When PaperTigers’ book reviewer Abigail Sawyer mentioned to me that she is going to be hosting a Blog Carnival about bilingualism over at Speaking in Tongues, she got me thinking. Again. I first started mulling over bilingual children’s books here in relation to Tulika Books, a publisher in India that produces bilingual books in many different Indian languages alongside English, and to former IBBY Preisdent and founder of Groundwood Books Patsy Aldana’s comments in an interview with PaperTigers, and I will quote them again here:
I have always been opposed to the use of bilingual books, however given that Spanish-only books hardly sell at all, I have had to accept that books in Spanish can only reach Latinos if they are bilingual. This goes against everything I believe and know to be true about language instruction, the joy of reading in your mother tongue…
I was surprised by Aldana’s dislike of bilingual books because I love them and my children love them, and I have found that they can be a joy for inquisitive children seeking to learn independently – but I do realise that our contexts are different. Aldana’s dislike of them seems to stem from their being a substitute for monolingual Spanish books in an English-biased market, and she has found a pragmatic way of providing books in their mother-tongue to the Latino community in North America.
We love reading bilingual books because, although our main vehicle is the English, having another language running alongside, often enhances the reading experience for us, especially where the setting of the story is culturally appropriate to the language. This is true even when we can’t read the script, because even without being able to understand it, we can sometimes pull out certain consistencies. Seeing the writing always provides a glimpse of that different culture.
One of my favorite books of the last few year’s is Jorge Luján’s Tarde de invierno/ Winter Afternoon, published by Groundwood Books – and without the original Spanish and the English lying alongside eachother, we would not have been able to appreciate so fully the simply gorgeous animation Jorge and his family produced of the book (watch it here). Some authors like Yuyi Morales effortlessly slide between English and Spanish (we love her delightful Señor Calavera and Grandma Beetle books, Just a Minute and Just in Case). Some books provide a parallel experience of language, like Demi’s Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake or Ed Young’s Beyond the Great Mountains. None of these books is truly bilingual, in that they do not provide a similar reading experience regardless of which of the two languages you approach the story from – but they all offer a bridge between languages and cultures that is not to be understimated.
It would be very interesting to hear about the experiences and needs of truly bilingual parents and children. If you are bringing up bilingual children or have bilingual children in your class, do you or they seek out bilingual books? Are you frustrated by what’s out there – and what’s not? Do you have any special recommendations? We’d love to hear from you. And do go and take a look at the Speaking in Tongues Carnival.