How Bruno and Violeta, a children’s story, came into being was related to me by my friend Bernardita Muñoz (left) one evening and I found her publishing journey fascinating and inspiring, in fact inspiring enough to share here.
To better understand the motives and challenges she faced as the story’s author, I decided to interview her, so that I could explore how she made the creative journey from idea to realisation and how the publication was shared. Her co-produced children’s story, a humble 24 page b&w internet booklet, attracted the attention of and was subsequently published by the Chilean Government but was later also published by Unesco, who wanted to use it for their own educational literature, as the story has universal meaning for children.
Bernardita Muñoz is currently an Mphil-PhD Student at the University of Bristol
and lives with her husband and her two small children in the City.
When the devastating earthquake struck Chile in February 2010, Bernardita heard the news on the radio. She initially contacted her family, who were safe, but the next day she felt “hopeless”, wishing she could have been there doing something to help, and even felt depressed, so she decided to act by writing a new children’s story to help those caught up in the disaster, which affected 2 million people, helping the children affected by the earthquake understand what had happened to their lives.
Chile experiences one very large earthquake on average every 30 years and Bernardita grew up there experiencing her first, aged seven. “for me it was like the end of my childhood and the beginning of something different… It is like the time stops… you realise how fragile we are.”
As a children’s author, Bernardita knew how to write, having published more than twenty children’s books, and was inspired to write a story about two children who survived the earthquake.
She was careful to not to tell the whole story, leaving blank spaces for the reader to share their thoughts and finish telling their story. She later added simple illustrations “that try to reflect how things look like and was not an artistic product” and they were line drawings, simple enough to be printed in black and white, so that children could add their own colours and backgrounds. “Colours are emotions, so they will reflect your emotional state of the moment, so that’s why I wanted to have black and white, like a colouring book, not just because of the printing, but because it was a way of bringing your emotions to the story” The idea behind this was that children could process their unique experience of the earthquake.
“I thought it could be a story about Bruno and Violeta, these young children, maybe 7 (or) 9 years old who live with their parents in a house next to the sea. One night… well they are normal children, they have a cat and a dog and a house… the earthquake comes they have to leave their house and everything is destroyed. They realise the most important lesson; that the material things are not really what matters in these situations. What really matters is that if nothing happens to you physically, you are lucky and you can rebuild everything really, if you have that sense of confidence and your family has survived something like that.”
It is common in Chile for people to have two or three children, so she liked the idea of her characters being a brother and sister, close in age, “we wanted everybody to identify with them. We wanted a story, a book which would tell you how things work, why earthquakes happen, but also leave space for your emotional… to elaborate the experience“
Twelve friends were involved in the process of doing the book, she collaborated with them over one month, exchanging ideas and drafts by email, before publication. She wanted the book to be free, as she didn’t want to transform the emotional motive for writing it into a business and also, to not be tied to a publisher would enable the book’s timely publication, only one month after the earthquake struck.
To illustrate the slim ‘book’, she tied pages together using the visual metaphor of a dandelion, whose seeds will root wherever they happen to land and would spread (viral marketing) like weeds. “I like the idea of something that you just blow, and you don’t know really what’s going to happen. It may generate something in some places and in others… no.”
Bernardita wanted the book to be a learning experience for the parents too, it was they who had to choose to download and print the book, so they must want to read the book with their children. Everything is mediated by the parents… “Oh this is good, I will print it and take it home”
Once the objectives of the book had been agreed through discussion with collaborators via email at the start, the book could begin. Bernardita wrote the text in 24 pages, before doing the illustrations, which were all very carefully considered to enlarge or reinforce ideas that she wanted to convey in the text. The book is driven by the text but the pictures also tell the story as effectively without text, “if you are reading to them, small Children will focus on the illustrations, they will not look at the text because they are listening… but as they become independent readers around 7 or 8 years old they will be able to read so they will focus more on the text. If you want a broad (reader) audience, you have to do both things clearly cut and able to work together, but also independently.”
At the end of the first draft, the collaborators helped research the science behind some of the educational content to ensure that it was factually and scientifically correct and also helped proof read the text. There is a guide for parents at the end of the book and it was also published with an additional four page educational manual for adults.
In the first week after “Bruno e Violeta” was first published, as a pdf in Spanish, Bernardita received 3,000 emails, thanking her and asking for her permission to further disseminate the book, even though permission was explicit in the text. She then uploaded the book on two Chilean internet sites, used for sharing educational resources amongst teachers. It was downloaded 100,000 times in just two weeks!
The 12 collaborators also distributed awareness of the book via their contacts, initially about 500 people. Their contacts then asked if they could upload it onto their own sites, re-direct and point others to it. “It was a movement made by the users, people that got the book, print it down, like it, send it to their friends.”
Even by the end of the first week, people’s emotional response to the book was clear “The kind of answers or feedback was much more than I expected, like thankyou very much, this is really significant, I read it with my child, this is the book my child made, this is what they completed (a pdf of their child’s response) and I realised wow! this is really important”
The pdf book is now residing on something like 1000 websites worldwide, and has a facebook group, but at the beginning, distribution mainly happened in Chile, because the earthquake had just happened and there was an immediate need.
Two weeks after the booklet had been published on the internet, Bernardita was contacted by the Chilean Minister of Education, Joaquin Lavin, who asked for permission to print and distribute it in schools, as part of pupil’s “emotional reconstruction”. On the condition that it was to be free, Bernardita gave her permission for publication of Bruno e Violeta in a printed book form. The publication was overseen by one of her collaborators in Chile. The Ministry of Education printed 300,000 copies and distributed the book with a box of colour pencils, using it as the official resource in schools for children who had experienced the earthquake.
Six months afterwards Unesco and other institutions wanted to use it as a resource for their own educational purposes. Bruno e Violeta has been translated into English and French, Unesco are planning other languages too.
I should add that this story was originally told by Bernardita Muñoz without the slightest hint of anything but extreme modesty and by sharing it here, I thought it may be serve to inspire others to work collaboratively when they feel a motivation to make someone’s life a little better.
ⓒ richard louis arnott 2011