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Dragana Mladenović, Head Of The SANU Office For Public Relations, Poet And Children’s Writer

Everything I (Didn’t) Want

Although I found it difficult to imagine something that suited my temperament, in a professional sense, more than working in the Public Relations Office of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and writing engaged poetry, I suddenly found myself choosing the phenomenal universe of children’s literature and fell in love with that activity.

It all started five or six years ago, when I noticed that the market has a lot of so-called brain teasers, in which children are tasked, among other things, with recognising what doesn’t belong to a certain group, such as, for example, a carrot among fruits. I thought it would be good to raise that to a higher level and compel children to deal with words in a similar way, to find intruders, but to recognise and register words/concepts instead of pictures, and for these “tasks” to be presented to them in a fluttering form of a poem.

That’s how “Intruders” was created in 2016, as poetry for children published in a special, children’s edition of the Book Factory [Fabrike knjiga], which was illustrated by Maja Veselinović. The little “Intruders” was actually a nice introduction to writing the much more complex, more branched, crazier and more demanding “Dar-mar”, which was published in 2019 by the Creative Centre, one of Serbia’s best publishing companies for children. A special element of it is represented by the unusual, inventive and off-the-wall illustrations of Boris Kuzmanović. The goal of this collection of poetry is to keep children engaged in the text, to compel them to carefully follow what is written, because if they read by heart they’ll be deceived and won’t even notice that, say, in one poem it says that “kukurek kukuriče”, or that one Sunday dinner spread, in addition to a delicious meal, can also be found an exhausted exhaust pipe, or even that someone brought the emperor to Novi Pazar.

The first season of “the hunt for intruders” ended with the label of “The White Ravens”, which actually means that Dar-mar was selected among the 250 best children’s books published worldwide in 2019

And so the first season of “the hunt for intruders” ended with the label of “The White Ravens”, which actually means that Dar-mar was selected among the 250 best children’s books published worldwide in 2019.

Work on the novel Mr Oliver, which is intended for those just beginning to read, opened the door to a different endeavour. Specifically, in April of 2020 I started writing the first part of a novel for younger teenagers entitled Everything I (Didn’t) Want. I had no idea that writing a teen novel was so much fun and so addictive! The book was published in September, and the illustrations for it, as well as for Mr Oliver, were down by the masterful Dušan Pavlić. The novel is about an epidemic of a deadly VIR virus that spreads from computers to people and ensures that one day, when half the city has been quarantined, twelve-year-old Nina and her crush, the best guy in school, seventh-grader Maxim, find themselves in an abandoned house, without parents, phones and internet access.

Given that younger teenagers are notorious as readers, everything in that book is subordinated to their taste. So the book is full of dialogue, action and unexpected twists, it is written in a language that’s familiar to teenagers and discusses topics that relate to them… However, it seems to me that it is especially important that the novel deals pandemic traumas at a time when all of us – from nursery-age children, via teenagers, to us adults – really need to at least slightly change our angle of perceiving what hit us in 2020.

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