A Children’s Book for Raising Global Citizens

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THE BAREFOOT BOOK OF CHILDREN
Written by Tessa Strickland and Kate DePalma
Illustrated by David Dean
Ages: 3-10 years

The world is a big, big place. Wouldn’t it be bland and boring if everything looked the same, everywhere – places, people, jobs, languages, lives. “The Barefoot Book of Children” makes it very clear that our world is a mosaic of multi-colors and multi-dimensions, and that’s what makes it beautiful and fascinating. It also stands true to the publisher’s mission to celebrate diversity and art, and comes out at a time when it’s relevance in today’s societies cannot be overstated.

The heavily detailed front cover and the generously encompassing title are intriguing. Inside, the dramatic images live up to the vibrant outside. The first spread that includes a portrait of our planet in a contrasting night sky backdrop sets up the “big picture” for the questions that follow. They prompt self-awareness in terms of place and context, grounding the reader before further engagement. The narrative, mostly in second person, then zooms out to things around and beyond self – our very diverse family units and social interactions every day. The book goes on to address physicality and life style diversity in children, including what they wear, play, eat, and do on a daily basis. The pattern extends to portray differences in names, languages, ways of worship, and special days. In the end, we circle back to every child’s place in this world, with a gentle nudge to introspect on one’s own story.

A common thread through the pages is representation of children from around the world. There are children in diverse flesh tones, sizes and clothing, engaged in a multitude of activities, each cocooned in a culturally nuanced and geographically specific setting. I cannot begin to fathom the amount of research towards this attempt. The finished work is excellent. The creators have also done it with incredible attention to detail, be it the farmhouse in Scotland or the boy reading in bed in Morocco! But what I loved most were the atypical depictions – the Russian boy ballet dancer and the Mauritian girl engineer, and the girl in a wheelchair looking into a telescope (in Australia) – because children are observant and these details matter to a formative mind.

When you think about the possibilities for exploration with this book and the time it might take, there’s a “closer look” segment in the end that helps. This should also come in handy in classrooms. The interactive narrative is great for discussions on varied subjects, with an ongoing theme to celebrate differences and acknowledge universality at the same time. The authors’ and illustrator’s notes are also enriching.

The global approach adopted in creating this book leaves us with a certain comfort level to be who we are, however differently we are perceived. There are a couple of lines that I really like, that speak to my belief in how empathy is fundamental to peace: “Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.” The book prompts young children to question, discuss, and imagine; it is sure to leave a child contented and joyous to go out and celebrate humanity. “The Barefoot Book of Children” will continue to stay on my desk, because it tells me we are actively doing something to better our world, through our children.

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Meera Sriram has been reviewing and recommending diverse children’s literature for about ten years now. She loves to pass on a title or an author to a friend (or a stranger, for that matter). Picture books particularly appeal to the inner child in her. She moved to the U.S. at the turn of the millennium from India. After graduate studies and a brief stint as an electrical engineer, she decided to express herself in other creative ways, primarily through writing. She has co-authored four books for children, all published in India. Her writing interests include people and cultures, nature, and life’s everyday moments. She also runs an early literacy program for toddlers and preschoolers in her neighboring communities. She lives in Berkeley, CA, with her husband and two kids. Curling up to read a good book with her children is something she looks forward to every day. She constantly fantasizes about a world with no boundaries over hot chai, to help her stay warm in foggy Northern California. More at www.meerasriram.com.

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