Reading the World Challenge 2011 – Update 4, wrapping it up

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

So, 2012 is now rolling and it’s time to wrap up our Reading the World Challenge for 2011

So did we complete it – yes, by the skin of our teeth! Older Brother spent a couple of hours on Saturday finishing off Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (The Young Reader’s Edition adapted by Sarah Thomson, Puffin Books, 2009). It was clear that it had a profound effect on him by the way, all the way through reading it, he would tell us about different parts of the book at mealtimes; and he was much struck by the interview with Mortenson’s daughter Amira and her involvement in the project.

The other two books he read to complete the Challenge were Secret Heart by David Almond; and Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Lee & Low Books, 2008). He was moved by both of them. Secret Heart was ultimately uplifting but Bird made him “really sad”. When I asked what it made him think about drugs, he said, “I don’t know how to explain or describe it, but NO!” A fairly incoherent but nevertheless eloquent response.

Younger Brother combined his local and non-fiction criteria into one book, The Dinosaur Coast by Roger Osborne and Alistair Bowden, and published by the North York Moors National Park Authority (2000). For his poetry book, we have read together Where the Steps Were by Andrea Cheng (Wordsong, 2008). I have blogged about this wonderful book before – suffice to say here that Little Brother was captivated. In general, he is very much drawn to the conciseness of poetry, and he became very caught up in the narrative here – the blend of history, the relevance of that history to the children, and the children’s individual concerns. He managed to keep tabs on each child’s voice much better than I did!

Our last two books for reading all together were Children of the World by Anthony Asael and Stéphanie Rabemiafara (Art in All of Us / Universe Publishing, 2011) and the third of Susanne Gervay’s Jack Books, Always Jack (HarperCollins Australia, 2010).

We have so enjoyed dipping into Children of the World, which was PaperTigers’ Book of the Month in November. We have looked up countries at random, picked countries out of the air, looked through for places we’ve never heard of – and in all cases, the boys have found the pictures and poetry written mostly by children around their age to be inspirational. We’ve also had some interesting discussions about making generalisations, particularly arising from the last two of the three sentences under the title banner – “We eat…”, and “We play…”, and particularly with reference to the UK pages!

Always Jack was another great read. We loved the previous two books in the series, especially I Am Jack, so our expectations were high and we were not disappointed. Jack himself is, as ever, a well-rounded blend of confidence and insecurity, determined to get the last word with one of his (usually) funny jokes. Several highly charged themes run through the book, including cancer (Jack’s mother), dementia (his Nan), and the Vietnam War (through Jack and his best friend Christopher’s joint school project into their family histories). The book made us laugh; it made us sad (and me cry); and it made us think. Both my boys empathised with Jack every step of the way and were delighted when his Mum’s wedding to Rob went ahead – not only because it meant she had won that particular battle against cancer, but also becasue it signified an end to all that mum, sister and best-friend Anna stuff of taking months to decide what to wear etc! Always Jack is an enjoyable, easy read and the book will be a very useful tool to give to children who may be going through similar experiences in their families. It also highlights the importance of keeping the channels of communication open, in the case of illness in a family, or indeed of creating those channels between generations in the first place. In Always Jack, Christopher’s parents had never before spoken to him about their journey from Vietnam for a new home in Australia; for his mother especially it had been too traumatic. Jack himself did not know the story behind his grandfather’s medals. By entrusting these stories to the younger generation, family ties were tightened and wounds had a chance to heal. So yes, Susanne has done it again. All three of us wholeheartedly recommend Always Jack and just wish there could be more.

And what about other participants in the Challenge? Sandhya over at My Handful of the Sky has completed it, both on her own account and with her daughter. You can follow links to her posts on all the books they read in her round-up post here – definitely worth delving into.

If you took part in the Challenge, do let us know how you got on, if you haven’t already – and look out for the post (imminent) for the PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge 2012.

Poetry Friday: Art – and Poetry – in All of Us

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Our Book of the Month for November is Children of the World (Art in All of Us / Universe Publishing, 2011), a superbly presented tour of the world through the eyes of children from each of the 192 countries featured. The book’s compilers, photographers Anthony Asael and Stéphanie Rabemiafara, visited schools as a project within their Art in All of Us non-profit organisation, and this resulting book features their own stunning photographs and a breath-taking array of children’s artwork and poetry.

All the poems are shown in their original, often hand-written presentation, with a typed English translation/transcription. They offer insight into the culture and major landmarks etc. of each country, and the children’s love for and pride in their homelands shines through. As I said in my recent review, “The poems especially offer amazing potential for empathy and peace – particularly when comparing the children’s voices with political concerns and conflict around the globe.” You can read the whole review here – I just want to highlight a few quotations from the poetry for this week’s Poetry Friday, turning to pages pretty much at random, because it’s so hard to choose…:

Bagirova Nilufar, aged 10, writing about Azerbaijan:

Our motherland is like a mother to us
Our mother is like motherland to us
Both are venerable
For the love of Azerbaijan

When there are no battles
The people is happy
When there are no battles
everyone is delighted […]

Pierrre Bréchel Chéry, aged 10, writing about Haiti:

[…] I shall always return to your feet
Even when I go very far away
To come and praise
The sweetness of your plains.

Dear Haiti I love you
Your fresh mountains
Sweetening our nights […]

Shi Yong, aged 9, about Malaysia:

[…]Food in Malaysia is very delicious,
Some food is nutritious.
Satay, nasi lemak, curry noodles, and curry fishes,
These are the most popular dishes. […]

Marie Williams, 13, writing about Vanuatu:

Vanuatu, the Untouched Paradise

Vanuatu is one of the countries in the Pacific Islands
The islands are green as a frog
There is no war and starvation
People live peacefully,
you can hear laughter of children
And a friendly smile from people
Everywhere you go.
We claim ourselves to be Ni-Vans with black skin
And have strong and healthy bodies
That’s why we keep our tradition and culture alive.
Vanuatu, we will never give up on you
Like in our motto it says, “In God we stand.”

Children of the World is a joyous tribute to the world’s children and makes inspring reading, both for children and indeed adults.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids – head on over…

Week-end Book Review: Children of the World: How We Live, Learn, and Play in Poems, Drawings and Photographs, by Anthony Asael and Stéphanie Rabemiafara

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Anthony Asael and Stéphanie Rabemiafara,
Children of the World: How We Live, Learn, and Play in Poems, Drawings and Photographs
Art in All of Us / Universe Publishing, 2011.


Ages: 8+

Brussels-born Anthony Asael and Madagascar-born Stéphanie Rabemiafara spent 1,464 days travelling some 385,000 miles around the globe between 2005 and 2009 to capture the photographs for this superbly presented book of children from all 192 United Nations member countries. Supported by UNICEF, they took their project Art in All of Us into primary schools – and here, in Children of the World, we are offered a glimpse of each country through the eyes of its children, as well as the stunning and varied photographic portraits.

Arranged in alphabetical order, each double-page entry features a banner proclaiming the country’s name, with a map highlighting its location in its relevant continent. Underneath, three unobtrusive sentences provide young readers with an encapsulated overview: “We speak…”, “We eat…” “We play…”. The main features of that left-hand page are the striking picture and poem by children offering insight into their homeland. With the poem shown in both its original presentation, often complete with embellishments, and with an English translation/transcript, comparison of the many different scripts and hand-writing makes absorbing reading.

Meanwhile, a full-bleed photograph fills the right-hand page. Some of these are simply breath-taking; all of them are striking. Children engage with the camera smiling frankly or are oblivious of it, caught up in their own activities. They are shown alone or with friends. Two Malaysian boys play exuberantly in the crystal-clear water under houses on stilts (and I defy readers not to wish they were there too); a little further on, a small Moroccan girl grins at the camera with just a touch of shyness.

The book’s template allows both similarities and differences to shine through. The similarities are to be found in the open, smiling faces of the children, and in the love of and pride in their countries that emerge in their words and drawings; and the differences are exactly there too. What a wonderful celebration of the diversity of color and life to be found on our planet. The poems especially offer amazing potential for empathy and peace – particularly when comparing the children’s voices with political concerns and conflict around the globe.

Despite the formula of the Art in All of Us project being repeated in each country, there is nothing formulaic about its results. Children of the World is a superlative book that has the potential to provoke curiosity and a deepened awareness of our shared humanity, among children everywhere. As a powerful learning tool and as a book that exudes sheer joy, it begs to be shared at home, and it should certainly have a prominent place in every school library.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2011