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The story of the ‘Chorizo Monster’

By Elena Scialtiel
Teacher and ‘Reluctant Eskimo’ author Karim Vatvani recently showcased his two illustrated books at Literature Week.

When he wrote his second children’s’ book, ‘The Chorizo Monster of Catalan Bay’, illustrated, like the first one, by Stella Stych, he wanted to write something about Gibraltar heritage to be testament to his childhood.

“For this reason, I reminisced about my summers at the beach eating chorizo sandwiches with my family. Many adult readers told me how this is a ‘throwback’ for them, and how it made the story even more enjoyable. In truth, however, there are many more themes that I could have centered my book around to reflect Gibraltar’s unique culture, and perhaps I will do so in the future.”

“Our heritage is diverse and full of amazing stories and it is fantastic to see how it is being portrayed in modern literature produced by locals. I believe this is just the beginning too: I anticipate great things on the horizon for local literature.”

Karim describes his mind as a ‘story-making factory’: “They range from funny and silly to mysterious and adventurous. I present them to my class of five-year-olds at school and they don’t hold back in telling me which ones are good and which ones should never be told again.”

Of course, he supports the nationwide call for local bookshops, and while he praises the ‘great job’ that the John Mackintosh Hall library does with its ‘plethora of literature available’, he reckons that a high-street bookshop will offer everyone, especially children, the wonderful feeling of walking in, browsing and choosing from hundreds of titles available, and walking out head over heels about reading.

He’s adamant that once you fall in love with reading and writing, there’s no going back: “For me, it was the Harry Potter series. Since then I have always been fascinated by the idea of storytelling.”

As someone who grew up surrounded by books, he regrets that the ‘video culture’ poses a greater challenge for authors to write books able to grab full attention and compete with audiovisual media.

“I can see firsthand how the modern era of childhood revolves around iPads and instant gratification in the form of YouTube videos. Less and less children are showing a willingness to engage with literature, and even when they are, it is for brief time.”

“For this reason, children’s books heavily on illustrations and the means by which the story is told and read out. Each story needs to have a spectacular hook, as does the storyteller; this often requires doing something a little mad such as me reading my story about an Eskimo while dressed like one!”

Karim believes that children should be exposed to concerning environmental issues: “My two published books are attempts to achieve this through storytelling.”

“Throughout Literature Week, I was amazed by how aware the young children of Gibraltar are about the effects of climate change and how determined they are to be the catalyst for a better, greener future.”

“My ambition is to continue to write stories that are both enjoyable and that empower children to make a difference in the world.”

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