Interview with Jade Maitre

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Today, I’m thrilled to interview one of my favorite authors, Jade Maitre! She is a French-Australian writer and photographer currently living in France. Her first novel A Short Death was shortlisted for the Australian-Vogel Literary Award 2011. It has one of the most brilliant and surprising beginnings. The book is set in Brazil, and I enjoyed following the twists of the story with the narrator on his search for understanding. One of my favorite moments of last year was hearing Jade read from her novel. 

She is the founder of Storyberries.com, a website featuring free stories for children. It currently has around 5 million reads a year. Storyberries.com provides illustrated children’s stories along with discussion guides for parents and children. Its stories include picture books, fairy tales, modern stories and children’s poems.

Storyberries.com aims to inspire conversations around stories, particularly as an aid to solving real-life problems and stimulating independent thought. It fosters a deep love for reading that starts early, and to make diverse, quality English stories available for children living in places or circumstances that may make it difficult to access these resources.

I hope you will check out the page. I know you will enjoy the stories as much as I have!

Jade, what brought you to France?

I came for love and family reasons the first time (more than ten years ago!) as my then-boyfriend (now husband!) was French. We spent a few years in Paris and eventually went back to Australia. This time around, we came so that our four little boys could learn French. It seemed a great opportunity to pass up; I wasn’t lucky enough to be exposed to a second language as a child, but my boys already had a taste of the language through their Dad, and living in France gave them the chance to really feel French as well as Australian.

What keeps you here?

We live in a tiny French village at the moment, and I love it. The passing of the seasons, the quiet, the nature, and the real sense of community. It’s wonderful.

ILLUSTRATED BY KAY NIELSEN

Illustrated by Kay Nielsen from The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body

How did you get the idea for Storyberries?

When we first started travelling again with the boys, I found it difficult to get English books, especially while we were on the road – we spent 4 months in Brazil before we got to France, and this was particularly difficult. Carrying lots of books around didn’t work when we were also carrying a double pram (my twins were only one year old at the time), two cots, four suitcases, four car seats… and of course four children!

I was frustrated with the children’s story sites I found online – they seemed very inappropriate to me. Most of them were covered in ads and popups, the quality of the stories wasn’t great, and often you needed to download things. Mostly I wished there was something I could just browse with my children that they would be excited by too – big pictures, engaging stuff – and choose the story together and read it. It seemed so simple, but there really wasn’t anything like that available!

What are the challenges and rewards of the site?

So far it’s been just rewards all the way. We get so many lovely emails from parents telling us how they love the site and the stories. There is so much goodwill and it makes all the work hugely rewarding.

The biggest challenge to us so far has been managing the huge traffic we’ve been receiving! It’s meant that we’ve had to learn rather quickly how to manage it, and have needed to upgrade our services. This has ended up raising questions of sustainability as it’s become quite expensive, but we’re committed to keeping the site ad-free, so it’s a matter of thinking creatively how to make the site self-sustainable, as it’s clear how much it’s benefitting people who can’t otherwise get access to free quality stories.

I love the story ‘Who is Our Friend’! How do you pair up illustrators and writers?

It’s great isn’t it! This is a Book Dash book – Book Dash are a South African organisation with a great social model. A few times a year, they get writers, artists and designers all together in a room and create books together with the aim of increasing access to books and literacy – in South Africa but also all around the world. We love Book Dash books and feature quite a few on our site.

Otherwise we accept submissions from writers and artists, and work with them in ensuring their work is of publishable quality. After their work is published, they can expect to have a lot of readers for their work (our site currently gets around 5 million views a year; new stories get around 5000 reads a day) so the way we see it, it really is a win-win for authors, illustrators and the children who benefit from reading their stories.

ILLUSTRATED BY LAUREN NEL

Illustrated by Lauren Nel from The Best Thing Ever

What advice would you give to a writer interested in submitting a story to Storyberries?

For the shorter works, we prefer to have illustrations included, as they are really fundamental to the kids enjoyment of the stories. For longer works, engaging stories are the best. Funny, adventurous or sad, it doesn’t really matter, so long as it has the potential to capture the imagination, a sense of magic as well as the real. We also really value diverse experiences and characters, so that all children reading the site feel in a sense represented by what they are reading. Our readers come from all over the world, so we try to choose stories that reflect that richness of world culture that we all share.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

When I asked my boys how I could be a better Mum a few years ago, my second child looked at me and said, “Hmm…. you could be a little taller!”

I loved it as it showed me that so long as you’re doing the best you can, you can only do so much as that. I’m not sure why he wanted me to be taller, but why not!

What books are on your nightstand?

“Women in Seventeenth Century France” by Wendy Gibson, “The Art of Subtext” by Charles Baxter, “Wild Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys, “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm, “English Passengers” by Matthew Kneale and “Unreal” by Paul Jennings (there is not a lot of space on my night stand!)

What’s next?

In the next twelve months we’re hoping to bring more poetry onto the site – kids poems are just so beautiful to read out loud, and I’ve found my boys are fascinated to listen to the word rhythms of both classic and modern poetry. We’d also like to explore audio in greater depth, as well as different story forms – serials, search books, that kind of thing. There is so much to enjoy in the world of children’s stories – the hardest thing is choosing which ones go on first!

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