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Beyond the village: how black children widen their sense of the world through reading other voices from the global spectrum.

While BIBR is devoted to books about African American culture and literature, we decided it would be useful to explore what's available for our children to read about other cultures. Daphne Muse, who specializes in children's literature, took on the challenge.

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

Salamander, 2002

ISBN 8-516-03120-9

Going Home, Coming Home/Ve Nha, Tham Que Huong (English and Vietnamese)

by Truong Tran, illustration by

Ann Phong

Children's Book Press

September 2003

ISBN 0-892-39179-0

The Road to Santiago

by D.H. Figueredo, illustrated

by Pablo Torrecilla

Lee & Low Books

October 2003

ISBN 1-584-30059-0

For Teen/Young Adults

The Breadwinner

by Deborah Ellis

Groundwood Books

November 2001

ISBN 0-888-99419-2


by Francesco D'Adamo


November 2003

ISBN 0-689-85445-5

The Other Side of Truth

by Beverley Naidoo

Amistad Press.

December 2002

ISBN 0-064-41002-1

The Space Between Our Footsteps Poems and Paintings From the Middle East

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Simon & Schuster

April 1998

ISBN 0-689-81233-7

The Whale Rider

by Witi Ihimaera

Harcourt Brace

May 2003

ISBN 0-152-05016-7

Run, Boy, Run

by Uri Orlev

Translated by Hillel Halkin

Houghton Mifflin/Walter

Lorraine Books

October 2003

ISBN 0-618-16465-0


Je Bouquine (I Read)

Bayard Presse

3 rue Bayard

75008 Paris

Skipping Stones

PO Box 3939

Eugene, OR 97403


Cobblestone Publishing

30 Grove Street

Suite C

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.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Black Issues Book Review; includes related article "Stretching literary horizons" bibliography
Author:Muse, Daphne
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
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.

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