Books for children The world we share

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  • Books for Children

    The World We Share

    by Pauline Davey Zeece

    Children, like adults, are members of family, culture, and community. Now, more than ever before, they are also members of the global village. Ideally this collective membership provides opportunities and affords in- sight into similarities and differences among people in a culturally diverse world. Even at very young ages, chil- dren become aware that language, eth- nicity, gender, and physical attributes may be connected with privilege and power, as well as with deprivation and powerlessness (Derman-Sparks & A.B.C. Task Force, 1989). From very early in life, children learn to view others in terms of social categories (Serbin & Sprafkin, 1986). When such categories are tied to traits, be- havior, and activities, culturally de- f ined stereotypes may develop. These, at their best, help young chil- dren organize and simplify their world, make predictions, resolve am- biguities about people and events, and ideally engage in socially appropriate behavior (Serbin, Powlishta, & Gulko, 1993).

    Through cognitive maturation and enriched socialization experiences, children's stereotypes become more inclusive, enabling them to develop antibiased behavior and attitudes. Books can be used to aid children's understanding of the world as an inter- esting and diverse place that nurtures responsible social behavior and pro- motes peaceful interactions. Derman- Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force

    Pauline Davey Zeece, Ph.D., is associate professor in Child Development, University of Nebraska--Lincoln, College of Human Resources and Family Science, 104F RLH, Lincoln, NE 68583.

    (1989) suggest that the "practice of f reedom" is fundamental to early childhood antibias education. Quality literature fosters this practice when it enables chi ldren "to construct a knowledgeable, confident self-identi- ty; to develop comfortable, empathet- ic, and just interaction with diversity; and to develop critical thinking and prosocial skills for standing up for oneself and others in the face of injus- tice" (p. ix).

    Self-identity Every child and each group of chil-

    dren has its own individualistic com-

    position, experiences, and perspec- tives (Ramsey, 1987). In people from all cultures, there are wide variations across subcultures, settings, individ- ual, ages, and historic periods. Kendall (1983) posits that young chil- dren are necessarily concerned with discovery of who they are and what they can do. This is an important be- ginning in young children's under- standing of the role they play in the larger society (i.e., the family and the community). It is the foundation on which they build their understanding or ignorance and their acceptance or rejection of others. Books rich with

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  • accurate, interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and authentic content about many kinds of people and places and events help young children to identify and celebrate ways in which they are similar to and different from others.

    Cisneros, Sandra. Hairs (Pelitos). Illus. Terry Yb~ifiez. New York: Apple Soup Books/Imprint of Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. 22 pp., $15.00. Ages two to eight years.

    A joyful collection of vignettes in Spanish and English that depict the wonderful, wavy, lazy, thick, curly, straight, furry, and sometimes even wacky hair of the people who live in Sandra Cisneros's best-selling House on Mango Street. Up-in-the-air hair, never-obeying-barrettes hair, and, best of all, sweet-to-put-your-nose-to mother 's ha i r - - that is what this charming book is all about. It is a simple but compelling testimony to the simplicity in understanding and enjoying how people are alike and dif-

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    ferent from the top down! Children will smile and even giggle when they read this book. Be prepared to share it again and again, but take caution if you do so on a "bad hair" day !

    Waddell, Martin. The Big Big Sea. Il lus. Jennifer Eachus. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1994. 24 pp., $15.95. Ages two to six years.

    I'll always remember just Mama and me and the night that we walked by the big big sea.

    A child's self-identity is interwo- ven with the everyday events that say, "You are of this place, these people." Such is the message of this story of a simple but almost magical beach-side walk of a young Irish girl and her mother. As the silver-hazed, pastel- tinted illustrations by Jennifer Eachus carry the pair from page to page, young readers (and perhaps listening

    adults) are reminded of the kinds of memories that become the treasures of childhood: a hand held tightly, a foot- print in the sand, a glorious moon, a reassuring hug. The walking, wander- ing, laughing, splashing, puddling, and pondering of a stroll beneath moonlight, town lights, and then no lights are all part of this story about a precious bond and a simple moment between parent and child.

    MacLachlan, Patricia. All the Places to Love. Illus. Mike Winner. New York: Harper Collins, 1994. 24 pp., $15:00. Ages two to eight years.

    Newbery Medalist and author Patficia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall, 1986) now shares her insight into rural America with younger readers in All the Places to Love. Her story about three generations living on a farm is told from the perspective of Eli, the newest generation to hear, cre- ate, and eventually pass on his oral family history and accompanying family rituals. Eli is told the story of how, moments after his much antici- pated birth, his grandmother held him to the window to hear the wind and see the valley and all the places to love. And as he grows, he discovers the best- loved places of his most loved people: his grandmother's riv- er, his father's field, his mother's blueberry barren, and his grandfa- ther's barn. It is to this barn he goes with grandfather to carve the name of his new baby sister, Sylvie, with whom he later promises to share all the places he has learned to love.

    Appropriate Interaction

    The comfortable, empathetic, and just interaction with diversity pro- posed by Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force (1989) does not evolve and stop in early childhood. Rather, it is a lifelong task for every person and a long-term goal for most cultures. Displaying empathetic feel- ings and exhibiting just behaviors are difficult for children in the absence of information about or exposure to dif- ferences of all kinds. Such voids are likely, at best, to promote ignorance and misunderstanding and, at worst, to result in intolerance and discrimina-

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  • tion. Thus books that provide devel- opmentally appropriate information about similarities and differences are key to early learning. Such informa- tion can be infused throughout the lit- erary elements of a story: plot, setting, characterization, theme, point of view, and style (Raines & Isbell, 1994). Information learned in this way builds a basis for understanding and a com- fort level with (and even excitement about) differences.

    James, Betsy. The Mud Family. Illus. Paul Merin. New York: Putnam's, 1994. 26 pp., $15.95. Ages four to eight years.

    Sosi and her extended family live in the harsh, high desert of the American Southwest. Tied intimately to the elements, the family struggles with great adversity when faced with being without water. The young girl takes time to offset the crises brought by the impending drought. Sosi turns to the rich mud at the riverbed to mold a more accessible, ever-present fami- ly. Just as her real-life family final- izes plans to move because of the drought, an amazing thing happens. Could it have been the rain dance of the tiny mud dolls? Children enjoy reading this story and then creating their own mud-doll families.

    Pinkney, Brian. Max Found Two Sticks. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1994. 29 pp., $15.00. Ages four to eight years.

    Everyone has bad days, lonely days, not-wanting-to-talk-to-anyone days, but few handle such days as well as young Max. With a rhythmic text and lyrical illusu'ations, the young boy communicates to others using two sturdy sticks and the world all around:

    Pat, pat, pat to grandpa. Tap, tap, tap to mother. Dum, de-dum to friends. Cling, cling, da-BANG to the twins.

    And to young readers, the story con- veys the idea that listening to, under- standing, and communicating with others is so much more than words. Children enjoy reading and hearing

    SUMMER 1995

    the sights and sounds throughout the book.

    Joosse, Barbara. Mama, Do You Love Me? Illus. Barbara Lavallee. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1991. 24 pp., $13.95. Ages two to six years.

    All children are alike in their need for unconditional acceptance by im- portant adults in their lives. The bright-toned, graphically stunning wa- tercolor illustrations and the powerful but childlike text portray a young Inuit child's search for understanding and acceptance. The child discovers through her questions that mother loves her more than raven loves his treasures, dog loves his tail, and whale loves his spout. It is a love that lasts until the umiak flies into darkness, stars turn to fish, and puffins howl at the moon. The story ends with a se- ries of "what i f ' scenarios posed by the young child and answered by the

    knowing, understanding, and caring mother. A very warm, tender, and child-typical story.

    Critical Thinking and Standing Up for Others

    Young children develop and refine critical thinking skills slowly during the early childhood years. Emerging cognitive ability permits them to think about past and future events, to pro- pose multiple solutions to: problems, and to use language more efficiently. All of these skills are required to rea- son empathetically and to perform al- truistic acts like standing up for oth- ers. Thus books that show creative prosocial problem-solving and that demonstrate courageous actions that take into account the feelings and needs of others are useful. These model the actions and rewards of kind and just behavior. They say to young children, "Take a chance. Dare to care."

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  • McGugan, Jim. Josepha: A Prairie Boy's Story. Illus. Murray Kimber. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1994. 28 pp., $11.95. Ages four to eight years.

    It was late in the afternoon, long af- ter the school bell, when I made my go0d-byes to Josepha.

    Prair ie winds ruff led his hair. Barefoot, he stood silent and still as a Saturday flagpole.

    So go the beginning and ending of a gentle, unique, and very special friendship between a struggling immi- grant boy and his young rural friend. The story transcends differences in language, culture, and age as the two grow close. Josepha suffers humiliat- ing teasing and taunting, yet he is the first to defend younger children or to bring a poultice for an aching ear. The exchange of gifts at the end of the story models the kind of courage, car- ing, and relinquishing that are engen- dered only by true friendship. Older children are touched by the story, whose effectiveness is enhanced by

    the Thomas Hart Benton-like palette and illustrations of Murray Kimber. A true treat for the spirit.

    Olaleye, Isaac. Bitter Bananas. Illus. Ed Young. Honesdale, PA: Caroline House, 1994. 30 pp., $14.95. Ages two to eight years.

    Young Yusuf and his family lived a long time ago in an African village in the heart of the rain forest. Yusuf's most favorite drink was palm sap. Oh yes ! Oh yes !

    And so the saga of the sweet palm sap and the cunning baboon thieves is unfolded throughout Caldecott illus- trator Ed Young's colorful cut-paper illustrations. Readers are led through a series of not-so-successful solu- t ions-oh no! But in the end, every- one gathers to see if Yusuf's final, great, and very best plan works. Does he thwart the sap-sucking thieves? Here 's a hint: The ending is very sweet. Good thinking, Max!

    Hopenson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Illus. James Ransome. New York: Knopf, 1993. 30 pp., $15.00. Ages four to eight years.

    The strength of this book is found in the authenticity of the story and its illustrations. Clara, a young African- American girl, is separated from her family and sent to work in the cotton fields. Under the loving instruction of "Aunt Rachel" she learns and exe- cutes seamstress skills that afford her a position in the Big House. Here she listens and learns and skillfully crafts an exquisite quilt that becomes her map to f reedom from slavery. Leaving the quilt behind, she provides a heritage for others and maps the path of freedom for many others: past the old tree, down the winding road, through the swamp, and finally, final- ly to the special crossing point on the Ohio River. Young readers learn of the history of slavery and the cunning and courage of a true American hero- ine.

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    References

    Derman-Sparks, L., & A.B.C. Task Force. (1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    Kendall, F. (1983). Diversity in the class- room: A multi-cultural approach to the education of young children. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Raines, S., & Ishell, R. (1994). Stories: Children's literature in early education. Albany, NY: Delmar.

    Ramsey, P. (1987). Teaching and learn- ing in a diverse world: Multi-cultural education for young children. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Serbin, L., Powlishta, K., & Gulko, J. (1993). The development of sex typing in middle childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Series No. 232, 58(2).

    Serbin, L., & Sprafldn, C. (1986). The salience of gender and the process of sex-typing in three- to seven-year-old children. Child Development 57, 1188- 1199.

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