A whiff of lemongrass and literature

26th June 2009 at 01:00

Year 5 pupils have travelled from Hounslow Town Primary to the heart of Bangkok. They sniff the lemongrass-scented air and hear the roar of tuk-tuks (motorbike taxis) and the explosion of oil on a hot wok as bags of durian chips and prawn crackers are passed around. And all this is without leaving Heathrow.

The multi-sensory Thai experience is one of a series staged by British Airways Community Learning Centre and the charity Outside In. The aim is to introduce British children to contemporary fiction from around the world and highlight the role of translators in making classic works such as The Adventures of Tintin to Pippi Longstocking more widely available.

Today's author, Jane Vejjajiva (sister of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva), has translated Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into Thai.

Sixty per cent of Thai children's books are imported, she explains, and there are very few Thai novels for children: picture-book editions of traditional tales and textbooks dominate.

Ms Vejjajiva's first children's novel, The Happiness of Kati, has sold 300,000 copies in Thailand ("2,000 or 3,000 is more usual for a children's novel," she says) and been made into a film.

Translated into 23 languages, including English, it is a story of a family in crisis. But it also takes in daily life in Thailand through tastes, sounds and smells: hence the displays at the BA centre.

The Hounslow Town pupils really have stepped off a plane to meet Ms Vejjajiva: like all the 7,000 pupils a year who visit the centre (which is free to schools), they started their visit with a simulated flight in a reconstructed BA cabin.

Richard Cuell, Hounslow Town Y5 teacher, said: "A visit like this is valuable for geography and speaking and listening as well as the obvious interest of the book, which some of the children have been able to read in advance.

"For some of our pupils, being on a plane is a new experience too, although many have family abroad."

Further details: community1.Learning@ba.com

www.outsideinworld.org.uk

`The Happiness of Kati' is published by Allen amp; Unwin.

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