Saturday, December 12, 2009

How I became disillusioned by a children's book.

I was in Barnes and Noble tonight for an exceedingly long time, as my child played with his friend and I chatted with the friend's mom. We were having a good time, talking and browsing, and looking over the books that we'd read as children. As we looked, I came across The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett. The cover illustration reminded me of the book, Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve, which Bean owns and which we love. So I picked up The Three Snow Bears and flipped through it. What I really like about Brett's books are the illustrations, so I spent some time enjoying them before I made it to the back flap, where I found the following:

"Jan Brett and her husband...traveled to meet the Inuit people, where wonderful experiences awaited them.

An Inuit family welcomed them, the mother wearing a beautiful warm parka she had made. In a school, Jan saw the many intelligent, proud faces that became her inspiration for Aloo-ki. And in a town called Pangnirtung, famous for its people's art, Jan marveled at images of Arctic animals in Inuit clothes and felt a door had opened."

I suppose this could be read in a positive way - "intelligent" and "proud" are certainly good adjectives - but to me, it comes across as othering. Compare the language above to that on the back flap for Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?:

"Jan Brett and her husband...went to Norway for her story, based on an old Norwegian folktale. They traveled all the way to the northern province of Finnmark, where polar bears live and the northern lights radiate across the sky.

Special thanks to the Brookfield Zoo...and to Dr. Lee Cera and the staff for their introduction to Kinapak the polar bear and for providing slides and photographs of Kinapak from his birth to the present."

Somehow, the animals and the zoo staff don't come across in quite the same way, do they? There is less a sense of "Wow, through the wardrobe door to magical adventures" in the second description, no? So why couldn't that first description have been written like this:

"Jan Brett and her husband...went to Iqaluit for her story, which was inspired by Inuit art. Jan sought to recreate in the story the richness of the art and handcrafted clothing that she had seen there, and modeled Aloo-Ki after the children she met at a local school.

Special thanks to the people of Iqaluit who welcomed Jan and provided her with such rich inspiration and ideas."

1 comment:

LegalMist said...

you're right. the actual description on the book cover just drips with condescension, doesn't it?