In 2015, I decided to start a tiny publishing house based in Iowa called Linguacious®. Initially, I published children’s language learning games and vocabulary books in over 30 languages. However, in 2017, I decided to start writing children’s books and overseeing their translation into as many languages as possible. Since then, I have published eight children’s picture books, including my latest, My Dad, My Rock, which earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.
Two weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I noticed a very significant uptick in the sales of the Ukrainian edition of my very first children’s book, Dylan’s Birthday Present (Book 1 in the Little Polyglot Adventures series). I was aware of the fact that many publishing houses in Ukraine were no longer operating as normal and that Ukrainian refugee children in countries such as Poland lacked access to children’s literature in their native language of Ukrainian. As someone married to a Ukrainian citizen and raising two multicultural and trilingual half Ukrainian children, I felt a pull to help.
The following day, I proposed a partnership to David Bong, CEO of Avant Assessment,
a language testing company based in Oregon that offers language proficiency tests in over 40 languages. I am Avant’s director of assessment and research during the day and believed that the passion and respect that both myself and Avant Assessment have for helping children preserve their heritage language and culture could make a difference.
Upon hearing my offer to sell 1,500 copies of the Ukrainian edition of Dylan’s Birthday Present to Avant Assessment at cost and for those copies to be donated to Ukrainian refugee children in Poland, Bong immediately jumped on the opportunity to make a difference. He said the company was deeply saddened and distraught to see what is happening in Ukraine and hoped that a modest contribution would bring a smile to as many Ukrainian children as possible.
Children’s books have the power to heal and to educate. By seeing their own language and the Ukrainian flag represented in the story in my book, I hope these Ukrainian children, so unfairly affected by this war against their country and its beautiful people and culture, will feel prouder than ever to be Ukrainian.
After agreeing to collaborate with Avant Assessment, I reached out to the two organizations in Poland at the forefront of getting children’s books in Ukrainian into Polish public libraries and into the hands of Ukrainian refugee children in orphanages, refugee centers, hospitals, and other locations. Once the two organizations, Universal Reading Foundation and The Polish Book Institute, vetted the book and agreed to help distribute the 1,500 copies of my book in Poland, it became a matter of logistics.
By uploading the PDF files of the book to Amazon KDP, I was able to have the 1,500 printed copies of the book reach Poland, ready for distribution, in less than two weeks. The fastest and most affordable solution turned out to be placing an order of 1,500 author copies of the book through Amazon KDP Germany. At the time of this writing, a good portion of the books have already been distributed in Poland, and the stories of Ukrainian children and their parents who were touched by and grateful for their copy of the book are many.
I want other children’s authors and publishing houses who specialize in children’s literature to understand that they, too, can make a difference for these children, if they would like. Getting a typical 32-page picture book translated into Ukrainian can be done, with very good quality, for less than US $60 through services like Fiverr. By employing two highly rated native speakers of the language who are fluent in English and who can work as a team of initial translator and reviewer, one can end up with a very high-quality translation. The feedback loop between the two ensures the final quality. As for uploading the PDF files of the book to Amazon KDP, that’s free. Once in the system, ordering an author copy from Amazon KDP Germany costs € 2,40 (euros) at the time of this writing, regardless of the number of copies ordered.
I strongly encourage other authors and publishers to help toward this cause and to make a difference by donating however many copies they can. Every copy of a children’s book in Ukrainian is welcomed. Many of us would love to help Ukrainians but don’t know how, and we feel powerless. I can’t think of a better way for us authors and publishers to help than by doing what we love the most: spreading the joy of stories and children’s literature to as many children as possible, especially those in such difficult circumstances as we see right now in Ukraine.
Victor D.O. Santos, PhD, is professional linguist, an award-winning children’s author, and founder of the children’s publishing company Linguacious. To learn more about Linguacious and their children’s book, visit linguacious.net/licensing.