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A good book, but a few odd choices
on June 10, 2012
This book is an eye-opening, conversation starter for children ages 8 and up, as well as teens and adults.
Here's what I love about it:
-Many of the photos are both beautiful and sad; some are haunting, and you will be changed after studying them.
-There's much food for thought here about the influence that ethnic group, socioeconomic status, family and community politics, and similar factors have on both a child's actual, physical place in the world and his/her perception of her place in the world. The book doesn't preach, but sparks much wonder.
-The book does not imply that materialism equals happiness. There's much for our children to be thankful for after reading this book, but without suggesting that children living in less modern locales, or with fewer toys and wealth are somehow "less than" themselves. In fact, this book led a young child I know to wonder aloud if both extreme poverty and extreme wealth might be challenging for children, in different ways.
-Here, there are also paths to be traveled when considering our own beliefs about personal space and the child's role in the family and community. There is an underlying theme of parents trying hard to do what they hope is best for their children.
A few things I wish were different about the book:
-The choice of locales is odd and somewhat lacking. The author's travel budget was limited, and it shows. For example, we meet eight children from Nepal, yet none from India. Many parts of the world were skipped altogether, including Australia, the Pacific Islands, and islands of the Caribbean, as well as most very cold climates.
Three of five children representing Europe were are from Italy, with the the other two from England and Scotland. In the US, we meet a whopping 12 kids, but eight of them are from New York or New Jersey and three from Kentucky. While I can see the advantage of showing contrast within one area (such as poverty and prosperity in the same city) at times it seemed obvious that the author's access to children in other areas was limited.
-The photos seem to perpetuate stereotypes in a few cases. For example, the ONLY children in the US living outside New York and New Jersey are a camo-clad, gun-toting deer hunter, a make-up clad little pageant princess, and an child living in an Appalachian shack (all in Kentucky) and a young man at a rustic-looking boarding school for obese kids in North Carolina. While these may be honest depictions of these children's actual lives, readers in other countries could easily be lead to believe that extreme stereotypes of the American South are reality for all children living away from the east coast.
It made me wonder about generalizations my own children might form about other countries. Based on the extremes captured by the book, one might deduce that most Japanese children are coddled dolls, while most children in Great Britain are punks or antisocial misfits. The book is an eye-opener because of the extremes, but you found yourself wondering, "Are there any ordinary, average, healthy children anywhere?" Might younger readers answer that question with "Nowhere but here."? (Not the author's intent, I'm sure!)
-Some photos sometimes show children's belongings spread out across the floor and/or beds of their rooms. I understand the photographer's intent here, but think it could be confusing to young readers. For example, does the child who competes in karate really have a floor so crammed with trophies that she cannot reach her bed? If the book is to be a tool for learning about other cultures, I would have preferred the photos to be true captures of the child's room as it is, without much "artistic arrangement" from the photographer.
-Some photos are very dark - almost too dark to see. In a few cases, it represents a lack of natural or electric lighting - it really is dark in this child's room. In a few others, it just seems that someone opted not to turn on the lights. Why? The reader must strain to try to interpret details.
In summary, it is a fascinating and visually striking book that will leave readers changed. Glanced through or poured over, it will open eyes and raise questions.
It often benefits - and occassionally suffers - from the extremes depicted by the subject matter.
There are a breathtaking number of "sparks" for contemplation, discussion, research, and writing within these covers, and even the book's weaknesses can be used as strengths, such as encouraging children to research "forgotten" countries, or challenging children to debate about stereotypes.
This is a book that can grow with the reader. A nine-year-old may find herself pondering the fact that some children struggle to get enough to eat, while others never give thought to where their meals come from. A nineteen-year-old may find herself wondering what her own world view might be is she were the younger sister of a suicide bomber, as is one of the children from the West Bank.
Highly recommended for older kids, teens, and adults.