Senior Lecturer Shih-Wen Sue Chen highlights a range of multicultural picture books that celebrate cultural diversity, focusing on the relationship between the verbal and the visual elements that work together to produce a dynamic story.
Think about the children’s books that you see on the shelves of Australian bookstores. How many of these books provide insight into non-Western cultures? How many are translations?
Multicultural books provide windows into other cultures and introduce readers to new ideas, while helping readers from under-represented groups see themselves reflected in literature.
Image: Shih-Wen Sue Chen
Celebrating Diversity- Multicultural Picture Books with Dr Sue Chen 7-11-2019
*Speakers: Grace Blakeley-Carroll (G), Shih-Wen Sue Chen (S)
*Location: National Library of Australia
G: Good evening everyone. Welcome to the National Library of Australia and to this Event, Celebrating Diversity: Multicultural Picture Books. My name is Grace Blakeley-Carroll and I’m an Exhibitions Officer and the Curator of the Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature exhibition here at the National Library of Australia.
To begin I would like to acknowledge and celebrate the first Australians on whose traditional lands we meet. I had the good fortune of growing up on this beautiful country and like many people joining us here at the Library or perhaps joining us online I have a very special connection to this region and I feel proud to call myself a Canberran. I pay my respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people past, present and emerging for caring for this land we are now privileged to call our home.
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all here to the Library this evening to hear from Dr Shih-Wen Sue Chen. Like me I’m sure many of you are fascinated by the topic of tonight’s event. Australia is one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse countries in the world. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics a quarter of Australians were born overseas and many more have at least one parent who was also born overseas. Adding to this there are more than 300 ethnic groups and more than 300 identified spoken languages in Australia, creating a melting pot of languages, cultures and ethnicities.
There are an increasing number of children growing up in homes where more than one language is spoken and it’s very important that these languages and cultures are represented in children’s literature. Multicultural children’s books can provide windows into other cultures and introduce readers to new ideas while helping children from underrepresented groups see themselves reflected in literature. Here at the National Library we strive to represent Australia’s diversity of languages and cultures in our collections. While the Library’s collections are ever-growing we currently hold children’s books in more than 100 languages.
To tell us more about this topic we are very pleased to welcome Dr Shih-Wen Sue Chen back to the Library to speak to you this evening. Dr Chen is a distinguished scholar and one the Library has been delighted to have as a fellow in the past. Dr Chen received her PhD in literature, screen and theatre studies from the Australian National University and she has extensive experience in teaching literary study and children’s literature at universities across the world.
She has now authored several books and is a senior lecturer in writing and literature at Deakin University. Her research focuses on cross-cultural literary exchange and how texts reflect and shape changing concepts of childhood and youth across cultures. Her main area of expertise is children’s literature and culture in Britain and China from the mid-19th century to the present. Please join me in welcoming Dr Shih-Wen Sue Chen.
S: Thank you, Grace, for your kind introduction and thank you for inviting me to come back to the National Library to share my love of picture books and children’s literature. It’s a great pleasure to be back here. I was here in 2017 as one of the NLA fellows and I had such a wonderful time here so I'm really happy to be back here and to see many familiar faces in the audience.
So Grace already mentioned the idea of children’s literature being windows into other cultures and other worlds and this idea was actually written about by Professor Rudine Sims Bishop in 1997 where she talked about the dual role for multicultural children’s literature. She mentions in this influential article that children’s literature could be a window into other cultures and worlds or a mirror reflecting the reader’s experiences back at them.
Her idea was also picked up by two other scholars, Mendoza and Reese and here I have a quote where they talk about the fact that a child may see his or her own life reflected in a book or he or she may have an opportunity to see into someone else’s life.
Historically children’s books have given European American middle and upper-class children the mirror but not the window. They could see themselves in the stories they read and heard but they were unlikely to see anyone very different from themselves.
So the scholars have argued that while books for children can reflect their circumstances back to them, making it quite easy for them to identify with the protagonist of the story it is also important for children’s literature to include windows into others’ experiences. For children from dominant groups window moments in stories may come when the children realise they hold a powerful place in society and that there’s something unjust about this. So we don’t want to just teach children what they already know, we want to expose them to things that they don’t know.
Katie Cunningham who is Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College has some suggestions for parents and teachers. First, we should acknowledge that every story has mirror and window possibilities. Remind children that we live in a diverse society and arm students with stories where their background is represented in a positive light and where their experiences are validated. It's also important to discuss themes in the stories, to unpack mirror possibilities for all children.
I’m sure most of you will be familiar with the history of multiculturalism in Australia but just a quick recap. So this is an Australian political policy first introduced in the early ‘70s, developed in the late ‘80s, according to John Stevens dismembered through the Howard years but resurrected since and in 2011 the people of Australia, Australia’s multicultural policy was launched and this reaffirms the importance of a culturally diverse and socially cohesive nature.
John Stephens who is a professor of children’s literature at Macquarie University also goes on to talk about Australian children’s fiction since 1972. He says that Australian children’s fiction was constructed either in terms of a narrative which saw Australian culture as moving from society imagined as grounded in the values of a settler culture with British origins to one embracing cultural diversity. Or alternatively as a narrative depicting Australia as already a multicultural society proclaiming the existence of multicultural tendencies long before modern multicultural policy.
So we all acknowledge that diversity is important and that we live in a very diverse society. According to Melinda Lowe who is an author and one of the founders of the We Need Diverse Books campaign diversity is not important, diversity is reality and we should stop erasing that. Why are diverse stories important? According to Maxine Beneba Clarke diversity of story fosters diversity of experience and diversity of empathy.
So if children can feel as if they too are worthy of being written and read about they start to believe that reading and writing can also be for them and by them. So here are some books that you will find – not all of them but some of them you’ll find in the Story Time exhibition. So the children’s book market still has quite a bit to do in terms of providing more diverse books for children. The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has conducted a survey of children’s and young adult books published each year since 1985.
As you can see on the two infographics here there has been some improvement in 2018 compared to 2015 but there’s still quite a lot of work to be done. In 2018 only 1% of books published in the US featured first nations American Indians, 5% Latinx, 7% Asian Pacific Islander or Asian Pacific Americans and 10% African or African Americans.
On one level we can explain this in terms of the market. Many publishers are reluctant to publish narratives with main characters that depart from the dominant identity categories that is straight, white, able-bodied and so on and this is because many believe that these texts featuring so-called ethnic minority or minority groups will only appeal to a small portion of the market and not the mainstream. This means that many readers may see children of their own identity groups reflected only as secondary or peripheral characters and sometimes not at all.
Because children’s texts play such an important part in the education and socialisation of children we need to be concerned about what the state of affairs conveys to children about their identity and therefore where they fit into the world as a result. By and large children’s texts still represent the dominant groups and by dominant group I don't necessarily mean the most numerous group but the group with the most social power.
Here's another infographic that provides an overview of the diversity gap in children’s books published in the 24 years between 1994 and 2017. Here you note that 37% of the people in the US are people of colour but only 13% of books published in the past 24 years contains multicultural content. In terms of authorship only 7% of authors of new children’s books published in 2017 were black, Latino and Native American authors.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’ll point it out here that the mirrors are actually cracked and the researchers emphasise that they deliberately asked for the mirrors to be cracked because, quote, children’s literature continues to misrepresent underrepresented communities and we want this infographic to show not just the low quantity of existing literature but also the inaccuracy and uneven quality of some of these books.
I just want to point out an example of the uneven quality of the multicultural picture books currently on the market. This is a book called My Friend Jamal and my honours student who wrote our thesis on Arabs and picture books pointed this out to me. In this story we have Joseph whose family is originally from Poland and he introduces readers to his friend, Jamal, and his family. On the surface this book seems to celebrate cross-cultural friendship, readers are told that both boys were born in the UK in the same hospital and they have a lot of shared interests. However if we analyse the book more closely we’ll notice some problematic aspects of the text.
For example you can see from this image on the right the Somalian mother requires her son’s help to finish her homework. Joseph says, quote, I think it’s funny for a kid to help his mum. In contrast Joseph is very happy that his mother can help him with his homework. She’s depicted as being very capable.
In terms of the layout on the page we can see that Jamal is standing next to the computer while his mother is sitting down. He’s clearly in the position of authority, teaching his mother about the computer. We compare this with the image of Joseph and his mother on the right where the mother is clearly in the position of authority as she looks over her son’s shoulder to check his reading.
Similarly Joseph can enjoy his grandmother’s visits and savour the sweet chocolate that she brings to him while Jamal had never met his Grandma and can’t visit her because Somalia is, quote, too dangerous for him to go to.
So in this book Somalia is presented as a frightening place. The word, fighting, is repeated four times in the text and the word, dangerous, is repeated twice. Jamal’s grandmother is wearing black as you can see, she’s facing a blue wall and there’s an arched window. We can’t see her face but through the window we see some Somalian people sitting on the ground. The drab colours suggest that she’s feeling very gloomy. This is contrasted with the bright light-hearted depiction of Joseph receiving chocolate from his grandmother. The walls are yellow and orange and outside the window we see a lush green lawn with modern buildings in the background.
Furthermore there’s some information in this book that might be misinterpreted. Joseph states that Jamal’s mum prays in her room at 1:00 and 6:00 however we know that Muslim prayers are performed five times a day and their timing actually varies during the year according to the sun’s movement. So the text presents Somalia as an unfortunate country with no unique culture of its own and it suggest that western countries like the UK where they live will guarantee a child’s happiness and wellbeing.
So this is an example of some of the inaccuracies or uneven quality that we might find in some multicultural picture books that we should be aware of. So because My Friend Jamal was published in the UK I wanted to talk a bit about the situation there. In 2018 only 4% of children’s books published in the UK had a minority ethnic hero. The survey included all new books for children aged between three and 11 and this is a report in The Guardian. However 33.1% of students in UK schools are of ethnic minorities.
The article also talks about some of the issues within these multicultural books that were submitted. First of all there was a significant number of books submitted where the characters were drawn with exaggerated features that amplified their ethnicity in a way that reduced them to caricatures. They also found instances of colourism which means that there was a direct correlation between the skin tone and the virtue of a character. The more virtuous the character the lighter the complexion and vice versa. So even though there are more and more multicultural picture books being published the quality of some of these books could be much better.
What about the situation in Australia? So far I haven’t been able to find similar infographics and statistics about the current publishing situation in Australia but a group of authors, publishers and academics are working on producing similar types of studies. So in May of this year they launched a crowdfunding campaign to count the number of books by first nations writers and writers of colours published in Australia in 2018 so hopefully next year we’ll be able to get a more comprehensive picture of what the book market is like here in Australia.
So the report in The Guardian raised some interesting questions and assumptions about multicultural books. Mendoza and Reese have talked about the assumption that a book is multicultural and worthwhile if it has non-European American characters or themes and is quickly acclaimed in well known journals. They refute this idea by providing some case studies. One of them is the book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky. So on the surface this book presents a message about protecting the environment and so on but they point out that the information provided in this book is historically inaccurate, that the original message was altered and that the book presents stereotypes of native Americans always wearing feathered headdresses, fringed buckskin, that they always ride horses, they live in tepees and so on.
So the book also suggests that Native Americans are somehow closer to nature and that they’re a dying race. So this book won several awards and was used in schools in the US so they want to point out that it’s important to do research into the books, especially if you’re a teacher using it in the classroom. John Stephen also points out that we need to distinguish between weak and robust multiculturalism. So he defines weak multiculturalism as a sort of naïve optimism where the representational strategies are weak and where the perspective and vocalisation is usually located with the principal character from a dominant culture and again if we think about the book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, it is through the perspective of the white American child.
So in contrast robust multiculturalism will integrate different cultural forms, will show a hybridisation of local and global and embraces cultural diversity. He uses the book, Old Magic, to illustrate how robust multiculturalism works. In this story we have an Indonesian grandfather and his Asian Australian grandson, Omar, and they negotiate cultural differences while living in Australia. You can see the image here of the boy, that he is an example of the globalised child. He wears Nike shoes, has a baseball cap on backwards, he wears protective gear for his skateboarding, and has a Walkman and he also plays with a basketball.
In contrast his grandfather is dressed very differently, in very distinctly non-western style of clothing. You can also note the iconic Hills Hoist in the background so we know that they’re in an Australian backyard and a late Victorian cottage is also in the background. What’s interesting here is the tree. The tree is actually drawn using Chinese painting techniques and this is probably because the illustrator is Chinese Australian. Initially Omar tells his grandfather that his cultural practice is outdated, quote, nobody does that anymore. But in the end Omar embraces his cultural heritage and builds an Indonesian dragon kite for his kakek or grandfather. According to Stephens Omar and his grandfather embody extreme cultural diversity and he also notes at the end that the image of the kite in flight represents the healing of the cultural divide.
Something else to be aware of is to avoid tourist multicultural curriculum, especially in the classroom and Louise Derman Sparks defines this as one that disconnects, trivialises or misrepresents ethnic groups by introducing diversity through visiting other cultures, whether through holiday celebrations or exotic images of traditional life. So this might mean that oh you just read a book about Chinese New Year celebrations or Ramadan or think that it’s enough.
In terms of some of the pitfalls in selecting multicultural books for children Mendoza and Reese say that often popular but problematic books are used in the classroom or are read to children, probably because they’re readily available. Some people believe that a single book is adequate and they acknowledge that sometimes the higher quality books might not be as readily available as the popular ones. Another example they write about in their article is on this book called, A Gift from Papa Diego, and of course lots of people are strapped for time so it really does take time to research and look into the high quality multicultural books.
Here are some tips for building a diverse book collection and this is from an article in The Conversation by Helen Joanne Adam. So the first point is to look for books containing various characters of different cultures, race and ethnicities and to really think about whether the characters are doing everyday things. Second, is to find books in which the main characters are of varying cultures, races and ethnicities. Third is to look at the pictures, are the pictures showing people of different backgrounds living everyday lives or are the minority groups only portrayed as being different or special or exotic? Four is very important as well, the story itself has to be interesting to children and it shouldn’t be too preachy and it should stimulate ideas and deep thinking.
Finally, to think about the author and the illustrator. You might know about the OwnVoices hashtag on Twitter where a lot of authors and illustrators are calling out the publishers for not giving them opportunities to get published and so it’s important to look at who the authors and the illustrators are to ensure a diverse range of authors and illustrators from different cultural backgrounds are being featured and chosen.
This is a wonderful resource that you can use to find more multicultural books for children that the National Centre of Australian Children’s Literature has developed. This is the Cultural Diversity Database and it includes 340 titles with wonderful annotations that you can search by author or publisher or illustrator, audience type and keyword and so on. So I encourage you to explore this database.
Next I will talk about bilingual or dual language books, picture books especially and these are produced to encourage second language acquisition, metalinguistic awareness, bilingualism, multiculturalism and of course to promote diversity. One of these books is called Waiting for Mama and this book was first published in 2004 in Korean but the story was first published in 1938 in a newspaper in Korea in the weekly supplement for children and the story did not include any illustrations when it was first published. Subsequently publishers asked Kim Dong-Seong to provide the illustrations and in 2007 the English-Korean bilingual edition and the German-Korean bilingual edition appeared. I believe there is also a French one as well. The book has won several awards including the Korean Children’s Book of the Year Award and the [Buk Sung] 24:36 Publishing Award in 2004.
In order to understand and appreciate this book I think we need to first know a bit more about the background of Korea in 1938. So Korea was occupied by Japanese troops then and Japanese was the official language, Korean was forbidden. People who opposed the Japanese often disappeared. There was a lot of censorship but children’s books and newspapers were not as closely monitored so authors took advantage of the genre of children’s literature to spread the critical messages and one such author is the author of Waiting for Mama, Tae Jun Lee. He was born in 1904, he edited a literature magazine called MunJang and he also served as war correspondent during the Korean War. He later defected to North Korea and disappeared in 1956. Some people think that he was killed by the North Korean Communist Party.
What is the story about? In this story a boy is waiting at a streetcar stop for his mother. He asks the driver, is that my Mama coming? He keeps waiting and waiting and waiting and as each streetcar approaches he asks the driver the same question, is that my Mama coming? The last line of the story is he just stands there patiently with his cold red nose. So what happens? Does he reunite with his mother? If we flip to the last spread we see this. So what do you think? Do you think he’s reunited with his mother? Are there any clues in the illustration? Here I have a closeup with the mother and the child so if you don’t look closely you’ll think that it's a sad, tragic ending but if you look closely it would suggest that it’s a happy ending.
Another thing I want to mention is the significance of snow. So in western culture I think usually snow is associated with cold, harsh winters, perhaps feeling of gloom, depression or maybe even death but in Korea snow has positive connotations so it’s associated with motherhood, beauty and security. So it would seem to suggest that this is a rather happy ending however in an interview the illustrator explains that, quote, so the real world was done in monotone as you can see on the left and the imaginary world in colour as you can see on the right. So that the reunion with the mother could be imaginary or could be [unclear] 27:34 real. I leave it to the readers to decide.
One interesting thing I want to point out is in some English translations of this book the back cover, the dust jacket back cover actually highlights this close-up of the child and the mother to reassure parents or adults buying the book that this book has a happy ending so that actually tells us a lot about different cultural values.
But if we think back to the situation in Korea in the 1930s the story could be interpreted as the author’s critique of the political situation where the boy doesn’t find his mother because his mother has probably been arrested or has gone into hiding. According to the scholar, H S Kwon, quote, the waiting child is a metaphorical expression of Korea longing for independence from Japan so there are many different ways to interpret the story.
Next I’d like to talk about Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village. This is a book published originally in Taiwan and the English translation was published in 2015. So the author’s Taiwanese and the illustrator of this edition is German and the story is based on the author’s personal experience of losing her mother in the year 2000 and her son’s words of comfort. So in the story we have the son and the mother visiting the grandmother and the son knows that his grandmother is very ill and is probably going to pass away.
What I want to highlight is the illustrations in the original version, they’re very different from the illustrations by the German illustrator. So the original version was published in 2007 and illustrated by a Taiwanese illustrator, [Jaebing Ru] 29:32. There are some slight changes in terms of the name of the protagonist and also one of the neighbours was a granny but became an auntie but I just want to highlight the difference in aesthetics in the two versions. So you can see the German illustrator decided to use a more photorealistic technique and use very sombre colours, darker colours to indicate that this is a sad story whereas the Taiwanese illustrator actually used quite bright colours. The illustrations are less photorealistic and you can see here it’s quite different if you just look at the illustrations without reading the words. This is towards the end where they’re heading home after the visit with the grandmother.
Finally the boy tells his mother to please stay and not join his grandmother in Perfume Village and the original edition of the book has these origami paper cranes flying out the window, again very bright, happy colours compared to the 2015 edition. So it’s very interesting that the same text, the same written text can be interpreted by the illustrator in different ways and perhaps this has to do with the illustrator’s own personal aesthetic, perhaps it has to do with their cultural background but I think it’s quite important to actually compare these different editions.
Moving on, let’s look at a book called Big Red Lollipop published in 2010. The author is Rukhsana Khan and the illustrator is Sophie Blackall. So this story according to the author is based on her own experience and she moved to Canada from Pakistan when she was three years old. In the story we read about a young girl named Rubina who has two younger sisters. One day Rubina is invited to her first ever birthday party. She’s very excited to go to the party until her mother forces her to bring her younger sister, Sana, along. She tells her mother, quote, they don’t do that here but the mother doesn’t understand. She says in Pakistan basically if one family member is invited the other family members can come along.
So Rubina’s very worried that she won’t get any more invitations in the future if she brings her sister along but she reluctantly does so and the two girls, they get some red lollipops to bring home. Sana’s very happy and excited to eat her lollipop and finishes it very quickly but her sister, Rubina, decides to save it for the next day. Obviously we know what happens, Sana can’t resist and eats her sister’s lollipop as well. A few days later or some time later Sana gets an invitation to a birthday party herself and she’s super-excited to go. The mother tells her you have to bring your younger sister, Miriam, along. She doesn’t want to, of course. Rubina decides to persuade her mother to allow Sana to go alone and when Sana comes back from the party she brings her sister a green lollipop.
So what’s interesting here is that the last sentence is after that we were friends. The use of colour I think is important to note so the significance of the colour green in Islamic culture and western culture is invoked in this book so we notice at the beginning that they’re arguing over a red lollipop and of course we know that in western culture red implies anger, conflict, stop. Green on the other hand is more calming, close to nature, it means go as well but in Islamic culture green also is the colour of peace and holiness. So this suggests that the two sisters are reconciled in the end.
According to a scholar, Gretchen [Papasan] 33:59, quote, the shift from red to green invokes the triumph of an Islamic sense of moral righteousness over an Islamic understanding of primitive behaviour while it simultaneously marks the behaviour in the textual moment as a western green light or go, resolving the text’s initial red light lollipop stop conflict. So I think this story is one that many readers can identify with regardless of cultural background but it also provides a window into Pakistani culture as well.
Next I’d like to talk about Black is Brown is Tan published originally in 1973 and reissued with new illustrations in 2002. This is a beautiful book of poetry about a biracial family and here you can have a taste of it. Black is brown, is tan, is girl, is boy, is nose, is face, is all the colours of the race. The family is depicted as a very loving family and the book celebrates diverse families. In terms of layout if you flip through the book you’ll notice that the different members of the family are featured equally in the illustrations. One scholar notes that no single character is always placed at the centre or the foreground meaning that the characters take turns being placed in positions of visual prominence and power. This careful placement suggests that no age, gender or skin colour is more or less important than the other.
Another book about race and acceptance of different races is The Skin You Live In published in 2005 and on the right you can see that the reader is told to look at the shades it comes in, the shades of your colourful skin. If you can note there the word, shades, is actually rendered in skin-coloured browns while the word, colourful, in rainbow colours. [Papasan] also notes that this is quite significant in terms of choosing the word, shades, over colours because colour suggests different categories whereas shades implies a range or a continuum. So the book gives the message that regardless of one’s skin colour, skin tone, everyone is valued equally and everyone should understand their own value regardless of what they look like.
Finally I’d like to highlight two of the books that you can see in the Story Time exhibit. The first one is The Little Refugee by Anh Do and his wife, Suzanne Do and illustrated by Bruce Whatley. So I think most of you are familiar with the story but for those of you who aren’t I’ll do a bit of introduction. So this is the autobiographical story of Anh Do and his family fled Vietnam when he was three years old after two of his uncles were on the losing side of the war, they escaped from a Communist concentration camp. Although Anh Do was only a toddler at the time he grew up hearing stories about the escape and he says that it has strongly influenced his approach to life.
So he arrived in Australia in August of 1980. He studied law at university before becoming a comedian and his story suggests a very positive migrant experience and of Australia. The Little Refugee won several awards and if we look closely at the cover, paying attention to the written text as well as the illustration, we get a lot of hints about what the story is going to be about. The cover notes that this is the inspiring true story of the happiest refugee. So the implication is that the boy on the cover is the happiest refugee when he grows up and you can see the boy on the cover, his posture is quite similar to the photograph of Anh Do in the middle. The boy looks as if he’s doing an act, that he’s a comedian and of course we knew that Anh Do grows up to be a comedian. His book, The Happiest Refugee, was published in 2010, the picture book was published in 2011.
So while many children reading this book might not know who Anh Do is but the adults who buy the book probably know him. So publishers and authors are very careful to make sure that picture books are attractive to adults as well as children and actually this kind of idea shapes the kinds of picture books that we get. They have to align with what adults find interesting or important and be in a form that adults think children will like. The book is divided into two sections. The first part deals with the trip to Australia and the second deals with the experiences of Anh Do’s family after they arrive in Australia.
This division is established not only by the plot but also by the shifting artistic styles. You can see here from the two spreads that there’s a distinct change in the style of drawing as well as the colours used. So the sepia tones used in the picture of Vietnam suggests that it is an old place and in the text it says it’s a crazy place, strange food, snakes in bottles, five people squashed onto the back of a little motorbike. In contrast we have the image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and the colours used are yellows and pinks and this suggests a sunrise which symbolises the idea that the family is looking towards a very promising future in this new home.
The Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, they stand for prosperity, promise, architectural feats, modernity, culture and of course Australia. So Australia is represented as being a very welcoming country and Australians in the story are very generous. So Anh Do tells the story of overcoming difficulties to succeed in school and the final pages show his parents happily clapping for him as he is announced as the captain.
Finally for slightly older readers we have Shaun Tan’s, The Arrival. So like The Little Refugee it tells the story of migration. Like Anh Do the protagonist of the story also travels to a faraway place by boat however it is also a wordless picture book that uses monochromatic and sepia tones throughout. Tan based many of the images on photographs of the immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island. He was also inspired by his father’s story of coming to Australia from Malaysia in 1960 and the book highlights the loneliness and isolation that many immigrants feel when they first arrive in a new country. It also uses surreal illustrations to convey how barriers in language and cultural practices can make one feel like an alien in a strange land but the book also provides a sense of hope. The man eventually finds a place to live, lands a job and makes new friends. In the story we also see how his new friends came to this new country as they tell him their own stories.
Eventually he’s reunited with his wife and little girl. The book ends on a hopeful note with the protagonist’s daughter helping a new immigrant to find her way around the city.
So if you're interested in more multicultural picture books I’ve created a [pad] 41:05 with a list of recommended translated picture books and dual language books. The URL is here and if you’re interested you can click through and find out some more recommended texts and I encourage you to also contribute to this list as well.
So I hope my talk has inspired you to find out more and explore more about multicultural picture books and provided you with some windows into different cultures and if you haven’t checked out the wonderful Story Time exhibition upstairs please find time to take a look, it’s wonderful. I’ve had a quick look before the talk but I’m definitely going back and looking at all the treasures there. Thank you.
G: Please join me in thanking Dr Chen for that wonderful insight into the diverse language of picture books.
End of recording