Author Anna Prokos Promotes Greek Culture to Kids
by Maria Athens
An established author of over 40 non-fiction and fiction books, Anna Prokos sat down with Neo Magazine to discuss her latest endeavor, composing children’s books with a Greek theme. Prokos has written, led projects and consulted for companies including Sesame Street, Scholastic, and the Discovery Channel. She has dedicated her career to writing books for youngsters, as she believes communicating with kids in the right way, at their level, can have a very positive impact on their lives. Her newest publications include “The Lucky Cake”, “The Lucky Egg” and “Baboula Baby” with more stories in the works.
What prompted you to write three children’s books about Greek traditions?
On New Year’s Day 2011, my oldest son found the flouri, aka the foil-wrapped quarter, in my mom’s Vasilopita. My second son burst into tears and the two boys fought over the coin until one of them blurted, “Why do we put a dumb coin in this cake anyway?” I didn’t really have an answer so I said, “Let’s ask Yiayia.” She didn’t have an answer, so she said, “Ask Yiayia.” I called my grandmother…who also didn’t have the answer. I asked lots of yiayias for weeks, and no one seemed to know for sure. “Something with Agio Vasili,” most said. So, I used my journalistic skills to do some research. When I learned the legend of St. Basil and the Vasilopita, I thought, “Why don’t Greeks who have been cutting Vasilopita for generations know why we do this?” and, “Why don’t we, as a people, share this easy and beautiful tradition with others?” Then, last Easter, as my sons smashed their eggs together, they asked, “Why do we crack real eggs but our friends hunt for plastic ones?” I knew the answer from my many years of Sunday School, but I did some more research to be sure. I realized that most Greek traditions involve religion, food and luck. So I naturally wrote a story with the characters from The Lucky Cake to keep the moral going (every child is a lucky one), and to give the book’s growing fan-base another exciting book that incorporated Greek culture and traditions. As most of today’s Greek families celebrate dual Easter or Passover, I felt it was important to show traditions that include tsoureki, lambathes, the souvla, and of course the red eggs. Like The Lucky Cake, The Lucky Egg not only educates children about the story behind the red egg tradition, it also preserves generations of Greek customs, and allows other cultures to incorporate this easy and fun activity to their Easter celebrations. Baboula Baby isn’t about Greek holiday traditions, but it does incorporate Greek language in a meaningful way. The story is co-written with another prominent Greek-American children’s author who lives in Greece, Maria Rousakis. She sent me her poem about a new monster baby who invades a family, and I put my Greek spin on it to appeal not only to Greek-Americans, but to families who embrace language learning.
What message do you want to portray to your young audience about Greek customs?
Be proud of your heritage and share your traditions with other people. The Greek culture is full of rich traditions and colorful customs, and it’s important to know why we do what we do.
How has the Greek-American community embraced your books?
The Lucky Cake, The Lucky Egg and Baboula Baby are a great hit with the Greek-American and Greek-Canadian communities. The Lucky Cake has even reached the Greek-Australian communities. People I meet at Greek festivals, in churches and other community events tell me how proud, grateful and excited they are to finally have books that focus on preserving Greek cultures and traditions.
Are there more Greek themed books in the making?
Absolutely! So many kids and parents have told me they love Billy, so little Vasili and his family will be going on some lucky adventures soon. I’m working with other Greek-American children’s writers to publish additional stories that preserve Greek culture, traditions, language and more. As the world becomes a big melting pot, it’s important for kids to understand and celebrate their cultural heritage. In the near future, my company will be working with writers from other cultures to help preserve customs and traditions of various ethnic groups.
Where are you from in Greece?
My father is from Korthi, Andros, my mom’s family is from Apoikia, Andros, and Karnezeika, a village in Peloponissos.
How big a part did your ethnicity play in your own childhood?
Not to be cliché, but I really lived a big, fat Greek life. I went to Greek School twice a week, rarely missed Sunday School, was an active member of my GOYA, visited Greece most summers, was only allowed to date Greek guys, and my dad and relatives owned restaurants. Holidays were spent with every aunt, uncle and cousin, and lamb was a main dish—even on Thanksgiving. My American friends, I grew up in Kearny, New Jersey, were a bit jealous, they confess to me now, because we always had a lot of people, a lot of great food, a lot of dancing and a lot fun in our house.
What do you want to achieve with these publications?
I want to promote and preserve cultural traditions, customs and language for families with Greek heritage, and I want to share these rich cultural traditions with families who don’t come from a Greek background. As my company branches out into other cultures, we will keep these cultural principles at the forefront of our children’s books and other media materials.
How have you marketed the books?
Right now, I’m a one-woman show (with my cousin’s help!) doing book signings and author events at festivals, churches, Greek schools, Sunday schools and elementary schools in the NY-tri-state area, nearby states and Skype for other areas I’m not able to get to. I have four active sons and a full-time career, so I get the word out as best as I can in the time I have—usually through our site and word-of-mouth. Most importantly, I work with the Daughters of Penelope Foundation, the group’s literacy foundation to preserve and promote the ideals and traditions of Hellenism. For every book that is purchased through DOP chapters or purchased in bulk for DOP Fundraising efforts, I donate a percentage to the Foundation to support their important mission and their scholarship program. http://dopfoundationinc.com/book-club/this_month/ and http://theluckycakebook.com/?page_id=349