Beyond the village: how black children widen their sense of the world through reading other voices from the global spectrum.
In the sixth grade, I traveled to distant places with names that twisted and rolled off my tongue. I played with other children, sat at their table and learned about their traditions--all on the wings of books. Some of those books, such as Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo, seriously stereotyped and distorted the images of black people, while others like Harold Courlander's Ride With the Sun: Folk Tales and Stories From All Countries of the United Nations took me longingly from Iraq and Belgium to Mexico and Ethiopia. I wanted to learn Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia.
While I never quite rose to the challenge of learning Amharic, my fascination with real and imagined places gave me a sense of life beyond the world of my working-class family in racially segregated Washington, D.C. My quest for reading globally was ignited by a remarkable sixth-grade teacher whose knowledge of geography and literature were astonishing.
The opportunities for today's young people to engage in exciting, challenging and culturally authentic literature from all points of the global village are a result of a qualitative leap in the number of books available, the range of topics and breadth of genres--traditional and cutting edge. In reading books from Finland, Ghana, Russia, Suriname mad other countries, young readers come to see how a wide and rich view of the world is so important to finding one's way in it.
Mom As Coach
Sakae Robeson Manning, a writer and former vice president of Paramount from Altadena, California, coaches her 12-year-old son, Bronson, in selecting good literature in much the same way she coaches him in soccer. "If I didn't coach him, his literary diet would be made up of Star Wars, exclusively," she says. "I really want him to know and read the world.
"I was surprised at how many parents do not guide their children to make book choices, because like most things our kids do, it is good to have some practical lessons first, before going out on your own," notes Manning. "It's disturbing to see how parents work hard at coaching their kids in sports, teaching them to ride a bike or buying their clothes. But when it comes to what they watch on TV, the kind of music they listen to, or the books they choose, parents kind of check out."
From Shakespeare to Japanese mythology, Bronson has been taught to read widely. "My morn makes me read in the library reading program, and there I read between two to four books a month" says Bronson. As a child who is African American, Native American and Japanese, Bronson understands the importance of reading within the breadth of his heritage and beyond.
Folktales provide very young readers access to cultures and communities, real and imagined, from around the world, and magazines like Cricket, Stepping Stones and New Moon are excellent sources for such stories. These multicultural magazines also invite young readers from every Continent Io write about and discuss literature and literary issues.
With books like Uma Kirshnaswami's Chachaji's Cup, the intergenerational story of a family uprooted by the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, and Nancy Andrews-Goebel's The Pot That Juan Built, a fascinating look into the life of an extraordinary Mexican potter, Children's Book Press of San Francisco and Lee & Low Books of New York have shown more than two decades of commitment to diversity, bilingualism and connecting young readers to various cultural and ethnic intersections.
Twelve-year old Brannon Rockwell-Charland of East Grand Rapids, Michigan, is learning the world through reading and traveling. As artists and academics, her parents make concerted efforts to support her. Amsterdam, England and Wales are stamped on her passport. "I like books that include mystery and make me want to turn file page." she says. "I also like descriptive writing that helps me picture the setting in my mind; unique stories and humor and out-of-the-ordinary plots. I like diversity in my books."
Some of her recent reads include Naomi Shihab Nye's 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, an amazing collection, and Margaret Ray's retelling of Magical Tales From Many Lands. Shihab Nye, a Palestinian American, has included poems by several African American youth in her collections and works with schools and youth organizations to connect with young readers.
Expanding Rural Children's World
In many depressed rural areas, the lens through which many children see the world is narrowed by a kind of isolated poverty that still grinds into their souls. Leigh Wiley, librarian for the Randolph County Library, Kinchafoonee Regional Library System in Cuthbert, Georgia, makes determined efforts to widen the horizons of young people like seventh graders JaQawan Culbreth and Ebony Rowell. She offers Book Talks--3 to 5 minute presentations that encourage students to read a particular book or genre. "Doing Book Talks enables me to expose the kids to excellent literature that they would overlook simply by browsing the library shelves," says Wiley. "My recommendations have led kids to read Esperanza Rising, as well as Shabanu," notes Wiley.
Set in the Great Depression, Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising focuses on the evolution of a young girl who goes from living in wealth in Mexico to living in a California migrant workers' camp and suffering through hard times. She learns to take nothing for granted. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples captures the joy and challenges of a willful and outspoken Muslim girl, living a nomadic life in the Pakistani desert.
Eleven-year-old Camille Hayes, a sixth-grade student at Head Royce School in Oakland, California, also read Esperanza Rising. "I love books filled with details. I read for pleasure and to be informed," she says, as her eyes wander around my study and curiously across the shelves filled with children's books from Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Russia and Trinidad.
Camille has traveled to France and throughout the United States with her mother, a faculty member at Pacific Oaks College and her father an orthopedic surgeon. "As I explore the world, I find really good reads" she says. "I travel with my family a lot and pick up books along the way."
RELATED ARTICLE: Stretching literary horizons.
By Daphne Muse
For Young Readers
Day of Rain
by Ana Maria Machado
Nelson Cross Illustrator
Going Home, Coming Home/Ve Nha, Tham Que Huong (English and Vietnamese)
by Truong Tran, illustration by
Children's Book Press
The Road to Santiago
by D.H. Figueredo, illustrated
by Pablo Torrecilla
Lee & Low Books
For Teen/Young Adults
by Deborah Ellis
by Francesco D'Adamo
The Other Side of Truth
by Beverley Naidoo
The Space Between Our Footsteps Poems and Paintings From the Middle East
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Simon & Schuster
The Whale Rider
by Witi Ihimaera
Run, Boy, Run
by Uri Orlev
Translated by Hillel Halkin
Je Bouquine (I Read)
3 rue Bayard
PO Box 3939
Eugene, OR 97403
30 Grove Street
Peterborough, NH 03458
Daphne Muse is an Oakland writer working on the reissue of La Tribu Arc-en-Ciel (The Rainbow Tribe), a children's book by Josephine Baker.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Black Issues Book Review; includes related article "Stretching literary horizons" bibliography|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2004|
|Previous Article:||A door closes: Baltimore's Sibanye welcomed black authors.|
|Next Article:||A child's garden of verses: four titles that introduce young readers to poetry's vitality.|