A comment in an online forum led me to this BBC Radio 4 episode – A World Beyond Alice.
This was a fascinating documentary about the dominance of English-language publishing for children’s books, touching on the differences between marketing and publishing structures in different parts of the world, historical influences on publishing for children (apparently English-language publishing houses led the development of publishing for children, so the whole arena began in an English-centric environment), and even what would in Australia be termed the ‘cultural cringe‘: an assumption that one’s native language works were somehow not quite good enough for the international market.
I am planning to listen to this program again, and in the meantime have been doing some research. I have heard of IBBY , The International Board on Books for Young People before, and their biennial round-up of great children’s literature from around the world is wonderful, but why is it so hard to find material written from and about other cultures? Is it the cost of translating work into another language – a similar economic barrier to that of creating audio books? Is it the lingering tentacles of the late dominance of the British Empire? There are very few (if any) schools in Australia that do not have children who are either recent immigrants or the offspring of migrant families – are they not being marginalised by not having a variety of cultures (including that of their families or ancestors) represented in reading materials in our libraries? This is separate from the complex and emotionally-explosive issues surrounding literature by the Indigenous Australian peoples, but perhaps there are parallels to be drawn…
Going back to the radio program that inspired this post, there is much that books born of other cultures can teach our children. The sight and sound of different landscapes and environments, the rhythms of different ways of life, the love and importance of families expressed in different customs. To use a very Asian saying, people all over the world are “same-same but different”, and experiencing the stories of other cultures through literature is one way we can help our children understand this fundamental truth of humanity.
Image courtesy of Pixabay