Katerina Markadakis speaks to GreekTV about her new children’s books with Minoas Publishers in Athens. Katerina offers lessons in healthy, responsible and meaningful lifestyles to children and parents alike through her main characters— monster children dealing with growing pains and questions of value in a Monster Society.
Katerina’s first book, The Little Wasteful Monster is a story of an ambitious but frivolous little monster who tries unsuccessfully to save his allowance for a beautiful shiny red bicycle. Circumstances change in his favor when, at the end of the story, he finds money that had been lost in his jacket pocket— enough to finally become the owner of his dream bicycle! The story has become an acclaimed theatrical play after its premier at The Little Pallas Theater this October in Athens.
Katerina is the head of New Business Development at Athens Theaters. Her first three children’s books, The Little Wasteful Monster (To Spatalo Terataki), The Little Plumpy Monster (To Stroumboulo Terataki) and The Different Monster (To Diaforetiko Terataki) have already hit shelves in local and major bookstores throughout Athens.
Q. How did you become involved in rights and products for children?
Katerina offers lessons in healthy, responsible, and meaningful lifestyles to children and parents alike through her main characters
A. I studied Communications and French in the United States. Back in Athens, this led me to publishing, mainly in foreign rights for children’s books, cartoons and TV series. I went on to publishing from a different angle with the news for Kathimerini newspaper. At Kathimerini, I worked in the commercial department during a period when we published various children’s books that were given away with the newspaper at kiosks. At Brights Foreign Rights, I worked on kids’ cartoons and all of the property rights. Throughout my career, I have always worked jobs related to children.
Q. Your work has focused on the production of children’s literature and television series created by others. What finally inspired you to write your own children’s books, the series of little monsters?
A. I always wanted to write a children’s book. And I liked the idea of monsters because in most cases, the monster is the antihero—in my books, they become the lovable main heroes. My stories always involve the main character working out and eventually correcting a bad habit throughout the book. Then they change their names into something positive, but not necessarily the opposite of what they were called before. This shows that by the end of the story, the monsters have learned from their mistakes and it gives children the idea that they can work on and change whatever bad habit they might have. This is part of the learning process.
My stories always involve the main character working out and eventually correcting a bad habit
The inspiration for The Wasteful Little Monster, in particular, came from the economic crisis in Greece. Even in tough times, children have so many toys. Things come to them very easily nowadays because if parents have to work a lot, they often buy the love of their children with material things. This way, kids don’t get to learn how to save money, and more importantly to achieve things themselves! This particular story is not only about saving money, but also about having dreams and inspiring children to achieve their goals. The bicycle in the story is not a bicycle— it’s a goal that they need to go through the process of achieving.
Q. What kind of reactions to the stories have you seen from children and parents?
A. It’s amazing what children ask! Why a monster? Or why is he red or why is he wasting his money buying stupid toys? The children are very engaged and they like the idea of a monster a lot. I don’t think they would like the story as much if the main character were a real child. And the most amazing thing is that they actually get the messages of the stories.
Parents are often looking for specific books on these subjects to help them explain the concepts to their children. They want to explain to children the need to save money, for example, but sometimes they don’t find the rights words. The books make it easier for parents to explain and pass on the messages to their children.
My approach is to avoid telling children what they have to do
I tried to work with humor in the stories because you cannot be didactic with children. If you tell them that they have to do something, they will not hear you. They need to learn by themselves and sometimes this means reacting to things on their own. Other books in Greece have been published about saving and also about nutrition (the topic of my second book), but with a very different style. These books have been mostly about what children need to eat, with fruits and vegetables being the main heroes. My approach is to avoid telling children what they have to do.
There are multiple themes in each story but they are not all explicit. You have to read between the lines to grasp them all, and that also applies to parents. From here it is up to them to pick up the different layers in the book and take them further with their children.
Q. The story is beautiful and the illustrations take it to another level. Can you tell us about the illustrator?
A. The illustrator, George Doutsiopoulos, is incredibly talented. With just a small chat over the phone he was able to immediately understand what the story was about and who the main character was. He created real facial expressions for the stories and did not create anything too childish. George has a gothic style in every single book he does— similar to the style of Tim Burton.
The pictures are fun and kids appreciate that. They get very excited—for example, when they see how much the chubby little monster resembles his grandfather. They make this connection and become very amused.
Q. The Little Wasteful Monster has been turned into a theatrical play at Little Pallas Theater in Athens. Can you tell us more about this exciting venture and about any plans for future projects?
Yes! The Little Wasteful Monster has been a great success at Little Pallas Theater, one of the best theaters in Athens. The play is directed by the fantastic Christos Chatzipanagiotis; and Panos Mouzourakis, one of the most talented and popular musicians in Greece, composed original music for the play. The Little Plumpy Monster has also been turned into a traveling theatrical play that visits schools throughout Athens. The next step will be to bring these plays to the United States along with the books!
The books will eventually be in a series, each touching on a different topic and always with a monster as the main character. The plan is eventually to have a bigger book with a story where all monsters coexist in Monster Town— each one will have their own story and they will all interact. But let’s see about that for the future.
Q. Many artists and educators have tried to impact society during the crisis in Greece. How is your approach beneficial or perhaps different from others?
A. I have been trying to remind my readers about some small things that we sometimes forget to pay attention to. We have somehow lost our values along the way and that passes down to our children.
We have somehow lost our values along the way and that passes down to our children
In the first book, the lesson is mostly to value what we already have. When the little wasteful monster goes home feeling defeated and plays with his old toys, it is a reminder to give values to things children already have. And we all have to do that! We can’t have everything go to waste just to buy new things…and the same applies to our relationships with people. We have to keep our old friends and give value to what and who we have in our lives.
In the second book, the lesson is to learn from the elders. A main character who helps the little chubby monster is his grandfather. The grandfather is not educated but he is wise— he knows how to read without words. He reads the weather from the sky and the stars. He reads the plants from the garden. There is so much to learn from the elders. We need to take advantage of that while we have them. Each generation has their own values to offer and to pass on to the next.
But these are just a few topics, there are so many things that can build upon the imagination by understanding and appreciating the differences in people within a Monster Society, and also by getting familiarized with reading, touching and smelling a book.
Q. You mentioned earlier possibly publishing your books outside of Greece and sending the plays to the United States. Are you currently pursuing this?
A. Yes, why not! The books have been translated into English and I am searching for an American publisher. It is really my dream to bring the stories (in book and theatrical form) to the United States where I spent the other half of my life. Children there can benefit from the stories just like children in Greece—the stories highlight moral values that reach across culture and language.
But the material will also be available in Greek! It is important to many Greek-American families in the U.S. to remain connected to Greece and to Greek culture. The plays and books are fantastic mediums to peak a child’s interest to engage with culture in a way that does not seem traditional or heavy. Children learn when they are engaged and having fun—I want to continue sharing this learning style in Greece and in the States.
Q. Where can readers learn more information?