Reviews 2013

Bridges to Understanding: Envisioning the World through Children’s Books

Bridges to Understanding: Envisioning the World through Children’s Books. Linda M. Pavonetti (ed.). Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. 521 pages. $58.95 (paperback).

Jacqueline Kennedy was once quoted as saying, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” Can children’s literature act as a messenger of peace and expand young readers’ worlds? Linda Pavonetti shares just that hope in the acknowledgements to her book, Bridges to Understanding: Envisioning the World through Children’s Books. This bibliography of international children’s literature serves as a resource for classroom teachers, librarians, parents, and individuals who wish to expand young minds to move beyond stereotypes and superficial global perspectives.

The fourth book in the Bridges to Understanding series, Envisioning the World through Children’s Books, captures its audience in the first chapter, which was written by Andrea Cheng. Cheng chronicles the difficulty she has experienced when writing books about other cultures. Translation, accuracy, and misrepresentation all play a part in the attempt to produce a piece of literature that truly speaks for its culture. Cheng shares that when done correctly; a piece of literature should not divide people from different nations, but rather connect them through their commonalities (8).

In Chapter Two, Barbara Lehman shares several international titles and examines a necessary skill when reading international literature – reading critically. The authenticity of a book’s author is often questioned in international literature. Lehman shares two examples where this is true, the author of Song of Be, a novella set in Namibia by Lesley Beake, and in Julie of the Wolves, a book set in Alaska, by Jean Craighead George. Both authors have extensive personal background with the cultures shared in their writing; however both are not natives. Similarly, despite their cultural involvement, both have been criticized for their portrayal of characters, and both willingly defend their writing (13). Research on the part of the reader is necessary when experiencing global literature. This critical reading puts responsibility on both the author and the reader to question international text, which enhances the impact of the text that much more (14).

Subsequent chapters of the book are organized into geographical regions from Latin America and the Caribbean, to European countries, and many in-between, predominately by the authors’ native countries. Each region’s chapter includes annotated bibliographies of books from that area. The annotations mostly include key words associated with the book, interest levels, and how the book is culturally relevant. In addition, some entries also include information pertaining to awards, book fairs, online resources, and organizations for readers interested in further exploring literature from that country or region. For example, Chapter Eight details books from Antarctica, Australia, and New Zealand. For each of those countries many book titles are included with brief summaries, key words, and the authors’ backgrounds. In the Related Information section of the chapter relevant organizations, special collections, and awards are detailed. Additionally, within Australia’s extensive listing The Norman Lindsay Festival of Children’s Literature is referenced. This unique festival is held at the former home and now museum of Norman Lindsay, author of The Magic Pudding, a popular Australian children’s book (192). This extensive information and more gives a complete picture to the reader in search of quality literature pertaining to the chapter’s highlighted countries.

Understandably, several of the countries detailed in the book’s chapters include more annotations and supporting information than other countries. Should the series continue the expansion of books and other pertinent information is sure to grow.

This extensive collection will undoubtedly be appreciated by anyone interested in expanding their depth of knowledge concerning international literature. It serves as an invaluable resource to classroom teachers and librarians who wish to include a global perspective into their classroom libraries. Finally, it provides a global community with an opportunity to make informed choices regarding international titles, and perhaps even serves as a chance to” build bridges” between differences.

Krista Varano
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, USA

Works Cited

Lewis, J.J. "Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Quotes."