Interview with Aaron Ableman
Pacha's Pajamas: A Story Written by Nature
BALANCE Edutainment (2011)
Reviewed by Madeline McElroy (age 10) and Sophia McElroy (age 8) for Reader Views (7/11)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Aaron Ableman, who is here to talk about his new children’s book, “Pacha’s Pajamas: A Story Written By Nature.”
Ableman is an “edutainer” with a background in world literature, food and climate systems, and community organizing. He grew up under the mentorship of Hopi elders and children’s musician Raffi, and he has graced the stages with K’NAAN and Joan Baez, among others. From India to Haiti, he has implemented eco-arts programs and worked with at-risk teens. He has been heralded in publications such as the “Los Angeles Times,” “New York Times,” “Montreal Mirror” and “San Francisco Examiner.” Ableman is the executive producer for the Clean Energy Tour, a co-founder of the Collective Liberation initiative, the author of “Pacha’s Pajamas” and a consultant for environmental organizations and campaigns.
Tyler: Welcome, Aaron. First off, congratulations on the book. Will you tell us a little about who Pacha is and why her pajamas are important to the story?
Aaron: Pacha is an archetypal child. She is a big dreamer who is highly imaginative, and she longs for something magical in the world. She uses her dreams and creative spirit to understand herself and her environment. In the Andean language of Quechua, Pacha means “earth” or “world.” Therefore, her pajamas are symbolic, like a body-sized magic carpet to ride through her dreams in Nature.
Tyler: Why did you choose an Andean name for the main character? Is she from the Andes’ area, or did you just like the name’s meaning?
Aaron: I first heard the name Pacha when I was a child, when my father delivered me pan-pipes, folklore, and agrarian tools from his travels to the Andes. There was something magical about a distant land that revered the spirit of the earth, called Pacha. I never forgot that....
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about the fantasy aspect of the story—is it like “Alice in Wonderland” where the main character gets sucked into a strange world full of surprising characters?
Aaron: Alice and Pacha? Yeah, I suppose that they’d be good friends. Pacha is a little bit like Alice in that she travels into a magical world where plants, rocks and animals sing, dance and talk. This world of surprising characters teaches Pacha through the importance of the biggest festival that ever happened. The struggles, stories and songs of these characters seek to remind humanity of the importance of nature and our interdependence.
Tyler: I love the mushroom. Why is he important to the story and how did you get the idea for him?
Aaron: Mushrooms have been on the planet earth for 1.3 billion years and were the first to come to land from the sea and space. Mushrooms provide habitat and resources for ecosystems, medicines and food for humans, and can literally turn toxins into compost. Mycelium, the underground network of mushroom roots, is the earth’s Internet and is highly intelligent in its communications. For all of these reasons, Mushroom is the one who remains hopeful and comes up with the idea for the giant festival of Nature.
Tyler: More than just a fantasy story, then, obviously the book has an environmental message. Why did you decide to express that through a fantasy story for children?
Aaron: Children learn through story, and myths still remain a primary source for education. Fantastical stories can be even more powerful for children due to their fun, quirky and imaginative framework. That said, I wrote “Pacha’s Pajamas” as a fantasy based on reality, the reality that plants and animals are intelligent, interconnected and even musical. Hopefully, this message regarding the intelligence of nature will inspire children to respect the earth as much as they respect celebrities like LeBron James or Beyonce.
Tyler: Tell us about the festival that animals and plants create. What is special about it and what do they hope it will accomplish?
Aaron: The festival is simultaneously whimsical and strategic, at once innovative and world changing. As we’ve seen in recent history, concerts and festivals can be powerful gatherings for social change—think Woodstock or Live-Aid. The creatures in the story see enormous potential for using music and dialogue as a tool to bring our world back together in peace, joy and health. What’s special is that no humans are invited, the stage is powered by electric eels and, when all is said and done, it’s clear that nature is the real “rock star!” My ultimate aim is to convey that there is a vast yet largely unnoticed concert happening across the biosphere, and we must listen and appreciate it, if not sing along before the music stops!
Tyler: I understand the animals and other creatures at the festival don’t realize Pacha is there. Can you explain how that is possible?
Aaron: She is incognito, disguised as a little “gorilla.” She actually becomes the final act, a star performer!
Tyler: Aaron, what age group do you think will most enjoy “Pacha’s Pajamas?”
Aaron: It was written for six to nine year olds, but we’ve been surprised by the universal appeal it has for adults and children alike. We like to say that it’s a story written for children of all ages, six to eighty-six!
Tyler: When I introduced you, Aaron, I referred to you as an “edutainer,” a term I got from your Web site. Why have you adopted that name for yourself and can you tell us what you see as the role of an “edutainer?”
Aaron: Edutainment is the combination of education with entertainment, part of a long and fruitful tradition of combining kinesthetic, artistic and dynamic forms of learning. The examples are endless, from “Sesame Street” to “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” To keep up with the energetic and creative needs of children and, quite frankly, to attract their attention, we must meet kids where they are and create familiar contexts for learning. In my case? I have been lucky to work all over the world using dance, music and story to educate children and youth on critical ecological issues. The common language of entertainment and arts has provided a bridge for me to work with diverse groups of children in a positive atmosphere.
Tyler: Do you feel children are more environmentally aware than they were a generation ago?
Aaron: Absolutely. They are way ahead! And they need to be. They are inheriting a world that’s been polluted and covered with shopping malls. Fortunately, they are coming into leadership and awareness at an earlier age. I’m very excited by such children/youth leadership examples as Jess Rimington of One World Youth Project, Severn Suzuki of Environmental Children’s Organization, Vineet Chhatria of Geo Green 360 Asia, Alec Loorz of Kids vs. Global Warming, Dylan Vecchione of Reefquest, and the like.
Tyler: Aaron, will you give us an example of how children are more environmentally aware than they were a generation or two ago?
Aaron: Alec Loorz is a great example. A Brower Youth Award winner, Alec actually organized a global day of action on behalf of the youth generations at www.imattermach.org and it’s turned into an exciting movement. On May 7th, 2011, there were satellites events all over the world, whereby children and youth made clear and undeniable demands on behalf of stabilizing the climate, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and even litigating against state and national governments for sacrificing the future.
Tyler: Would you like to see the book used in school curriculums or do you have ideas how teachers might use it to make kids aware of environmental issues?
Aaron: We already have first and fourth grade accredited curricula with schools (local to the Bay Area) ready to pilot. Teachers and educators are already so thrilled about the book with multi-media and they are constantly asking for more dynamic environmental content.
Tyler: Beyond learning about the environment through books, what can children do—and what can their parents do to encourage them—to help the environment?
Aaron: As Pacha suggests at the end of the book, “We can love one another....We can make art out of trash and plastic. We can grow our own food. We can hold beach, city and nature cleanup parties. We can ride bikes and power buildings with the sun. And every day we can listen to the concert of life!” Aside from these simple and creative acts of supporting the environment, there are global campaigns we can all directly work with, like the Global Alliance for Nature’s Rights or Four Years.Go, which provide a great channel for children and families to support ecological awareness and to get active.
Tyler: Beyond a story, the ebook includes a song and video trailer. What made you decide to include those elements with the book?
Aaron: We live in a transmedia world, and people have different learning styles. Our children need a diversity of sources or platforms to explore the story and its message. Having an interactive experience will ultimately engage the student or child to understand the issue on many levels.
Tyler: Tell us about the illustrations. Who is the illustrator, and how were the illustrations done? I understand they are animated in the video.
Aaron: The illustration process was amazing! This process was executed, like all great things, in collaboration. We started by working with an incredible visual artist named Jon Marro, who did the original sketches, and then followed by the masterful refinement of Monstro Design, who also adapted these works for animation.
Tyler: Aaron, what kinds of responses have you received so far from children and/or adults for “Pacha’s Pajamas?”
Aaron: Everybody loves this story. I’m thrilled by the amount of excitement and support it’s received, given how diverse of an audience we’ve exposed this story to.
Tyler: Just how diverse is that audience? Where have you promoted or marketed it? Do you plan to have it translated into other languages?
Aaron: We have packaged “Pacha’s Pajamas” as a trans-media platform, using innovative social/new media strategies (along with traditional PR) for communications and marketing. The eBook is merely a first step in audience development, the beta version of the story, which will be followed with a celebrity studded audiobook, mobile app, hard cover book, and an animated feature. This will, ultimately, turn Pacha into a global phenomena, performing as a live act with live band, VJ, and multi-media. Currently, the band is called The Pajamerz, doing live concerts for schools, conferences, and festivals as Pacha and The Pajamerz!
Tyler: Aaron, do you have plans to write any more children’s books on similar or different themes?
Aaron: Yes, 110 percent. I plan on doing Pacha’s Pajamas as a series of books, where each book is based on another one of Pacha’s exciting dreams. We’re also working on the screenplay for the animated feature film and intend to develop a range of other products, games, and merchandise around this incredible project.
Tyler: Why do you say “Pacha’s Pajamas” is “a story written by nature?”
Aaron: This concept came to me as I was working with indigenous youth from northern Canada in using culturally relevant education to combat alcohol and drug addiction. In our classes, we continued to discuss the importance of letting the music, the art, the writing, the expression of life to come “through you.” We used the metaphor of being like a river, whereby the water doesn’t need to be pushed or claimed to travel freely to the sea. It hit me one day, while working with these students, that Pacha’s Pajamas is something way bigger than me, like a river moving of its own volition. At that point, I laughed at myself for the idea of claiming rights to an ancient source, Nature. So yeah, basically “Pacha’s Pajamas” is just another one of Nature’s timeless stories!
Tyler: That’s a great way of describing it, Aaron. Thank you again for the opportunity to interview you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your Web site and what additional information our readers can find there about “Pacha’s Pajamas: A Story Written by Nature?”
! This is an exciting interactive site that’s already getting a lot of traffic. We currently have (or are developing) edutainment games, accredited curricula available for 1st and 4th grades, important campaigns/organizations to support, mobile apps, and a forthcoming audiobook! And you can follow us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, and get in touch with us directly for a deeper dialogue about how to make this story relevant for your family or community. Together we can make “Pacha’s Pajamas” “the biggest show on earth.”