Book Island

20 October 2014
Written by Sacha Kenny | Images by Sacha Kenny & curiosity of Book Island
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Sacha chats to one woman determined to shine the light on superbly illustrated children's books often overlooked because of the language they are written in 


Belgian-born, Kapiti Coast-based, publisher Greet Pauwelijn (Book Island) is on a mission to share the treasures of foreign language children’s picture books with English- and Dutch-readers.

Driven by the desire to make a difference in the world of children’s illustrative literature, Greet, a literary translator of Polish into Dutch, started her own publishing house, Book Island, in 2012 after relocating to New Zealand (2009) with her Kiwi husband.

Described as “a publishing house with a bold dream of enriching children's and adults' lives in the English- and -Dutch-language market, Book Island brings unique stories from Europe to our shores, then uses only the best talent to translate, design and print beautiful high-quality books”. Book Island has, to date, published eight picture books in English and six in Dutch.

As a self-confessed book-worm coming from one of the most artistically influential regions, Greet says, on arrival in New Zealand, she didn’t realise just how spoilt for illustrative choice she had been in Europe. 

“When I came to New Zealand I went straight to the library to get some books for the kids and I was a bit disappointed. There were a couple of illustrative books that stood out but really it was such a shock compared to what we have in Belgium."

"In Belgium and continental Europe the approach to book illustration is very different, there an illustrator can take a year to complete a book, it’s truly treated like a work of art. The artist will, at times, make ten versions of a book – polishing and reworking until it is complete.”

Identifying what she saw as a gap in the literature market, coupled with her skills as a linguist, Greet developed the idea of creating a unique publishing house. A publishing house to shine the light on beautiful books overlooked simply because of the language they were written in.

“Because I have the ability to read in many different languages and because most publishers only work in English or French, I can go to a book fair in Europe and decide immediately whether a book written in Polish or German or whatever language would work in English and/or Dutch. It’s very exciting to be able to share these beautiful treasures.”

For Greet children’s literature is about so much more than the typical stereotypes of teddy bears and princesses:

"Stories should be about giving children the credit they deserve and not dumbing down their ability to understand or desire to learn. Kids are so bright and so mature, so much more than what we were when we were young, so we have to present or publish children’s literature that is on their level."

"I’m always looking for layered books where there’s a layer for the children and there’s a layer for the adults – I love that, where you work with symbols and icons that can not be read by the younger ones but that will catch the eye of the parents and grandparents – that’s great.”

In October, Book Island received the Customer Choice Award at the twentieth Electra Kapiti Horowhenua Business Awards where Book Island customers from all over the world voted in recognition of business performance. Recognition Greet feels blessed to have received: “to be chosen by our customers was just awesome because I don’t really know who my customers are. It was fantastic because it gave me the validation of OK they like what we’re doing – we’re on the right track. It’s still a very long road to go, but we’ll get there eventually".

Book Island titles can be purchased from all good bookstores, gallery and museum shops, from an increasing number of gift stores nationwide and online from the Book Island website. Titles are also available in bookstores in Australia, the UK, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands - check the Book Island website for more details.

**Click here to read this months MyBooks review by guest reviewers Freya (10) and Max (5). Freya and Max share their thoughts on The Rabbit and the Shadow an award winning picture book published in English and Dutch by Book Island. 



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