Pearls of Meaning: Preschool Children Respond to Multicultural Picturebooks

By Chen, Xiufang; Browne, Susan | New Waves, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Pearls of Meaning: Preschool Children Respond to Multicultural Picturebooks


Chen, Xiufang, Browne, Susan, New Waves


The picture book is like a string of pearls, where the pearls symbolize the illustrations, and the string symbolizes the verbal text (Cooney, 1998).

Introduction

The population of elementary and secondary school students continues to grow more diverse each year, and according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2014), approximately 48 percent of school-age children are students of color, almost 21 percent live in poverty, and approximately 10 percent are English language learners. In contrast, about 85 percent of the teaching force is White, middle class and monolingual, resulting in what is known as a "cultural mismatch." The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in their 2009 Quality Benchmark for Cultural Competence Project reports that for the "optimal development and learning of all children, educators must accept the legitimacy of children's home language, respect the home culture, promote, and encourage the active involvement and support of all families, including extended and nontraditional family units" (1995, p. 2). The commonalities among diverse groups can best be examined through close examination of differences. Literature offers a range of opportunities for engagement with cultural differences. Careful consideration should be given to books used with young children for the ideas they reflect and the possibilities of those ideas. Reading a picture book to a young child requires some mindfulness with regard to the potential of the reading and how the text and illustrations might shape meaning of people and circumstances encountered. Early exposure to quality multicultural literature allows children from diverse backgrounds to see themselves in texts. It provides opportunities for cross-cultural empathy by allowing children to step away from a self-centered approach of interpreting their encounters to consider other's beliefs and values. As students learn about diversity, they may develop an appreciation for others and gain a broad view of their country and the world (Au, 2011). An early literacy pedagogy that incorporates multicultural literature has the potential to empower young children with knowledge of their world as they acquire reading, writing and speaking behaviors.

This research involves reading multicultural "picturebooks" to children enrolled in a university early childhood developmental center. We use the compound word of "picturebooks" to emphasize "the union of text and art that results in something beyond what each form separately contributes" (Wolfenbarger & Sipe, 2007, p. 273). A picturebook is not simply a book that happens to have pictures. A picturebook is, in fact, a book in which written text and illustrations interact while each has a conscious aesthetic intention (Arizpe & Styles, 2003).

Multicultural Picturebooks in Nurturing Preschool Students' Awareness of Others

Rochman (1993) explains the overall purpose of multicultural literature:

A good book can help to break down [barriers]. Books can make a difference in dispelling prejudice and building community: not with role models and literal recipes, not with noble messages about the human family, but with enthralling stories that make us imagine the lives of others. A good story lets you know people as individuals in all their particularity and conflict; and once you see someone as a person - flawed, complex, striving - then you've reached beyond stereotype. Stories, writing them, telling them, sharing them, transforming them, enrich us and connect us and help us know each other (P. 19).

Thus, students should read and/or be read books that not only reflect their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds but also the diverse reality of this world we live in. "A rich literature diet provides variety- traditions and experiences that are both familiar and strange, characters that look like ourselves and others, and ideas that challenge and comfort." (Bultler, 2006, p. …

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