Lucy Altounian Davitian is the author of GarTam Books, a series of children’s books in Western Armenian devoted to preserving Armenian culture through nursery rhymes.
“Like many Armenian parents, once I had children, I really wanted to have more opportunities to teach my kids the Armenian language and culture. I had a difficult time finding books that were easy for little readers—and also for people like me who may not be able to read or write in Armenian very well,” Davitian said. She started out by translating English books into Armenian, until 14 years ago she decided to create her own.
Davitian lives in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. She has been an active member of the Washington AYF “Ani” Chapter, Homenetmen and Soorp Khatch Church. She is a mother of three kids, two of whom are involved in AYF, Homenetmen and Camp Haiastan. Davitian works full-time as a lead operations research analyst conducting analyses on service contracts across the federal government. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, working on crafts, photography and connecting with family and friends.
“My parents loved connecting with their grandchildren, and one of the ways was to sing the old Armenian nursery rhymes,” Davitian said. “We started singing the nursery rhymes again, which got me thinking about the fact that, to my knowledge and finding, they were not captured in literature anywhere. Add that to the fact that UNESCO declared Western Armenian as an endangered language, and it became even more imperative for me to figure out how to make the books a reality!”
Davitian’s children formed a unique connection with their Armenian heritage by bonding with their grandparents through nursery rhymes. “As children grow and the rhymes are no longer told for some time, will these rhymes be remembered? Will they be passed down? Will new parents remember them through the generations? With these thoughts, I was striving to create a legacy with these books by bringing about a medium to not only record the Armenian nursery rhymes in literature, but to also allow others who do not read or write Armenian to have access to a platform that combined Armenian nursery rhymes in Armenian language with English translation and transliteration.”
Davitian’s books were written for Armenians and honorary Armenians. Many non-Armenians buy her books, because they appreciate sharing culturally diverse books with their kids or grandkids.
“Interestingly enough, through the process of writing these rhymes down, I have come across so many variations of even the same rhyme, because they have been passed down orally, and have tried to capture those in the books as well,” Davitian said. “Comments from people about memories of their grandparents or parents singing to their children really reinforced the need to preserve these rhymes.”
The illustrations for her books are very inviting. At first Davitian wanted to do the illustrations herself, and she bought markers and attempted to become an expert in modern digital applications. She eventually took her husband’s advice and looked at illustrator portfolios on Instagram to find a style that would bring her books to life. She wanted to work with an Armenian artist, because a lot of the cultural references would be impossible to translate or explain.
Davitian finally found Agavny Vardanyan! “What I noticed about her was the diversity of her art and her incredible talent,” Davitian said. “You don’t always find that connection with everyone you collaborate with—so finding someone who truly understands your vision is a significant challenge. Even with that alignment, the artwork in each of the books is a slightly different style, as our collaboration and vision evolved over time. We worked virtually through the whole process during the Covid pandemic, and I finally met Agavny in person for the first time in the summer of 2023 and found her to be even more of a lovely person and artist!”
Davitian currently has a new book waiting to be published–Gelorik Melorik Shakarov Hatz—and has 10 others in the works. She is also planning to expand the books to include Eastern Armenian rhymes.
Davitian decided to self-publish her books to keep some control of the printing process. “The Amazon and Barnes and Noble options are geared towards hardcover or paperback books, and since the nursery rhymes are so short, it wasn’t a good fit for me to publish through those mediums. I also felt like my books were targeted for a niche market and concluded that going the self-publishing route would be more effective,” she explained.
In her advice to aspiring authors, Davitian said that a clear vision is very important, as well as persistence and patience. “I love that there are so many new Armenian authors—we have such a need to capture our unique cultural creativity in literature! Especially as far as children’s books are concerned, we can’t have enough as children seek new content as they grow and their interests evolve,” she said.
“Aside from keeping up with a full-time job and family life, setting up a business, working on copyrights, finding an illustrator, paying taxes, making a website, figuring out shipping—there was so much to do! I almost gave up so many times, because the process was so overwhelming for me. I found a lot of resources online that helped me on my path, and a local university with a small business office that helped get me started on the business side so it didn’t feel so overwhelming!” she added.
Davitian has participated in fundraisers for Artsakh, as well as school fairs and festivals. She has visited several Armenian communities nationwide and has met some inspiring and amazing people while sharing her books. She has also participated in book readings and career fairs at local public schools. She relayed that even though some of the kids were not Armenian, they were very receptive to hearing and learning Armenian. “They asked me to sing the Gaghant Baba song too! I loved being able to spread the culture to these young kids—especially since many of them have never heard of Armenia and may not even know anyone Armenian,” she said.
If any churches or schools are interested in inviting her to talk to their students, please feel free to reach out to her at: email@example.com. Though the books are geared towards young readers, the messages and cultural significance apply to all ages, and the discussions can be catered to the age of the audience. “It makes my heart happy to know that I have a small part in preserving Armenian culture and language and also inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams,” Davitian said.
Her books make wonderful gifts for the holiday season, a gift that reinforces traditional Armenian nursery rhymes from a talented Armenian collaboration.