Children's Literature around the World

Article excerpt

During a recent visit with a preschooler, Victoria, she handed us a copy of an international folktale, with the request to read it aloud. We happily accepted her invitation. However, when we realized that time was short and the story long, we tried to cut a few corners and present an abbreviated version, turning the page without reading the full text. Our young friend, having immediately noticed this modification, flipped the page back and demanded, "Read it. Read all of it. We need the whole story." She then listened happily and attentively to a story that was lengthy, complicated, and set in a culture different from her own, and that contained sophisticated vocabulary many would assume to be well beyond the grasp of a preschooler. When the story concluded, Victoria immediately asked for another: "We need more stories!" Later in the day, she was observed deeply engaged in socio-dramatic play that incorporated elements of the folktale as well as events from her family and school life.

Much could be concluded from this interaction: that re-readings offer unique invitations for meaning making, that children deeply internalize story grammars, and that authentic, richly layered responses to stories flow freely from even the youngest readers. Perhaps the most salient gleaning, in light of this International Focus Issue of Childhood Education, is the fact that children display an almost unquenchable thirst for quality transactions with texts about worlds that are both similar to and different from their own, and that they need caring adults who will facilitate these transactions.

The Power of Stories

The power of stories in the lives of children has been well-documented (Coles, 1990; Paley, 1998; Sipe, 2002). Throughout history, stories have been the mode through which people around the world have preserved cultures, told cautionary tales, and made sense of their life circumstances (Kohl, 1995; Nodelman & Reimer, 2003; Sipe, 2008). Understanding this broad power of literature is particularly important within the current global context (Zeece & Hayes, 2004). Immigration, transcultural families, diverse communities, global conflicts, and the 24-hour broadcast news cycle are all contributing factors that bring children face-to-face with worlds different from, yet entwined with, their own. High-quality literature provides readers with an opportunity to explore, consider, and appreciate these international perspectives from a position that is safe and grounded. As Botelho and Rudman (2009) note, literature provides both a reflective and portal effect; international stories offer not only mirrors with which we can consider our own experiences, but also windows through which we can glimpse the worlds of others and doors that allow travel, even if only vicariously, to new places, contexts, and horizons. …