature Studies’ one of the pupils argues the case for moths, comparing them to “Beautiful butterflies/flying on gleaming wings” not just attackers of clothing. His teacher marks him down for daring to challenge her teaching.
Vivianna Maria Staņislavska’s award-winning artwork in just three colours – blue, red and brown – is stunning throughout and perfectly reflects the chaos, noise and movement of the school environment, as well as the more introspective themes. Each poem in the collection has a dedicated illustration: a whirlwind of paper and people; a many-headed dragon; a few lit candles; a mournful character study.
The poems read so beautifully in English they could have been written in the language. There are only a couple of references to Latvia in the text and a few explanatory footnotes that give the game away. And the ‘Bonus Bits’ at the end of the book really are a bonus, inviting readers to learn a little Latvian or write their own poem.
The Noisy Classroom is an evocative, thought-provoking collection of illustrated poems featuring a range of situations, objects and emotions both in the school environment and outside it. Forget WiFi hotspots, Skype and virtual friends and curl up in a quiet corner with this wonderful book as your companion instead.
The Noisy Classroom by Ieva Flamingo, illustrated by Vivianna Maria Staņislavska, translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini, Sara Smith and Richard O’Brien (first published in Latvian in 2015 by Pētergailis; this edition, The Emma Press, 2017)
Ieva Samauska, who writes under the pen name Ieva Flamingo, is a journalist, poet and author of many books for children. She has been nominated for a number of awards and, in 2015, won the prestigious Pastariņš Prize for Latvian Children’s Literature. For the last ten years she has worked for the weekly women’s magazine Ieva. She lives in the town of Saldus, the Latvian town where she was born, with her family, three cats and a dog.
Vivianna Maria Staņislavska studied Print Making and Graphic Arts at the Art Academy of Latvia. She won the Jānis Baltvilks ‘Jaunaudze’ Award in 2016 for her illustrations in The Noisy Classroom, her debut as a book illustrator.
In this lovely interview on the Latvian Literature website, Vivianna Maria Staņislavska talks about her passion for comic art, the illustration technique she used in The Noisy Classroom, and her view of contemporary Latvian children’s literature.
Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini is a literary agent for Latvian Literature as well as a translator. She has recently translated a number of titles into English, including the children’s book Dog Town by Luīze Pastore, The Green Crow by Kristine Ulberga, and several stories for The Book of Riga.
Sara Smith lives in Rome, where she works as a teacher and translator. She studied Italian and Business at Edinburgh University.
Richard O’Brien is an editor at The Emma Press, a poet and a playwright. In 2017 he won an Eric Gregory award for his poetry.