I mentioned on Wednesday how I’ve learned the reason why I don’t review children’s books, I’m going to expand on that today and you’ll look at children’s picture books in a whole new light. Over Trimester 3, some people refer to it as the summer semester, I’ve been working on Literature for Children and Young Adults. The learning is pretty awesome, I’ve been having such fun but every time my teacher opened her mouth I realised how little I know about children’s books and exactly why I was right not to scribble words about them or even review them. We were looking at two books: The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do and; Into the Forest by Anthony Browne.
In this class we’re taught to look beyond the surface. The Little Refugee looks to be promoting multiculturalism, understanding and tolerance for people who don’t quite fit in. Underneath this, however, is a more passive message. This book illustrates the binaries of ‘us and them’ and reinforces the messages that refugees come from poor countries and that everything is perfect just by entering our country. It reinforces the feeling we have that any refugees should fit in by having the same food and not eating their own cuisine. I.e. assimilation rather than integration. Do talks about being looked down upon because his clothing is different and his food is different, even mentions it later on as being a negative ‘smelly food’. Don’t get me wrong, Do is an amazing person but I think he lost track of what this book was doing during the creation process. I still love the book, therefore I’ve linked to it so you can buy it if you wish.
Have a look at this front cover and tell me what you see. You might want to open it in a new tab or window and make it bigger.
What do you actually see here? I want you to look beyond the monochromic texture of the trees and leaves. The fact that the leaves are on the ground does lead to the weather cooling down. The branches heading out almost horizontally do look very sharp, like they could cause damage. Have a closer look at the two big trees on either side of the boy. Don’t forget to notice this is a boy carrying the basket of goodies and it’s a post-modern Little Red Riding Hood. If you look on the right of the tree at the right you’ll see an apple. Apples are a motif in some fairy stories. Then look left at the other tree, but to its left this time. I see a frog, maybe from the Princess and the Frog. Now back to the right but past the big tree and I see a castle and a glass coffin with a figure inside. Maybe the castle is for Rapunzel and the coffin contains Snow White. Before this class all I would have seen is a cute story about a boy missing his father, I would not have seen the passive story in there that fairy tales are spooky.
The fact that we had to look at the pictures to see if they were framed, where they were sitting on the page in relation to everything else, look at the gaps in the narrative when we turn the pages, as well as the colours and the expressions on their faces, all of this just proves to me why I’ve been right in not reviewing children’s books.