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
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.
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.