Seeking Global Perspectives in Traditional Literature Picture Books: Part 1

My Village: Rhymes from around the World

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University

In addition to informational books and Web sites, school and public librarians and classroom teachers who are looking to provide children with global perspectives often turn to traditional literature. The fairy and folktales, myths, and fables of a people provide “insights into the underlying values and beliefs of particular cultural groups” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 108). These stories that have their origin in the oral tradition carry cultural markers that offer readers and story listeners opportunities to learn about and compare other worldviews to their own.

For many years, these stories were predominantly published in collections, many of which were illustrated with a simple line drawing or two if they were illustrated at all. Storytellers who were looking to build their repertoire read lots and lots of stories in order to find the one or two in a volume that spoke to them. However, today, many of the most popular, oft-told, and well-received traditional stories are published in a picture book format. This is a benefit to both young readers and storytellers, too.

Traditional literature has another advantage for members of our online storytelling class. Fairy and folktales, which are shelved in the 398.2 section of the library, are in the public domain meaning no one owns the copyright to these stories. When we want to provide 24/7 digital resources, storytellers can use this body of literature as a basis for developing a story repertoire that can be told, recorded, and shared without restriction in the online environment as well as a face-to-face setting.

Well-conceived traditional literature picture books have the added feature of providing visual information about the cultures represented in these stories. Cultural-insider illustrators and those who conduct careful research can add richness to these stories that can attract visually oriented 21st-century children. With a wide-array of media, illustrators of traditional literature help the authors who retell these stories reach new audiences.

On the WOW Currents this month, graduate students in LS5633: The Art of Storytelling and I will discuss four traditional literature picture books that we are considering for their appropriateness for oral retelling in public and school library storytime and classroom settings. Eighteen students in our course of twenty-three this semester are studying to serve as early childhood and family literacy public librarians so they are especially focused on exploring how these traditional picture books can meet the needs of a preschool audience.

There are several differences between classroom story reading or oral storytelling and reading and telling in the public or school library setting. In the classroom, teachers often share individual books or stories with students rather than positioning that story in the context of a “program.” In libraries, stories are combined with songs, fingerplays and other movement activities, and more. The storytime program is often thematic in nature. Public library story times will also have an adult as well as a child audience, which is not normally the case in the classroom or school library setting.

Integrating traditional music, songs, and rhymes from the particular culture represented in a traditional literature picture book is one way to enrich children’s cultural experience in a “storytime” program. To stay with our picture book focus, My Village: Rhymes from Around the World can be a resource for storytellers who are developing programs. These rhymes were collected by Danielle Wright from people representing twenty-two different cultures. In the introduction to the book, Michael Rosen tells readers that nursery rhymes can be “fragments of longer songs and ballads, some are rhymes that were probably oral jingles of chants that people sang or said to their children, a small group are carefully composed little poems with known authors, and some are songs that always accompanied dancing or actions of some kind” (p. 6).

In this collection, the rhymes are presented in their language of origin as well as in English. The acknowledgements at the back of the book credit the person or organization that provided the poem and/or the translation. One strength of this collection is the authenticity that was achieved through the contributions of these cultural insiders. Another strength is the diversity of the cultures represented. From Iran to Iceland and Samoa to Switzerland, storytellers will find lively rhymes to enhance their storytimes and engage story listeners in chanting and movement activities as well. Mique Moriuchi contributes the child-friendly illustrations which are rendered in paint and collage and add texture to the pages of this book.

As we explore four folktale picture books over the next four weeks, I hope blog readers will think about how to integrate additional cultural information into storytimes in which each picture book is the main text. Our goal is to use this literature to broaden the global perspectives of our story listeners. Other questions we can ponder are the advantages or disadvantages in sharing each of these stories in picture book format as compared with purely oral retelling. Are the illustrations culturally authentic and what do they add to the story? What different kinds of images might story listeners paint in their minds if they are hearing the story without seeing any visual information? Or are there other visuals, such as flannel boards or puppets, that may be used in communicating the meaning and adding to the listeners’ enjoyment of the story?

Students in The Art of Storytelling have read and shared personal responses and connections to the next four titles in literature circles within our online course management tool. In addition to personal responses to these titles, we will share our wonderings as storytellers who seek to share these traditional stories with preschool and primary-age children in a storytime or classroom setting and in the online environment, too. We are also interested in how these titles share global perspectives. We invite you to join in the conversation.

Works Cited

Short, Kathy G., Carol Lynch-Brown, and Carl M. Tomlinson. Essentials of Children’s Literature. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.

Wright, Danielle. Ed. My Village: Rhymes from Around the World. London: Frances Lincoln, 2010. Print.

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