By Nancy Matos
Will a little girl / flower from the coloured pages of a children's book help introduce the Azores to the world? Flipping through the bilingual book Néveda nos Açores / Néveda in Azores, written by Portuguese-Canadian author Terry Costa, one's curiosity will definitely be piqued as Néveda travels through all nine islands of the remote Portuguese archipelago.
(Néveda nos Açores ilustração de Vera Bettencourt)
A manifestation of a young girl / flower based on the nêveda plant common on the island of Pico, Azores, where Costa calls home, the adventurous Néveda tours the globe, visiting the Statue of Liberty in New York, to the great pyramids of Egypt. It so happens that one day, she lands in the Azores and sets out to discover each island. Thanks to this free spirit, the reader is introduced to the Azores, which come alive through the endearing illustrations of Graciosa Island-born Vera Bettencourt.
"The idea was to create a series in which Néveda goes on adventures," says Costa. "I want to make the Azores known to more people around the world. The potential with this book can be much more than any other Azorean product."
(Terry Costa and Vera Ataíde Bettencourt at BAOBÁ livraria)
Starting in the easternmost island of Santa Maria, the character's journey through the volcanic islands is highlighted by typical Azorean sights. The "Green Island" of São Miguel is depicted through its dense pastures and lagoons, which Néveda stops to admire before setting off to Corvo, the smallest island in the Azores. Readers familiar with the island will delight in seeing her clad in the traditional blue and white wool cap Corvo is known for, as she checks out its noted windmills.
Next door in Flores, Néveda goes for a swim among the picturesque cliffs and cascading waterfalls of the stunning island, charmingly painted on the page. The story is told as much through the illustrations as the words, a simple line of text accompanying the inviting imagery special to these islands. But Costa wants to make it clear that the book is not just for kids.
"The book and the character itself are not only aimed at children, this is just a way to categorize books," he says. "The book, and Néveda, are for the child in all of us."
Costa is known for his artistic endeavours around the Azores through his arts and culture organization MiractecArts, based in Pico. It seems creating an outdoor art gallery, Galeria Costa, situated in his family's vineyards where artists from around the world decorate the landscape, or organizing the world's most remote fringe festival, Azores Fringe, and other arts festivals, weren't enough: he needed to write a book, too.
"My objective with this book is to encourage more interest in the islands, for either children in the Azores or readers around the world who do not yet know the archipelago," says Costa.
(Terry Costa and Vera Bettencourt)
He enlisted the help of Bettencourt, an illustrator and visual arts teacher in Lisbon, to bring Néveda to life. After much dedication and planning, the book was launched at the animation festival AnimaPIX, another MiratecArts project, last December in Pico. It was warmly received by children and adults alike, who attended personal readings by the author and illustrator at the festival.
Audiences as far as Australia and Qatar have also had the chance to get to know Néveda, as Costa recently brought the book to the other side of the world. He was accompanied by a Néveda puppet and plush doll, both designed by Bettencourt - just another way for people to become acquainted with the story, and the Azores.
"Our goal is to find investors for commercial potential, so Néveda - the book, doll and puppet - can be a unique tool for promoting the Azores. We're challenging the commercial world, entrepreneurs, investors, to bet on this flower girl that I invented and that Vera Bettencourt designed," Costa says.
Like all of Costa's projects, which include writing, staging and starring in countless plays (he holds a BA in Theatre from Sheridan College, and in Drama and Film Studies from the University of Toronto Mississauga) to founding MiratecArts in his parent's homeland, the book started with an idea. Either inspired by a dream, like his upcoming performance piece Monstro / Monster, or in this case, a volcano on a magical island group in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.
"The mountain speaks to me," says Costa, referring to Mount Pico, the highest point in Portugal that surrounds the island with an atmosphere some describe as mystical, even emotional.
"When I host writers' workshops here, like the annual "Pedras Negras", people tell me they find it so easy to write...there is something about this island, this mountain," Costa explains. "I want to encourage young people to also create, to use their imagination, to dream a little further. Maybe this book will inspire them."
The mountain also captures the attention of Néveda, who spends some delightful days exploring Pico, with its famous vineyards that grow amid lava rocks, where her namesake flower blooms, and where the beloved bright green regional liquor nêveda flows. She even decides to take a nap on the very top of the mountain, nestling in the "piquinho" crater, some 2,351 metres above.
"It's beautiful to see this character that takes the Azores further, and is being embraced by people who don't even know where the Azores are. Seeing kids in Sydney and Doha turning the pages of the book, smiling and enjoying themselves, was such a thrill," says Costa.
This is just the start of Néveda's journey, and that of Costa and Bettencourt, who plan to bring more endearing tales in a series of books. There's still a whole world to discover, after all.
Néveda nos Açores / Néveda in Azores is available at bookstores and shops on all nine islands of the Azores, and in bookstores specializing in childrens' literature and illustration in Lisbon, Porto and Oeiras. It will soon be available in other cities, as well as travelling to Canada and the US. To order a copy online visit mirateca.com or madeinazores.eu
Nancy Matos is a Portuguese-Canadian writer and journalist, with parents hailing from Pico and Faial, Azores. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, after her family emigrated to Canada, Nancy has been writing about the global Luso community for more than a decade. She is a graduate of the Broadcast Journalism and Media program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver. Her career in broadcast, online and print media has taken her around the globe, from Beijing to London, and now, Portugal. Nancy's work has been featured in RTP Açores, Triângulo Magazine, China Daily, CBC News and CTV News Canada. She currently resides in Horta, Faial where she enjoys a daily view of Pico Mountain from her house.