'A child doesn't need a diet that is low in troubles,' says Galia Oz, who has just published her third children's book
"I don't believe in a world where there is no anger, where there is no destruction. A world in which everything bad is just a disturbance on the road to happiness," says Galia Oz, whose children's book Sheva drakhim la'asot horim smehim ("A Brand New Way to Improve The Day") (or, literally, "Seven ways to make parents happy"), has just been published by Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House. The book deals with the adventures of two children - a nameless brother and sister - who stay at home with their apathetic babysitter. The tension between the text and the illustrations by Liora Grossman (this is the 65th book she has illustrated) tells this story at several levels. "Like an art mobile, every time you look at it, it is a little different," says Oz.
What happens in the book, she says, is "a kind of random listening to the conversation that takes place between children. One of those moments when you pick up a rag and find a diamond. This is an incidental entrance into a world where your foot never treads, like listening to small talk between [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice and [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak." Apart from that, even though the parents come home in the end and the children's anxiety has an answer, it was important to her that "not everything will be resolved."
This is Oz's main charge against the children's literature being written today: "Stop giving them only sweets," she implores. "A child doesn't need a diet that is low in troubles." She believes it is possible to return to a more complex literary world, one that is a bit less protective. "If there is humor in a book, and kindness and love, it is possible to show the entire range - even the terrible and dark emotions. Miriam Yalan-Shteklis wrote, 'I waited, I waited, I cried, I cried, and who didn't come? Michael.'
"'Winnie the Pooh' is also a book that doesn't attempt to make everything all right. Its characters are varied - Eeyore the depressive donkey who needs medications, Owl who is puffed up with self-importance and silly little Pooh."
A shoemaker's family
Galia Oz, 41, the mother of Alon and Yael, aged 10 and a half and 9, lives in Ramat Hasharon. "In Old Morasha. A old-fashioned neighborhood, with many ethnic groups, the antithesis of the 4X4 and the money of Western Ramat Hasharon," she says. She is married to Amir Retter, who is in high-tech, whom she says doesn't work crazy hours and "knows what is important in life." She is a daughter of Amos Oz. She rejects the possibility that writing is genetic "like in shoemakers' families. You don't ask the son why he has followed in his father's footsteps. That's the way it is."
She and Liora Grossman, the illustrator, "have been fighting over this book for two years now. It demands cooperation that borders on imperiousness," she says, but she is not prepared to admit who was dominant. Instead, she returns to a general discussion of children's literature. "It's amazing to discover how primitive children's literature is," says Oz. "What is 'Felix' (a series of children's books about a bunny rabbit) - it is devoid of content. There is no understanding here that a child of four needs a book that will move him."
Books that have moved her, to use her expression, are "The Children of Noisy Village" and "Emil's Pranks" by Astrid Lindgren (the author of "Pippi Longstocking," which she also loved), and also Kenneth Graham's "The Wind in the Willows" and all of the Dr. Seuss books. The books she is reading now are very far from all of these. "A lot of biographies - 'Hitler' in two volumes by Ian Kershaw, Henri Troyat's 'Rasputin,' Anthony Beevor's 'Stalingrad,' 'German Requiem' ("The Pity of it all," in English) by Amos Elon."
She herself will not write biographies, she says. "After I've got used to inventing, I am not going to work at something that is so dependent on reality and focused.'"
A while ago she was asked whether she is writing scripts for telenovelas - a particularly unfocused area and definitely not dependent on reality. Her reply, as published in the press, was: "I am writing for soap operas just like I am a settler in the territories and a mother of 10, a holistic lactation counselor, a fashion reporter for Al Jazeera or an interior decorator for atomic bomb shelters." Now, she says that this response was just "shooting from the hip."
A strange response, considering that she really has written scripts for a telenovela. "I wrote under a pen-name, and I'm not saying what it is. I have never watched the telenovela, even when I wrote for it. This is the only line of defense I have."
Of the possibility that the media's attention to her is derived from the family connection, she says: "This isn't 'Dynasty' here. In our family nobody thinks that he is better than anyone else."
Anyway, she says, anyone who made it to the preliminaries of "Dying to Dance" (this is what she insists on calling the television program "Born to Dance," which she also does not watch.) is more famous than she is. "In my opinion, in Israel, wherever you throw a stone, you hit someone's son or someone's nephew. Every third person - and I insist on this statistic - is a mini-celeb. I'm tired of being angry at this.
"Leave me alone as Amos Oz's daughter," she continues, "how it was to grow up in his home and so on. In the hierarchy of celebs, I'm much less glamorous and fascinating than a girl of 17 who has a model's 'book.' To be on television is to be. It's very fashionable to be snobbish about rising above this. We live in a place that is a little cooking pot and we want to be famous, we want to be in the middle of the cooking pot. People ask themselves, 'How am I going to get through a whole life when around me there are all kinds of disasters, Nobel Prize winners. Big things are happening here, history is taking place and am I going to work at cleaning in Kiryat Gat? I'll be on television at least.'" And to sum up this topic she says, "Stardust wasn't scattered on me."
The list of occupations she shot from the hip in answer to the question about her involvement in a telenovela was fictive, but she definitely does have a long list of her own. "I work at 12 jobs, some of which are not worthy of mention."
Oz, who has now written her third children's book, (her previous ones were "Some things Don't Work out for Yoeli," and "Yoeli's Thunders and Lightning," all of them published by Hakibbutz Hameuchad) receives "development funds from every possible foundation." She has written book reviews in the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, she is the children's book critic for the Second Channel of Israel Radio, she is a volunteer activist in the scriptwriters' and directors' associations and is developing two feature films and one documentary on women prisoners from the Lehi and the Irgun for the Defense Ministry.
She also wrote the script for "Policeman" with Makram Khoury and as noted, a bit for a telenovela. "I'm a little like a Mossad agent, whose one contact doesn't know what I'm doing with another contact." Of her work as scriptwriter she says, "In the army I learned touch-typing and because of that I became a scriptwriter. Speed is very important in this field. I write a script in two days."
Unlike the telenovela she did not watch, she has not only seen but also likes "Policeman." She likes thrillers. The peak of this genre is Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment," she says. "All of the police detectives have come from Porferi Petrovitch, the loquacious loser detective. They were all his sons. Certainly Colombo." A current television thriller series that she likes is "The Closer" with Kyra Sedgewick. Recently she has also been impressed by "Melanoma My Love" by Yossi Madmoni and David Ofek. She also likes to watch "the only culture program that is broadcast on the television channels" - meaning "Garlic, Pepper and Olive Oil"
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