Arthur Dorros - Author
Arthur Dorros is the author and occasional illustrator of many cherished children's books, including Abuela. He has also created books that celebrate science and nature, like Ant Cities, A Tree is Growing, and Feel the Wind. His latest book, Under the Sun, is aimed at older kids and follows a young boy as he makes his way through war-torn Bosnia.
RIF: What was it like to write your first novel?
Arthur Dorros: It was challenging. There’s a few more words than picture books but there’s a good side to that. I can touch on a lot more things. There’s not a way to approach these issues without going into some depth. I could have done a lot more once I found out all the history.
RIF: What drew you to this story?
AD: About four years ago, I heard about this Croatian village that was being rebuilt by a large group of kids and young people with a few adults. There are four families with 40 kids, about 10 kids in each household. Each household is headed by two adults. The village is kind of medieval and has people of many different ethnicities working together. It looks like an Italian village. If someone’s going to go thru a war it’d be nice to end up in a place like that. I drafted the story and then went to village to see if the story could be a reality.
The village is called Nadomak Sunca, which means “close to the sun.” The kids are growing up and there are new younger kids. Some kids had direct effects from war, like being injured or having deaths in their families, but there are also a lot of other effects. Families were torn apart. Families that were a little fragile with normal problems like alcoholism, fall apart with the violence. So many kids are left in the lurch, effects for years.
It’s an amazing thing because these kids had tremendous problems – some of them were injured by a grenade, or had psychological or emotional things. The kids really have thrived there. These households treat them as families.
RIF: How did you do your research?
AD: I read dozens of books, historical books about the conflicts and life in the region. I interviewed some people who were Bosnian, Croatian and Serb refugees. I traveled to the area and talked to people there.
Kids everywhere want to have the same things, like a stable, loving environment. These kids have that in their village. They play soccer and volleyball, and go to school. They’re pretty world-wise and aware of the world. They’re happy and have stable, working family lives.
RIF: What were your favorite books when you were younger?
AD: I’ve always been interested in the journey. Contiki was one of my favorite books. I did read The Red Badge of Courage. I like reading about making your way in the world. The challenge of a journey really fascinated me.
RIF: Did you have a special abuela in your life?
AD: It was based on one of my grandmothers who was an incredible storyteller. That set of grandparents had a 3rd grade education, immigrants. My grandmother could read and write, my grandfather read three newspapers every morning. That was inspiring in a way. He was self-educated. Storybooks weren’t something that they’d grown up with. They did storytelling. It was a verbal thing, an oral tradition. My grandfather had been a refugee. He was a teenager when he escaped. His stories inspired me to what it might be like as a teenager to make your way.
RIF: Did you read to your son (now 14) when he was younger?
AD: It was one of our best moments in the day, one of our best connections. We read together every evening until just a few years ago. We read picture books, and then reading novels together.
We actually wrote our own story together. It’s a great story – a fable – that he did for school in 6th grade, and we made it into a picture book. It’s called The Winner and it’s going to come out in fall 2005, illustrated by Susan Guevara.
RIF: What advice do you have for kids who want to be writers or illustrators?
AD: Enjoy reading and keep doing it. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer, I just read a lot and I loved to travel through books. If you read a lot, you’ll find out enough to help you in your own writing. Reading is key, and you can practice your storytelling. Don’t get discouraged. Like anything, you can make a lot of mistakes but you can erase them and you can rewrite them, even if it takes a number of times.
Learn more about Arthur and get in touch with him at his website!