Folk tales, ancient plays and mythology spark a child’s imagination!
Maria Kamoulakou-Marangoudakis is a US-based Greek archaeologist and award-winning children’s author. Since her childhood in Athens, Maria has loved escaping into the imaginary world of books. A desire to visualize and relive the past led her to an eighteen-year career in archeology in Greece (Hellenic Ministry of Culture). In 2013, a similar urge prompted Maria to test her writing skills, and then she started Little Centaur Press in 2018. Her books bridge the gap between picture books and children’s chapter books. For her themes, she explores the rich literary and folkloric tradition of Greece. When not busy writing, Maria enjoys interacting with her readers at book signing events and literary festivals. She is a wildlife lover and loves to travel, meet people and learn about new cultures. She lives in New England with her husband, Carl, and their elderly cat, Kit-Kit.
TNH: How did you start writing children’s books?
MK: It was an impulsive decision! The idea crossed my mind while I was recovering from a serious health problem in the winter of 2012-2013. You could say it had a therapeutic effect on me at the time.
TNH: Which book was the one that influenced you in your writing debut?
MK: There isn’t a particular book that led me to write, but I had a favorite when I was a kid. the Iliad-Odyssey by Sideris editions (Ιλιάδα–Οδύσσεια, εκδόσεις Σιδέρης). The title of the English edition is Tales of the Greeks and the Trojans. Some of you may have come across it. I was captivated by the story and mesmerized by the illustrations by Anna and Janet Graham Johnston. This book enchanted me and I still am enchanted!
TNH: What is the source of your inspiration when you write a book?
MK: Greek culture is a huge driving force behind me. In 2013, I set myself the goal of introducing English-speaking children to ancient Greek culture, Greek literature and traditional Greek tales with my adaptations. My goal is to reach readers from as many cultural backgrounds as possible, not exclusively children of Greek descent.
TNH: Do your heroes guide you through the story or do you decide their fate?
MK: That’s a very interesting question! Until now, the fate of my heroes is predetermined. I chose to retell existing folk tales and old plays so I can’t completely rewrite the plot, but I’m free to play around a bit… You could say my heroes dictate their way through the story but they can’t dictate the finish. They take me by the hand and gently guide me through pages and pages of text. It’s a fun but tedious procedure that involves many fixes and revisions along the way. In future books, my heroes might get bolder, bolder, and choose their own ending! Who knows?
TNH: Children’s books get the message out about social issues. What is your goal in writing your stories?
MK: The values behind my stories are those of friendship, brotherhood, peaceful coexistence, perseverance and resilience. My heroes dream big and, through hard work or simple tricks, they manage to achieve difficult goals! It can be coming together to build a city in the clouds or tackling a problem using your intellect instead of physical strength.
TNH: What Greek books for children do you wish you had written?
MK: Growing up in Athens in the late 60s/early 70s, life was tough. Children’s books were highly prized items. We only received them as gifts on special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Most of my books were about Greek mythology, but occasionally I got a few fairy tales. As a child, I loved Hans Christian Andersen. There was something about the hardships and human suffering depicted in his tales that struck a chord in my heart! The Wild Swans and The Little Match Girl were, and still are, my favorites.
TNH: What are the most recent books you have published?
MK: My most recent books are two picture books for 7-10 year olds.
Arthur the Fly Slayer and the Forty Dragons is the retelling of a traditional folk tale from Gytheio, Laconia. My father heard the original tale from his grandmother and passed it on to me. To my surprise, several different versions are documented throughout Greece and it may relate to The Brave Little Tailor by the Brothers Grimm. The book celebrates the days and deeds of a lazy, yet resourceful young man who outwits forty dragons and hunts them without a single swing of his sword!
Last July, I published an updated edition of my first book, Sky Cloud City (The Adventures of Hope & Trusty, Book 1). The story is a retelling of the ancient Greek comedy The Birds (Ornithes) by Aristophanes. The plot revolves around friends, a couple of birds and two stray dogs, who travel to bird country. Their actions trigger events that benefit the birds, shake humanity, and humiliate Zeus and the Olympian gods. The 2021 edition of City Cloud Sky recently won the Bronze Medal for First Books in the Early Readers Chapter at the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.
Both books are available on all amazon sites and on www.mariakamoulakou.com.
TNH: What awaits you next?
MK: Time to focus on the chase The Adventures of Hope & Trusty series. If all goes well, the second book should be ready in the summer of 2023. In the meantime, my collaboration with KPHTH Magazine – from the Pancretan Association of America – is still ongoing. My MINOS Zoiros and ARIADNE Laloussa column is a series of short stories for 6-9 year olds. The aim is to familiarize children of Cretan origin with their Minoan ancestors and to arouse their interest in Cretan culture and history. There are also plans for more books and more stories to tell.
Facebook fb.me/LittleCentaurPress; Website mariakamoulakou.com; Email [email protected]