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Mothers Collaborate on a Pandemic Tale in English and French

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Gail Marlene Schwartz (left) and Lucie Gagnon - COURTESY OF GAIL MARLENE SCHWARTZ
  • Courtesy of Gail Marlene Schwartz
  • Gail Marlene Schwartz (left) and Lucie Gagnon

When the U.S.-Canada border closed last March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Burlington writer Gail Marlene Schwartz had to make a quick decision. Schwartz's former wife, Lucie Gagnon, and their 10-year-old son were living across the border in Québec. Determined not to be separated from her son for a prolonged period of time, Schwartz, who is a dual citizen, gave up her life in Vermont and settled with Gagnon and their son in the border town of Saint-Armand, where the couple jointly owns a chalet.

Fortunately, Schwartz and Gagnon — a retired library technician — had maintained a good relationship. Although the two had collaborated in the past to make videos, cards and gifts for family and friends, they had never professionally worked together. However, last spring they cowrote a short children's chapter book, Clementine in Quarantine, illustrated by Joannie Laroche. The book also appears in French as Clémence au temps du coronavirus.

Clementine in Quarantine - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Clementine in Quarantine

Released in September 2020, the book features 11-year-old Clementine, who lives with her single mom. As a result of the pandemic, Clementine's mother loses her job at a makeup counter. Clementine also misses her grandmother, who used to spend time with her after school. The story, written for emerging chapter book readers, showcases the creativity of Clementine's family as they navigate new ways to stay connected.

Now living in Montréal, Schwartz shared part of her personal story with Kids VT

Kids VT: The pandemic has been difficult for everyone. How did it uniquely affect your family?

Gail Marlene Schwartz: It was a shock when COVID hit and I learned that the border would be closing. We made the decision very fast, in 24 hours. My son does not have an American passport, and there was no way I wanted to risk an extended separation [from] him, which would have been the case had I not left.

Nobody at that point thought it would be long-term, but once I read an article coming out of the Imperial College in London, I knew a vaccine could be a year and a half out, so I predicted it would be months, if not years.

So, as painful as it was to leave Vermont, I knew right away that it was necessary. And as homesick as I've been, I know it was the right thing to be where my son is and to continue parenting him.

KVT: Could you share a little about your publisher?

GMS: Facile à lire is a small independent publisher run by Noémi Berlus, whom I know from homeschooling, and her partner Christian Roy. It was founded in 2003 with the goal of helping children learn to read. Their books are geared toward children who struggle with reading, and their desire is to create books that kids are excited to read, because so many of the "Dick and Jane" type of books in French are boring (according to the kids).

It was also important to them that the characters be diverse, an important shared value — and, finally, they invited us to make promotional videos and get creative with it, which was great fun.

KVT: How did the book come to be published in French?

GMS: When Noémi asked about me writing this book for Facile à lire, and she said they would need to translate it into French, I immediately thought that perhaps Lucie and I could do it together. And because each of us was writing first drafts of chapters in our mother tongues (she in French and me in English), the process was pretty wild and super interesting. We would swap draft chapters and translate and, in that process, find little nuggets that helped evolve the whole story, things we would not have discovered if we had been writing in one language. This is why we say that neither the French nor English versions are translations.

KVT: What's it like raising a bilingual child?

GMS: Something I've enjoyed about living [in Canada] is that most people have at least two languages ... but many, especially the younger immigrant kids, have three, four or even five. Having the capacity to move in and out of two languages gives you an early experience of moving between cultures that I think is fabulous.

For more information about Schwartz and Gagnon, visit lugalit.com/en.

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