CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 20 . . . . May 30, 2008
In an increasingly interconnected world, it is important for children to have literature that positively reflects and celebrates people’s cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Books for teen readers, such as Rachna Gilmore’s A Group of One and Naomi Nye’s Habibi, have dealt with serious issues such as prejudice and discrimination. Similarly, picture books by Allen Say, Paul Yee, and other children’s authors have addressed the problems that immigrants face when they come to North America in both historical and contemporary contexts.
CeCe Winans’s Colorful World is a distinctive addition to the existing body of multicultural children’s literature. Her book does allude to people’s prejudices and the social barriers that people erect between themselves and others whom they perceive as different. However, its focus is not so much on condemning these debilitating attitudes and practices, but rather on encouraging children to be proud of their unique backgrounds and to envision a world in which people can live together harmoniously. With its text derived from a song by the same name from Winans’s CD Purified, the book is accompanied by Melodee Strong’s inspirational illustrations as well as a CD with CeCe Winans’s song “Colorful World.”
A potential criticism of this book is that it presents an idealistic and perhaps unrealistic vision of celebratory multiculturalism that obscures the material and psychological hardships that people face daily because of their skin colour and cultural differences, particularly as people may not readily overcome their circumstances by simply holding their “head[s] up” and “wear[ing] a smile.” Similarly, Winans’s idea of “millions of children with possibilities” would not hold true for those who live in abject poverty. Arguably, these ideas, in and of themselves, can simplify the problems that people of colour can face, but they must be considered in the context of the picture book in which they are presented as well as the book’s intended readership. Given the age group that this book targets, such an approach is appropriate because children can identify with this idea readily through their interactions with others in their daily lives through school, recreational activities, and other settings. Moreover, having a vision is equally important as recognizing and addressing these injustices because it gives people a vision of a world to which they can aspire and emulate.
There has been much criticism of visual representations of non-white cultures and peoples in literature which have historically portrayed them as an inferior, dangerous, or indistinct group of people who look alike and lack individual personalities. This book subverts these representations and portrays children with distinct appearances, idiosyncrasies, and personal histories, such as a girl with coloured hair and nose rings, a boy in a wheelchair, and some children in Nairobi who play soccer. Filled with movement, happiness, and vitality, Strong’s illustrations promote an uplifting and positive message of diversity, inclusiveness, and global interconnectedness, but without being didactic in their representation. Young readers will identify easily with the everyday activities represented in the book — painting, playing in the playground, making cartwheels, and biking — all of which Strong conveys with vibrant colours and assertive, bold outlines. An especially powerful image is the two-page spread that portrays the outstretched hands of children reaching towards each other. This visual representation exemplifies the book’s effective interweaving of text and image. Besides the reiteration of the phrase “it’s a colorful world,” the illustrations reinforce a sense of camaraderie with smiling children from different backgrounds and places who take part in different activities together.
The language of the lyrics on which the text is based is easy for young children to comprehend and is divided into manageable, readable chunks with illustrations that interpret the song creatively with kids of different backgrounds and in various contexts. Teachers could use this book as an opportunity to introduce a discussion about peoples’ backgrounds and cultures and, if so inclined, encourage a more critical discussion about how people differentiate themselves from each other and the consequences of doing so. With a more lighthearted approach to the book, librarians could readily incorporate this into a sing-a-long or storytime session for children aged 7 and younger.
For more information about CeCe Winans, readers can visit her official website at http://www.cecewinans.com/.
Huai-Yang Lim has completed a degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta and currently works as a research specialist. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children’s literature in his spare time.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.