Yunona Taranova is motivated by her love of writing, children and storytelling. The Ukrainian-born writer is releasing the second book in her Boohbileh-El and Friends series, which she writes under the pen name Mama Una.
The new book, Kabbahn, is about a wild hog that paints a picture of a dragon that comes to life, wreaking havoc until the day is saved by Boohbileh-El, a young boy who serves as a common thread throughout the series, though he is not always the main character. She premiered the book at a signing at the Indigo book store in the Kennedy Commons shopping centre in Toronto on Dec. 7.
“Boohbileh-El is the story maker,” she said. “He is the one who is managing what is going on.”
The name, Boohbileh-El, is inspired by the Yiddish word bubele, which is a term of endearment and is what she used to call her son. Taranova said her books are inspired by bedtime stories she used to tell her son when he was a child.
“I was talking to my son about topics that I think are important, not just for a child but for any human being,” she said. “Ideas that are important to think of and absorb in our modern world. I think these books have some fresh ideas.”
The first book in the series, Boohbileh-El Magician, was published back in 2007 and Taranova is now releasing an enhanced reprint of it, alongside Kabbahn.
Since then, she has decided to self-publish her books and started her own publishing company, Flying Pug Publishing.
“We can see a lot of children’s books that are very cute, very nice, but 99 per cent of them are talking about the same old messages and ideas,” she said. “Our world is changing, we have new things to think about and ideas have to progress, too.”
The author points to Polish educator Janusz Korczak’s teachings, which say that people should treat children as “little people,” and this is how she has approached her writing, as well as her parenting.
“I think that is the only way to treat them,” she said. “They deserve to understand the world that they are living in.”
Her books try to teach children to be kind and thoughtful people and give them a foundation that encourages them to form their own worldviews. She said the book’s illustrations, which were created by artist Marguerite Perry, are very traditional, but “very alive.”
Taranova has worked a lot with children throughout her career. As a pianist, she has been teaching piano lessons to kids for many years. She received her music education in her native city of Kharkov, before moving to Israel in 1990 and then immigrating to Canada in 1998.
She grew up surrounded by the arts, as she comes from a family of musicians – her father was the conductor of a youth orchestra and her mother was a music teacher.
Taranova also composes music and creates arrangements, and eventually hopes to publish her own sheet music. Taranova plans to release two more children’s books in the next six months and said that “this is only the beginning.”
Though she is not a particularly religious Jew, Taranova said Judaism is an important part of her heart and inspires her art, whether it is her music or writing. Growing up in the Soviet Union, the only religious material she was able to get her hands on was the Christian Bible, which she said left her with many unanswered questions.
“Until I was seven years old, I didn’t know I was Jewish,” said Taranova. “Then I went to public school and they explained to me who I am in very broad language – you realize you’re not just a regular girl like everybody else, you are a dirty Jew.”
Nevertheless, her Jewish and Ukrainian identity is evident in her writing and Taranova hopes her children’s books will inspire new thoughts in both children and adults, as she said her books are for all ages.
“We are guided by what we go through, what touched our hearts and our minds,” she said. “The books we read set up our minds for something invaluable – there are a lot of books produced for the sake of educating and entertaining kids, but not exercising moral values. This is something that is needed in our world, to teach kids to think about their moral values and standing for their own humanity.”