by Edgar Debel
Books are influential, no matter what age we read them at. They help us to learn new skills, teach us knowledge previously undiscovered and enable us to dive into hidden literary worlds. Depending on our age and experiences, the same book can have a completely different effect on us. Maybe we discover a new perspective on life we had not previously considered or we learn that some of the lessons offered by the books we read as children have not aged as well as we would hope, whether that be because there are certain negative stereotypes proffered that were commonly depicted in children’s media at the time of publication.
Considering this influence, it can be said that the books we read as children are some of the most impactful and effective teachers, as they shape our view on reading itself, guide our interests and our values in our most crucial formative years. Therefore, it is important to have access to diverse and interesting material that not only entertains children but allows children to identify themselves with the characters and empathise with their experiences. One way to diversify your reading experience is to read a wide variety of texts from a wide variety of cultures. When we read texts or watch films that depict the challenges faced by others unlike ourselves, it introduces us to diversity in a way that feels interesting. For these reasons, I have compiled a list of interesting authors to consider, contemplating how these tests may inform reader’s viewpoints/worldviews.
Michael Ende (November 12th 1929-August 28th 1995) is an appraised German children’s literature author, with his most well known book being Die unendliche Geschichte (The NeverEnding Story) published in 1979. Other famous works of his are Momo (1973), Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer (1960) (Jim Button and Lukas the Engine Driver). One of the main themes of his work is the fight against nihilism, arguably best seen in The NeverEnding Story, where human despair creates a void, called the nothing, which is destroying Fantasia, the world of human hopes, dreams and fantasies.
Ende’s work is also known for its open political commentary. His book Jim Knopf can be considered as an antithesis to the racial politics of the NS-Regime, with the book featuring a civilisation of dragons, differentiated between ‘full’ dragons and ‘half’ dragons. Momo features a world that gets slowly overtaken by a group called “The Men in Grey,” who try to convince people to save their time but are actually tricking people into wasting their time by not living in the present. This text criticises a society where human values get lost more and more over time through the manipulation of a certain powerful group, sharing similarities to the society that loses its dreams in The NeverEnding Story. The destruction of Fantasia, as mentioned above, also brings with it a destruction of nature, proffering a pro-environmentalist thread in his work.
Michael Ende connected many important and challenging themes in his work. By offering these difficult themes to his young audience, he demonstrates the respect all authors of children’s literature should have for their audience. By doing so, he acknowledges how children can understand these themes through textual worlds and respects the child reader’s own agency to consider the messages purported by his work.
Michael Ende, Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ende;
Momo(Novel), Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momo_(novel); The Neverending Story, Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_unendliche_Geschichte; Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer, Wikipedia:https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Knopf_und_Lukas_der_Lokomotivf%C3%Bchrer.
German author Cornelia Funke was born on February 10th 1958 in the city of Dorsten in North- Rhine Westphalia in Germany. Similar to Michael Ende, she is well known in Germany and internationally for her work in children and YA literature. The “Tintenwelt” Trilogy (Inkworld Trilogy) are some of her most widely acclaimed works, consisting of Tintenherz (Inkheart). Tintenblut (Inkspell), Tintentod (Inkdeath). The trilogy centres on the characters of Maggie and her father Mo. Mo has the ability to bring characters out of books into their world. However, whenever he does so, a person from their world gets transported into the book world.
Quite a few of Funke’s books were adapted for the screen, with the “Wilde Hühner” Series (Wild Chicks) adapted into a film trilogy for German audiences. Similarly, the first book of the Inkworld Series, as well as The Thief Lord, were turned into internationally successful films, with The Thief Lord, released in 2005 and Inkheart in 2008.
Wild Chicks is very different from most of Funke’s other works. Wild Chicks features no supernatural elements, but rather focuses on the everyday adventures of a group of girls. Themes include puberty, love, youth etc. The girls in the stories are all quite diverse in character, rejecting a common stereotype of typical, uncomplicated teenage girls. For instance, one of the teenage characters explores their sexuality. Funke stated that her intention as an author is to write stories about strong women and girls as well as to write things that could happen to any child. Funke can be considered as an author seeking positive representation of young girls in literature as well as championing inclusive writing that includes diverse characters with real-life challenges.
Cornelia Funke, Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelia_Funke;
Inkworld -Series, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkheart_series;
Wild Chicks, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Chicks#cite_note-dvdmakingof-4;
Born 1954 in France, Marie- Aude Murail is famous for her literature for children and teens which confronts important issues such as illnesses or homosexuality. Her Emilien series depicts the life of a fourteen-year-old boy who lives alone with his mother. The texts explore the experience of growing up in a single-parent household. Murail highlights challenging world issues in her literature and thus offers children an opportunity to better understand their environment and to learn invaluable life lessons. An author who focuses on reflecting the ever-changing world around the child reader, The Emilien Series has come to explore currently trending topics, such as Globalisation and ‘Grind Culture’, the idea that one’s value as a person is based on one’s ability to be productive and generate wealth.
Despite the difficult subject matter, Murail’s texts always try to offer hope to their readers. Murail also actively presents her perspectives on children’s interaction with the media, considering how they consume and what the impact it has on them will be. Furthermore, she wrote a reading coursebook for children in the first grade, called The Bulle Textbook in which the importance of reading aloud and of children’s literature in the development stages of youth imagination is highlighted.
Marie- Aude Murail, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Aude_Murail
Yangsook Choi grew up in Korea. In 1991, she moved to New York to pursue her career in the Arts. She began to write and illustrate books for children. Choi can be considered an author whose deep respect for children is as evident outside of her work as it is inside. She champions the idea that children have so much knowledge to offer adults, stating that she considers the children in her life who have defected from North Korea to be her greatest teachers.
Her books feature many important themes however they often focus on the experiences of children in immigrant families. The book, The Name Jar, for example is about a Korean girl who moves to the USA and is scared that nobody will be able to pronounce her name correctly. She plans to make an English-sounding name for herself, but discovers instead that her classmates want to help her. Good-Bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong depicts the story of Korean girl, Jangmi, who will move to America with her parents. In the text, she reminisces about her old home and the memories she connects to this house before she leaves. Gai See is about people going to the market in ChinaTown and about what they will experience there, focusing on Asian culture and how it celebrates itself and evolves in other countries.
Yansook Choi’s books fill a very important niche in children’s literature by voicing the experiences and struggles of immigrant families in adapting to a new culture while retaining their own, thus providing a lens through which children can see their own reflection and feel as though their struggles matter to others and their experiences are valued by the community.
Yansook Choi Website: https://www.yangsookchoi.com/about;
Born of Chinese heritage, Milly Lee grew up in San Francisco in ChinaTown during World War II.. Alongside her regular state-schooling, she also attended a Chinese school. At this time, Chinatown was still a very small and close-knit community that put much pressure on its members to adhere to Chinese cultural standards. Lee mentions that what motivated her to write was a distinct lack of books about children like her when she was a child. She felt that it was very important for the voices of bicultural children to be heard. She felt that they needed to see their reflections and experiences in books, beginning her passion for championing the representation of Asian children in America and of other children growing up in a multicultural household.
Nim and the War Effort follows a Chinese girl living in the US during World War II. She tries to prove her patriotism for the U.S, but in the process, risks the disapproval of her family as she leaves Chinatown to collect newspapers for the war effort. The book shows the difficulty of young people who are simultaneously living in two spheres of society and are trying to balance the standards of both worlds while still making their own decisions. Landed depicts the story of her father-in-law, who came to the US as a child at the beginning of the 20th century and who was detained at Angel Island in California, as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. At Angel Island they were subject to interrogations before they were able to get into the country. Lee believes that the people who were subject to these processes rarely spoke about them as they feared they would lose their legal status in the United States.
Lee’s work focused not only on giving voice to bicultural children but also to the experiences of all children facing the unjust processes of US immigration process and legal system. Her work centres voices previously unheard of and so, elevates these texts as an important reflections and considerations of the diverse experiences that are representative of, and not abnormal to, childhood.
Milly Lee, Macmillan Publishers website: https://us.macmillan.com/author/millylee.
Rita Golden Gelman
Rita Golden Gelman (born on July 2nd 1937) is an American author of over 70 children’s books. The themes of her books vary but they concern everyday problems that children face. Dumb Joey (1972) is about a group of kids living in New York that have no space to play. By reading Body Battles, child readers can come to understand the functions of their own body, how viruses operate and the immune system, how to take care of themselves to better their health. Gelman has also written books about the environment and food production, such as Rice is Life (2000). Rice is Life explains how rice is grown and harvested in the country of Bali, providing child readers with an insight into where the food they are eating comes from. Concerned with providing children with a diverse set of experiences to better their global perspectives, she has an organisation called “Let’s Get Global,” which assists young people in partaking in a gap year in order to experience cultures from all around the world.
Rita Golden Gelman, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rita_Golden_Gelman.
Alma Flor Ada
Born in January 1938, Alma Flor Ada is an American-Cuban author, poet and novelist. A central focus of her work is to promote bilingual and multicultural education in the United States. She is also a major contributor to the advancement of critical pedagogy focused on social justice and personal realisation, considering the incorporation of experience-based knowledge of students and parents into the classroom through authentic writing. She has published books in both English and Spanish and has written across many different genres. Some of her work is autobiographical detailing memories from her childhood and about her extended family. Some are folk-tale books, fairy tales as well as picturebooks.
Another crucial theme in her work concerns the experiences and reality of Latino children in the United States, such as Amalia, Dancing, Home and Love and My Name is María Isabel. All of these texts are about celebrating your Latino heritage while living in the USA, thus providing opportunities for Latino children to see themselves represented in books and for readers of different ethnic backgrounds to learn about Latino culture. She also works on translations from English into Spanish, so that Spanish speakers can enjoy US culture, thus promoting cultural exchange in the Spanish speaking communities.
Alma Flor Ada, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alma_Flor_Ada.
Pet Mora (born on January 19th 1942) is an American poet and writer of children’s, teens, and adult literature. As she was born and is still living in Texas, most of her works concern themes connected to life on the Mexico-United States border. Her work highlights the diversity found in the communities shared between the South-West of the US and the North of Mexico. Mara’s work offers opposition to the idea of American monoculturalism and celebrates cultural diversity. Because of this, preserving heritage is an important theme and her work seeks to provide Mexican-Americans with accurate and positive representation in US literature.
Mora also founded “Children’s Day, Book Day”, a community-based literacy initiative for families. This project is based on the Mexican National Children’s Day festivities which has been celebrated since 1925. The celebration is divided into two parts and includes a commitment to the promotion of literacy and the joy of reading. Similarly to the authors mentioned above, Mora provides an immensely important contribution to diverse representation in children’s texts of the experiences of different communities in the US. Her work promoting literacy in families and communities so that they too can read about these experiences, feel they are represented and learn about different cultures in their home country is testament to her authentic commitment to her readership and community.
Pat Mora, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Mora.