Interview with Yoshito Darmon Shimamori, Author of “In Search of the Lost Words”

Yoshito has been an active member of MKB’s writing team as well as an amazing editor. And recently, he has done something amazing: not only did he write a book (an accomplishment we don’t appreciate enough), but he also crowdfunded it all by himself. As if that wasn’t enough Yoshito is also an expert on multiliteracy and a multilingual person himself. Please take a moment to read his thoughtful answers and check out his book “In Search of the Lost Words”!

Interview with Yoshito Darmon Shimamori, Author of "In Search of the Lost Words" | Multicultural Kid Blogs

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O.M. How did being multilingual influence the way you write? Is there a particular language you prefer for writing?

Y.D.S. Oh! That’s an interesting question! I like writing in English and French because they are the easiest languages for me to express exactly what I want (although sometimes in English, I am not as confident as in French regarding the grammar and syntax). Now, onto the link between being multilingual and writing. Well, actually, being multilingual is what pushed me to write books. As you know, I am really focused on multilingual literacy. And that’s because my experience of learning to read and write in Japanese while growing up in France wasn’t very positive (It wasn’t negative, but it felt irrelevant). I felt like I HAD TO learn to read and write all these difficult kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese), but never really felt it would be useful. Later on, I found out that my experience was quite common.

Now, as an adult, I know all the benefits of being able to read and write in my home language brings. I want children to enjoy these benefits AND have a more exciting experience than me. And writing books is the way I found I could best help children. 

Writing “In Search of the Lost Words”

O.M. How was writing a graphic novel different from your other books? 

Y.D.S. My first book, “The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multilingual Children”, was a compilation of activities to enthuse children to read and write through games, and it included teaching tips and the pedagogical value of each activity. So as a teacher who has mentored several trainee teachers, it was very much what I did on a daily basis. So I was very much in my element and found the process very easy.

“In Search of the Lost Words”, on the other hand, was very much out of my comfort zone!!! The reason I wanted this book to be a graphic novel was because I knew it would be the “format” that would engage children the most to WRITE in their home language(s). So I didn’t play on my strengths. I just went with the best genre for my audience and what I wanted to accomplish.

I learnt a lot through this experience!

  • As I cannot draw well enough, I had to hire an illustrator. This, on its own, was a difficult task. Luckily, I had the help of a friend who is an illustrator (but wasn’t free to work on my book). He helped me spot the details in different illustrators’ work that would make them the most suitable. I learnt about the hiring process, about drafting contracts, creating a workflow that works for both of us, giving clear guidance, etc.
  • My book is a format that does not exist: It is a book that can be personalised to each reader’s language and culture. So the reader can write and draw in the book. I had to validate this idea so had a great team of beta readers who helped me tweak certain aspects to make it what it is today.
  • I decided to be self-published to be able to keep the artistic freedom and take 100% of my marketing decisions. That was another learning curve because hiring an illustrator was very expensive. So I learnt about crowdfunding and hired a coach to guide me when creating and running my Kickstarter campaign. THAT WAS INTENSE!! I had to reach out to many, MANY PEOPLE, to get my book known by enough people who would want to support my project. That involved going on podcasts, writing articles in magazines, and messaging so many people.

So, a lot of lessons learnt on this second book!! It was intense but I am so happy to have gone through this experience.

O.M. Tell us about the illustrations. Did you make them yourself? What was it like to make the illustration work with the text?

Y.D.S As mentioned above, I hired an illustrator. She is very talented but does not specialise in graphic novels. I stuck with her because in addition to being talented, she is hardworking and met deadlines consistently (I worked with her on another project before). And regarding putting onto the page what I had in mind, I thought that I could help. I enjoy comic books and graphic novels, but I have also studied cinema and photography at university. So although it was my first graphic novel, I thought I could guide her well enough. The way we worked is that I sketched out every page and sent them to her.

What I found more tricky though, was to make sure that what I was writing was written in proper English. For me, English is a foreign language, so there are always things I write that don’t sound natural. But to help me with that I had a great editor!

Then, I am going to publish six versions of the book (to start with). So I had to test the size of the text in the speech bubbles using different languages. That was quite time-consuming…

The Crowdfunding Journey of “In Search of the Lost Words”

O.M. Tell us about your crowdfunding efforts. Why did you decide to go this way? I know the project only became fully funded at the last minute. What was that like? And how was crowdfunding different from other forms of publishing?

Oh! I got this question so many times!!! Creating a graphic novel is so expensive, so why did I not “simply” find a publisher? There are several reasons for that.

Y.D.S According to my research, traditional publishing takes a lot more time than self-publishing, and we are a lot more free to take whatever decision we want regarding all aspects of our book. The downside is that we are responsible for EVERYTHING, so it is a lot more work. Writing the book is only the very first step of a long series that sometimes feels endless.

TIME: I originally wrote this book to give my sons a motivating way to write in our home languages. So I didn’t want my book to be published once they would be too old to enjoy it.

FREEDOM: It was important for me to keep the freedom to create and change whatever I wanted, and to make it accessible even in countries where there would be less demand

GETTING THE WORD OUT: That was the scariest part. You can write the best book in the world. But if no one knows it, it is the same as if you didn’t write it. So I knew I had to reach out to an incredible amount of people, get on podcasts, write articles etc.

TESTING MY CONCEPT: A crowdfunding campaign is a real test of whether there is a market for our product. My book is a completely new format. So this crowdfunding campaign was a great way to see if this idea I had was actually a good one or not.

    That’s why I decided to go self-publish and go through a crowdfunding campaign.

    As you can imagine not getting funded until the night before the deadline was stressful. But I kept repeating to myself to do everything I could until the end because “it’s not over until it’s over” and because “there is no point stressing about things I can’t control”. I had to do what I could. This meant many very short nights. But I got so much out of this experience.

    With a crowdfunding campaign, we are in direct contact with our audience. So my rewards were crafted in response to the feedback I received before the campaign started. And hearing from so many people that my book was needed, make me really believe in it, because as you can imagine, when my campaign was stagnating, I had my doubts!

    I also discovered that my book, originally written for multilingual children growing up from birth with different languages could also be helpful to other families. Many EAL teachers were interested in my book, I got in touch with the Department of Education of New Caledonia to help revive children’s interests in their local languages (that are dying out), and the expat community reached out to me to discuss the benefits of my book.

    To summarise, crowdfunding gave me a real sense of building something together!!

    It was a very daunting experience, but I would definitely do it again.

    Library for Multilinguals

    O.M. What are your plans for the future? More books about bilingualism? Or something else? Anything else you’d like us to know?

      Y.D.S. Definitely more books FOR multilingual children. I called my company “Library4Multilinguals” because I want every multilingual child to be able to have their own library with books in all their languages. To make this possible, I want to carry on writing books that make the multi-literacy journey enjoyable, where children improve their reading and writing skills as a consequence of the fun they are having. And in particular, I want to carry on writing for teenagers. There is so much done for multilingual children up to the age of 5. But after that, there really isn’t too much.

      So my main focus is to write for multilingual pre-teens and teens. I have planned a series that I aim to publish in 2024.

      Books by Yoshito Darmon Shimamori

      Get to know other authors:

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      Interview: Brynn Barineau, author of “Jaguars and Other Game”

      Interview: Lola Akinmade Åkerström, Author of “In Every Mirror She’s Black”

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      Olga Mecking

      Olga Mecking is a writer, journalist and translator. Her articles have been published in The BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and many others. Olga is also the author of Niksen. Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing When not writing or thinking about writing, Olga can be found reading, drinking tea, and reading some more.
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