Renowned throughout the world as the founding head of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Genghis Khan’s legacy as “the first children’s writer” is perhaps generally less well-known. But the strong oral tradition in Mongolia means that many of his stories are still told today, and some can now also be read in English, thanks to a fine anthology of Mongolian Folktales published recently.
According to the National Library of Mongolia, at one time Mongolia’s “most popular slogan was ‘Everything for children’” and in 2003 the library opened its Book Palace for Children in Ulaanbaatar, which does indeed seem to provide everything in the way of books a young visitor to the Library could possibly desire. Meanwhile, author and publisher Dashdondog Jamba has spent his whole life ensuring that children in Mongolia have access to stories and the written word, taking his mobile library out to the remotest areas of the country, first by camel and oxen, more recently by truck. You can read his account of one of his journeys here.
Many children’s stories from and about Mongolia reflect its place in world history. The cultural heritage of those times remains strongly evident today, especially when you look beyond the urban areas towards the vast grassland steppe that consitutes most of Mongolia’s geography. This means that picture books with a contemoporary setting and the retellings of traditional stories merge to offer insight into each other that is relevant to today’s young readers, wherever they come from.
The list of books given below is not long, and I’m sure there are others to be found: but in the meantime, all of these are enriching and worth seeking out.
Bolormaa Baasansuren, adapted by Helen Mixter,
My Little Roundhouse
Groundwood Books, 2009.
A delightful picture book, which brings the nomadic life of a Mongolian community to life through the eyes of one-year-old Jilu, who shares his experiences of all the roundness in his life, from the ger that is his home to the encircling love that enfolds him. There’s plenty here for young children to contrast and compare with in their own lives. My Little Roundhouse was selected as part of the 2010 Spirit of PaperTigers book set.
Marshall Cavendish Children, 2008.
Marco Polo’s adventurous life is relayed through compact text and sumptuous illustrations bursting out of borders that reflect the rich patterns and brocades of the Silk Route. We read about his many years working under Kublai Khan and the sceptiscism of his fellow countrymen back in Venice. A beautifully depicted map shows the extent of his Travels.
Chingis Khan/Genghis Khan
Henty Holt and Company, 1991/Marshall Cavendish 2008.
Originally published as Chingis Khan in 1991, this classic title has recently been reissued as a Marshall Cavendish Classic with the slightly differently spelled title Genghis Khan.
A picture book biography (more…)