A little while ago I reviewed (here) a charming children’s book Puppy: 12 months of Rhymes and Smiles by Patricia Furstenberg. As I feel books are an essential part of growing up and a child’s develoment I asked Patricia if she would like to return to Linda’s Book Bag to tell me a bit about diversity in writing, especially as she’s celebrating three new Chilren’s books this month; The Elephant and the Sheep, The Cheetah and the Dog and The Lion and the Dog.
Before you read Patricia’s brilliant guest post, find out a bit about her new books.
The Elephant and the Sheep
The Elephant and the Sheep, sure to touch a deep chord, particularly with fans of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
When a curious lamb meets a friendly elephant calf he soon discovers the secret behind the elephant’s lonely life. Sharing means so much more than material things.
The Cheetah and the Dog
The Cheetah and the Dog, sure to resonate with families – particularly non-traditional ones as well as with the fans of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”.
When a cheetah cub and a puppy dog bump into each other no one can foresee that their blooming friendship will save many lives, thus becoming the core of an African folktale.
The Lion and the Dog
The Lion and the Dog, sure to strike a chord with the many fans of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.
When a lion is crowned King of a zoo he becomes a secluded beast with no visitors but an observant and determined little brown dog. Learn how optimism and kindness can changes even a wild animal into a friend for life.
Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Fiction
A Guest Post by Patricia Furstenberg
What is a normal lifestyle? I live in a country with 11 official languages. It is normal for us. Apart from English, schools in South Africa teach compulsory and optional classes in Afrikaans, Zulu, Sepedi, Tsonga, Tswana, Xhosa, Venda etc. To make things even more complex, languages like French, German, Portuguese or Greek are also taught! My children attend a school alongside friends with different religions, originating from all the continents of the world. Once back home, each one of these children will return to the nest of their own cultures. To them, this is a normal lifestyle.
Going back to my native country, snuggled in the oldest continent in the world, I notice how much things have changed since I grew up. How much more diverse people are today and how, nationality wise, there is a wider spread now, than during my childhood. It is a normal lifestyle for current times, market by human migration.
For our children’s generation life is like strolling through a library of live books.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Maya Angelou.
Reading brings us in touch with our humanity.
The act of reading and having access to diverse stories offers children a window towards real life, the one outside their homes. Towards the kind of life people from different countries and cultures lead. Towards their struggles, feelings and values; how and why are they similar or different to our own. Reading expands our children’s understanding and widens their acceptance.
Diversity and its meaning in the book industry.
The fact that different people, men AND women, white AND black, can write books, is often a revelation for many young readers. “If they can do it, so can I!” The book monopoly doesn’t belong only to the white male writer anymore. It belongs to the young, to the woman, to the indie author as well. And this variety can be empowering for many young readers.
An empowered young girl will grow into a strong, self-confident, open minded woman that will not be intimidated to discover and follow her own path.
I want you to read this passage:
The boy ran down the road, dust billowing all around him. He ran as fast as he could, his skinny legs barely touching the sharp rocks, his small body a ghost past the barking dogs; they always barked at his kind. He watched them, though, out of the corner of his eye, his hand tight on the stick he had picked up by the bridge, as soon as he left the field. How far to the doctor’s house? “Just after the first bend in the road”, his grandpa had whispered. “Run, boy, run…”
Where do you picture this scene taking place?
Now read the text again.
Cheng ran down the road, dust billowing all around him. He ran as fast as he could, his skinny legs barely touching the sharp rocks, his small body a ghost past the barking dogs; they always barked at his kind. He watched them, though, out of the corner of his eye, his hand tight on the stick he had picked up by the bridge, as soon as he left the field. How far to the doctor’s house? “Just after the first bend in the road”, yeye had whispered. “Run, Cheng, run…”
And now, where is the scene taking place?
Why the difference? Because in our minds we’re used to picture the characters based on our own frame of reference, shaped by the literature we’ve been exposed to throughout our lives.
The cultures least represented in literature are not the ones which are missing out because, within their own frontiers, they often have an extensive oral tradition. Their stories are still passed on through generations, teaching valuable life lessons. It is the rest of the world that’s missing on reading them.
Diversity in children’s books is a two way street.
First, more children get to read about their own culture, feeling empowered because it mirrors their race, inter-race, religion, sex or physical health, home up-bringing (divorced families, immigrants, single parent families). Children feel good about themselves when they read about characters like them.
Second, the rest of the world is exposed to a different culture, therefor gaining in diversity and humanity. Because the same story can be told from many angles, in a multitude of languages, each time becoming a new narration with a new lesson to communicate.
We need diverse books for diverse minds. Aren’t all children’s favorites exactly those stories about unique, strong individuals? Beautiful characters, inside and out.
We live in a world that’s confronted, more than ever, with a wide variety of issues we can’t ignore anymore. Global warming and social migration, be it willing or forced; terrorism and out of control political spectacles that impact more and more individuals.
Diverse books will offer our children the right tools to understand and deal with the global uproar they’ll have to live in. Access to diverse books will, hopefully, grant our children the strength and wisdom to understand themselves and the world they live in and unlock their own powers; to stand on their own two feet and lead a life of humanity and empathy.
(I couldn’t agree with you more Patricia. Thanks so much for coming on Linda’s Book Bag.)
About Patricia Furstenberg
Patricia Furstenberg came to writing though reading. After completing her Medical Degree in Romania she moved to South Africa where she now lives with her husband, children and their dogs. Patricia became taking writing seriously after becoming one of the WYO Christie winners. She enjoys writing for children because she can take abstract, grown-up concepts and package them it in attractive, child-friendly ways while adding sensitivity and lots of love.
All of Patricia’s children’s books are available here.