Original title: Mojenka
Genre: children´s book
Golden Ribbon for Teenage Fiction 2023 (awarded by the Czech Section of IBBY) for the illustrations by Andrea Tachezy
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We are all connected – people and trees.
Imagine that your world is turned on its head when you are ten years old…
Magdaléna (nicknamed Mylene) likes woods, moss, ferns, various shades of green, animal tracks and antlers. She hates her name Magdaléna, the breeding club where animals are ‘imprisoned’ and her natural history teacher, who regards the girl’s above-average interest in certain areas of the subject as a provocation. Most of all, she hates parasites, galls on the leaves of trees, and crabs. Why? Because of her mother’s illness.
This is the powerful story of a girl learning to cope after her world has been shaken to the core by the sudden arrival of illness in her immediate family. Thanks to the family’s warm humour and strong, loving relationships, Mylene's ‘dumb’ ideas are successfully ironed out.
Olga Stehlíková’s finely gauged story grips the reader by engaging but never manipulating the emotions. Its insight into the lives of animals, plants and trees encourages us to reach for an encyclopaedia or take a walk in the woods with our eyes as big as saucers.
To read this book anywhere but under a tree would be a shame. It is illustrated by Andrea Tachezy, “collector of apparently useless things and lover of woodland walks.”
Reader age: 9+
Illustrated by Andrea Tachezy
Andrea Tachezy (b. 1966) is a graduate in Animation from the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (VŠUP). Nevertheless, she pursued her dream of becoming an illustrator of children’s books; today, she is one of Czechia’s best known. Her art has embellished many books, and she has won many awards for it, including the prestigious Zlatá stuha [Golden Ribbon] three times.
"Olga Stehlíková handles this sensitive topic with extraordinary empathy — thanks to the character of the father, she does not give up on humour, and she also uses the girl’s knowledge for subtle, figurative explanations (the mother’s illness manifests itself as gall on the leaves of trees).
The narration oscillates between the description of moments together with her mother and Mylene’s experiences from adventures into the forest, from the kennels and from school. The breadth of motifs in Andrea Tachezy’s fragile, dreamlike illustrations suggests the heightened perception of a teenage girl."
Summary from the Best Books for Children Catalogue (compiled by the Union of Czech Booksellers and Publishers Children’s Book Commission and the Czech Section of IBBY)
"The two levels of this story are completely, harmoniously and naturally intertwined, interconnected and bonded. (…)
Despite all the burden of the extremely painful loss of a mother,daughter and wife, this is a beautiful story, full of hope and love.
In my opinion Mylene is the best book that Olga Stehlíková has written for children. This is not just to do with the subject, even though that is quite sufficient in itself, but with the feeling and deep emotion, the well-thought-out sophistication, the ease of the language flow (...). And not least, the excellently chosen, fascinating natural history context that helps make Mylene a unique literary gem, and not just another children's book about death."
Petra Schwarzová Žallmannová, Tvar
"Mylene by Olga Stehlíková, a narrative prose work for older children, can be ranked among the most outstanding Czech fiction titles in 2022. It demands attention at first glance, with its modest, rather mysterious title and a gray cover showing dark braids, which are cut- outs or part of an Andrea Tachezy collage that also includes a walker accompanied by a ginger cat on a footpath, above the treetops in the sky, from somewhere to somewhere? All this might be thought to obviously signal the content: it will be a highly personal story (who is Mylene?) involving nature, with the hair symbolizing loss, and the journey as a metaphysical fate. Quite high expectations for a book intended primarily for readers aged around ten.
In addition to a strong bond with nature, which can be an anchor for a person in difficult life situations, Mylene’s story also highlights high-quality interpersonal relationships, both within the micro-family (a wonderful, understanding father who likes to cook and never loses his sense of humour) and in the broader circle of friendly ties that Mylene is still learning to establish. (…) For its young target readers the story is clear, and it does not needlessly mince its message and ideas. Its essential quality is Mylene’s narrative voice, which draws the reader into the plot with its spontaneous story-telling.
Although this book highlights the mother-daughter relationship and the story is told from the standpoint of a sensitive teenager, I do not hesitate to recommend it for family reading, as even mums and dads might find this superbly constructed story inspiring in many respects."
Jitka Nešporová, Iliteratura.cz
"The book reads beautifully — it sounds as if we are listening to real internal dialogues and dialogues between the characters of the book. The illustrations by Andrea Tachezy enhance the book’s quality even more."
"The author has successfully entrusted the role of narrator to the child protagonist. She has managed to maintain the unstructured tone of the girl's speech, her natural expression and humorous spontaneity when describing her everyday life, and her sensitive brevity where Mylene herself has neither the desire nor the strength to confide anything and prefers to suppress her thoughts.
The book’s appeal is underscored by Andrea Tachezy’s delicate illustrations. While the text is brimming with interesting and motivational natural science facts, the illustrations, in their spare colouring, poetically portray important motifs while discreetly helping the child reader to decipher their symbolic significance. In contemporary Czech children’s literature there are few books that openly reflect the subject of death without fairy-tale crutches and without didacticism. Olga Stehlíková has managed to sensitively portray the complexity of coping with the death of a loved one, in the context of the natural cycle and the relational complex of symbiosis. Stehlíková has not only written a book for children about death and nature, but has introduced them to an accessible philosophical conception of nature, culture and man based on empathy and respect."
Milena Šubrtová, H7O
"High-quality children’s literature on the subject of death is scarce in this country. Now we have Mylene by Olga Stehlíková, intended for readers aged nine upwards.
Depicting three successive autumns in the life of the chief protagonist, Mylene is far from being a sad or depressing read.
With Mylene, Olga Stehlíková has once again confirmed that her multifaceted literary talent includes writing for children. As in the book Boys Don't Dance! / Kluci netančej! she has entrusted the reins of the narrative to a child character who indulges in unusual hobbies, yet in many ways embodies the joys and sorrows of most of her peers. She did not shy away from the author's great challenge in the form of the still taboo topic of death from the perspective of a child, which she managed to organically incorporate into an engaging and by no means tearful story. One can only hope that these attributes of her book will not deter potential readers - i.e. older children - and especially the buyers, i.e. their parents."
Petr Nagy, DeníkN
"What will interest everyone about Olga Stehlíková’s latest book Mylene (2022)? From the very first paragraph, the narrative strategy and the alternation of internal monologue and dialogues written in colloquial language (only the expert speeches and grandmother’s recipes are in standard language).
The tragic and the comic are not mutually exclusive even in such a serious message as that of the origin of her mum’s illness.
Andrea Tachezy's inventive illustrations enhance the narrative's environmental backdrop."
Svatava Urbanová, Bibiana