children of the world

March 29, 2010

In honor of the “Nonfiction Monday” community, I have decided to do a bit of a flashback for today’s blog post . . . these are the notes I took when still a graduate student, for a school presentation I gave that featured multicultural picture books. My sole caveat in posting this is that it is admittedly embarrassing for me to display my “schoolwork,” as it were. But I thought it would be helpful for those interested in raising culturally aware little ones, so here it is :-)

The Stories:
[My Intro] “What I would like to do now is to read a few books with you. These are all books that were written in different countries, and in different languages. And you know what’s so neat about it is that kids like you—kids with the same types of people they love, pets that make them laugh, things that make them afraid, and dreams that make them happy—are reading books, just like you are, way over on the other side of the world. They may not look just like you, talk just like you, live in houses just like yours, or learn in schools just like yours, but deep down, in the places that matter, they are kids just like you.”

1. Vaugelade, Anais. Translated by Marie-Christine Rouffiac and Tom Streissguth. The War.
I adored the way this book tackled a potentially inflammatory topic: War vs. Peace, in an amazingly light-hearted and thus un-inflammatory manner. It is simple, uplifting, and wholesome in its message. Could lead to interesting class discussions, for sure!

2. Une nuit, un chat, written & illustrated by Yvan Pommaux [France]
Plopped contentedly on the floor of the library, I chuckled as I read this book, and I concurred with the selectors’ that it was indeed an excellent representative book for this particular collection.
One of the most immediately evident reasons, for me, was that the text is simple, and easy to follow—even for my level of French ☺ As a result, it is excellent for the targeted audience of upper primary school children. Also concerning the language, its rhyming lines and alliteration make it playful, and simply fun to read.
Its theme fits as representative for any international collection, in that it is about family—one of the most universal of themes, and certainly one with which any child can identify.

3. El guardian del Olvido, by Joan M. Gisbert/ illustrated by Alfonso Ruano [Spain]
Reading this book, I placed it at a slightly older level than the previous one—but still definitely within an elementary age group.
This one is longer, with basic prose [rather than rhymes], but still simple dialogue and verbiage—again, understandable for my level of Spanish!
And here again, we have an easily graspable universal theme, of friendship, contained within an uplifting story.

4. Un jour mon Prince Viendra, by Andrea Neve/ illustrated by Kitty Crowther [Belgium]
This story provides a new—again universal and easily understandable—theme, this time of love. And, yet again, I was able to easily understand the word choice and language of the text ☺ This one was at a similar level as Une nuit, un chat, with its spare text of rhythmic and lyrical prose—but not actual rhyming in this one.
One final note of interest, concerning its theme, is that there was a surprisingly sly note to the humor—surprising from my cultural perspective, at least—concerning the theme. My assessment is that this is indicative of Europe’s tendency to be less inclined to talk down to children in their picture books—from what I’ve seen—compared to the U.S.
5. La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes, by H.C. Andersen/ translation by P.G. La Chesnais/ illustrated by Georges LeMoine
When I first read this book I cried. I was immensely moved by this retelling of Andersen’s tale, and I was amazed at my own reaction. Interestingly enough, the language of the story is not what touched me the most. The tale is indeed a highly moving, and immensely sad one; unfortunately, though, I fear I have grown hardened to it by merely being overly familiar with it.
For that reason, I love that La Chesnais and LeMoine have redone the story in a way that brings new poignancy to a potentially stale story. They have brought it to life by the ingenious parallel, via solely the artwork, of the original tale with the modern real-life equivalent of a little Bosnian girl stuck in wartime harsh reality. The truth, of course, is that life really can be every bit as heartbreaking as Andersen’s original story . . . and I am grateful for any way of communicating, in an emotive manner, such truth to sheltered young people today

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