Ask any little girl the question above and the answer will invariably be YES! Having once been a little girl myself, I could hardly turn down the opportunity to talk with Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands as she visited WAB earlier this week.
Why is she here? The 2011 Beijing International Book Fair, which began on Wednesday, August 31 and runs until Sunday, September 4, features the Netherlands as their Country of Honor this year. And it just so happens that Princess Laurentien van Oranje has published two children’s books in an ongoing series about Mr. Finney, a fish who learns about our planet by asking questions and seeking solutions.
Van Oranje’s first book, Mr. Finney and the World Turned Upside Down — available in Dutch, English, Spanish, and Catalan — has now been published in Chinese. She is quite excited that the doors are open for discussion about sustainability of our natural resources, including educating and involving our children to make a difference for the future. She will be at the book fair (held at the International Expo Center in Shunyi), hosting book talks, meeting with book critics, and presenting a workshop on sustainability. The expo is open to the public on all days.
In the meantime, van Oranje visited the children at WAB to read excerpts of her book, as well as to engage the students in conversation about our environment. Approximately 50 elementary students from the Dutch Learning Program gathered in the library to listen to the princess read from her book in Dutch; later, other elementary classes joined her in the theater for a presentation in English. She finds that the diversity of the student body in international schools provides such an enriching experience from which the children can learn.
The two main areas of professional work for the princess include literacy (she serves as the UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development), and sustainability. This China trip allows her to highlight both, and introducing the Mr. Finney series to students while creating environmental awareness is a highlight.
“It’s not so much an educational book from parents to children, but it’s really a book to tap into the imagination and the innate sense of morality that children have,” says van Oranje. “We want to provide a platform, an instrument for these questions to come out, empowering children to keep the mindset of always questioning. The ‘why’ that children ask are ultimately moral questions, and they are the right questions to ask.”
No stranger to Asia, van Oranje grew up in Japan with her Diplomat family. However, this was her first trip to China. She’s already been invited back to the country for future visits and discussions, about which she is genuinely enthusiastic. “These are universal values,” she says, and she knows it requires an investment of her time to then make it happen. “You’ve got to create that dynamic.”
Limited supplies of hardcover book copies are for sale at WAB for RMB 200, in both English and Dutch. As an added treat, the copies have been signed by both the author and illustrator, Sieb Posthuma. Proceeds of the book go towards van Oranje’s foundations.
A real princess making a real difference. That’s the kind of princess to meet.