ERIC Identifier: ED477609
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Singh, Manjari - Lu, Mei-Yu
Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Exploring the Function of Heroes and Heroines in Children's
Literature from around the World. ERIC Digest.
"It is through literature that we most intimately enter the hearts and minds
and spirits of other people. And what we value in this is the difference as well
as the human similarities of others: that way, as C. S. Lewis put it, we become
a thousand different people and yet remain ourselves." by A. Chambers (as cited
in Tomlinson, 1998, p.3)
If anything has universal appeal among
children, it is a good story with heroes and heroines. Stories with rich
descriptions of the lives and personalities of inspiring individuals (mythical
or real, contemporary or historical) entertain as well as serve as role models
for children. Through heroes and heroines of different cultures, children
develop an understanding of societal expectations and norms in various parts of
the world (Stan, 2002; Tomlinson, 1998), and what it can mean to live in a
particular region, or time period, or to be male or female (Rockman, 1993).
The purpose of this Digest is to explore how heroes and heroines in
children's literature from around the world help young learners understand and
appreciate different cultures. We consider how protagonists can serve as role
models for children; discuss how it is possible to obtain insights into
universal and culturally specific values and beliefs through stories set in a
range of settings; and conclude with some resources for determining good
international and multicultural children's literature.
HEROES AND HEROINES AS ROLE MODELS
Heroes and heroines
often stand out because they have distinctive strengths or personality traits.
However, many stories may present an ordinary person leading an ordinary life,
who in drawing upon "ordinary" character traits can stand out as being special.
Heroes and heroines in good literature are portrayed as complex individuals, so
it is necessary to analyze them in a holistic manner by paying special attention
to the interplay of both positive and negative traits. Many main characters are
strong role models because they rise above their own negative traits or
weaknesses and overcome personal challenges. We often find protagonists
inspiring because they demonstrate the need for individuals to be resilient and
to respond proactively to challenging circumstances. Discussing heroes and
heroines with children presents countless opportunities for considering how
character traits are expressed in others, and how children can develop positive
character traits in themselves.
HEROES AND HEROINES AS EXEMPLARS OF UNIVERSAL CHARACTER
A content analysis of award winning children's books from around the
world indicates some character traits are universally appreciated. These
include: personal courage, caring for others, perseverance, resourcefulness, a
belief in oneself, and optimism (Singh, Lin, & Lu, 2002). Through books
children can see heroes and heroines in different regions respond to issues such
as racial, ethnic, and religious strife in ways that demonstrate courage and
resilience. While different societies may value similar character traits, how
these traits are expressed can vary in different regions. Descriptions
indicating cultural variations in how character traits are manifest, help
children gain a sensitive understanding of how universal traits can also be
unique. By using heroes and heroines to explore the differential impact societal
issues have on people around the world we can delve into examining issues
surrounding expressions of individuality, identification with social groups, and
strategies for dealing with various forms of discrimination.
HEROES AND HEROINES AS EXEMPLARS OF CHARACTERS TRAITS
APPRECIATED IN PARTICULAR CONTEXTS AND TIME PERIODS
Heroes and heroines are best
understood and appreciated when viewed within the social contexts in which their
lives played out. Just as every cultural and ethnic group has its own
distinctive system of values and beliefs, which reflect unique ways of thinking,
behaving, and living, so, too, character traits considered desirable are a
unique reflection of a group's value and belief system (Hourihan, 1997).
Accordingly, it is important to foster non-judgmental discussions among students
about how some cultures may view certain character traits to be positive while
others may consider these traits in a negative light.
Actively considering the dynamic nature of social, economic, and political
contexts contributes to a thoughtful analysis of the thoughts, emotions, and
actions of individual heroes and heroines. We must be careful when making
connections between valued character traits in societies in the present and
those from different historical periods. At the same time, ever changing present
day realities also require us to be cautious in understanding contemporary
heroes and their societies. Certain character traits we viewed positively just a
few years ago may now be offensive within our societies. Certain realities
heroes and heroines took for granted just a short time span ago may now be those
that are the sources of conflict. On the whole, we must take care to analyze
each hero or heroine's character traits and actions first within the context in
which they have been presented, and only then attempt to make meaning of these
character traits in a manner that transcends contextual boundaries.
As access to other cultures around the world becomes increasingly easy, it is
more important than ever for educators and parents to recognize how children can
be provided opportunities to understand how people in diverse areas live, feel,
and think (Marston, 1997). The following section is devoted to criteria useful
for selecting and evaluating international children's literature. We have also
included some citations that contain bibliographies of exemplary international
and multicultural books.
EVALUATING AND SELECTING CRITERIA FOR INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S
There are universal criteria for evaluating and selecting high
quality children's literature whether this is for young or older readers, for
boys or girls. However, additional considerations need to be taken into account
while introducing books from other countries to children. The following list was
developed by synthesizing recommendations from several sources (ALSC Board,
1987; Council of Interracial Books for Children, 1974; Pang, Colvin, Tran, & Barba, 1992; Tomlinson, 2002):
Authenticity: While most books are created by authors writing within their own
country and in their local language, some books are written by non-native
authors. Authors from both groups provide readers with different views-as
insiders and outsiders-about a specific culture. The jacket flap and the back of
a book are often good places for readers to identify the author's origin, as
well as the resources and research he/she used to create the story. This
information can be crucial when the author is not from the society in which the
story takes place.
Context: Context is important in understanding meaning. When introducing
children's literature from other countries, some terms and concepts may be
unfamiliar to the readers. Wherever possible, readers should be provided with
information regarding foreign vocabulary or concepts. This can be integrated
into the story, shared as footnotes, or provided in a glossary.
Perspectives: Stories and illustrations for children are never neutral, but
reflect the world view held by the author/artist. It is therefore critical to
check for perspectives toward particular socio-economic and cultural groups both
in written text and illustrations.
Translation: Translation is the art of recreating a story by remaining true to
the tone, style, plot, characterization, and emotion that the original author
expressed. Whenever possible, ask people from the particular language group to
check the accuracy of concepts, language, and meaning, or even better, to
compare the original and translated text.
Illustration: High quality illustrations in a picture book not only complement
the written text but also provide an alternative way for readers, especially the
very young, to interpret the story. Although artist styles and media of
presentation may vary, it is important that these styles are true to the
characters and the context they depict. While examining illustrations, look at
how characters are portrayed (i.e., whether all of them look alike or dress
alike). If language symbols such as signboards in a street scene are used, are
these orthographically correct?
RESOURCES FOR INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
several resources devoted to introducing children's books from around the world,
providing annotated bibliographies of these books, and discussing trends and
issues in international children's literature. We used three books while writing
this digest-"The New Press Guide to Multicultural Resources for Young Readers"
(Muse, 1997), "The World Through Children's Books" (Stan, 2002), and "Children's
Books from Other Countries" (Tomlinson, 1998). For more information, readers may
also wish to consult the following two books: "Global Perspectives in Children's
Literature", edited by Freeman and Lehman in 2001 (ISBN 0205308627) and "Change
and Renewal in Children's Literature", by Van Der Walt and Fairer-Wessels,
published in 2004 (ISBN 0275981851). In addition, Bookbird, "A Journal of
International Children's Literature" (ISSN 0067377) by International Board on
Books for Young People (IBBY) also offers valuable information on many facets of
international children's literature. Finally, a web link created by the
Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication containing resources on
organizations, reviews sources, booklists, and issues and trends in
international children's literature is located at:
Association for Library Service to Children
(ALSC) Board. (1987). (Rev. ed.), "ALSC Mildred L. Batchelder Award: Terms and
criteria". Chicago: American Library Association.
Council of Interracial Books for Children. (1974). "10 Quick ways to analyze
children's books for racism and sexism". New York: The Author. [ED 188 852]
Hourihan, M. (1997). "Deconstructing the hero: Literary theory and children's
literature". New York: Routledge.
Marston, E. (1997). Images of Arabs in American children's literature. In D.
Muse (Ed.), "The New Press guide to multicultural resources for young readers"
(pp. 354-357). New York: The New Press. [ED 420 071]
Muse, D. (1997). (Ed.), "The New Press guide to multicultural resources for
young people". New York: The New Press.
Pang, V. O., Colvin, C., Tran, M., & Barba, R. H. (1992). Beyond
chopsticks and dragons: Selecting Asian-American literature for children. "The
Reading Teacher", 46(3), 216-224. [EJ 452 692]
Rockman, H. (1993). "Against borders". Chicago: ALA Books.
Singh, M., Lin, C.-H., & Lu, M.-Y. (2002, November). "Heroes and heroines
in children's literature around the world". Paper presented at the National
Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, Atlanta, GA.
Stan, S. (2002). "The world through children's books". Lanham, MD: Scarecrow
Tomlinson, C. M. (1998). "Children's books from other countries". Lanham, MD:
Tomlinson, C. M. (2002). An overview of international children's literature.
In S. Stan (Ed.), "The world through children's books". Lanham, MD: Scarecrow