I reread Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse a few years ago (curious after reading that it was a childhood favorite of J. K. Rowling’s) and loved it. It was my childhood copy so I must have read it then, but I didn’t remember it at all. Now it is being made into a movie and Dakota Blue Richards who plays Lyra in the forthcoming Golden Compass movie has just been cast as the lead.
Daily Archives: August 6, 2007
In the Rutgers University grad course on fairy tales I’m currently co- teaching we just finished a lively discussion on multiculturalism. One of the books we considered was John Steptoe‘s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, a beautiful Caldecott honor book that is often used in lessons about Africa because it is mistakenly thought to be an authentic folktale from Zimbabwe. In fact, it is not. Steptoe himself is honest by writing that the book, “was inspired by a folktale collected by G. M. Theal and published in 1895 in his book, Kaffir Folktales. Details of the illustrations were inspired by the ruins of an ancient city found in Zimbabwe, and the flora and fauna of that region.” Unfortunately, few seem to have investigated to see if it really is an appropriate choice to help American children learn about a place that is very far away and unfamiliar to them.
One who has is Eliot A. Singer who writes in his article, “Fakelore and the Ethics of Children’s Literature“:
In The Horn Book Magazine (July/August 1987, p. 478), a reviewer notes of Steptoe’s (1987) celebrated and award winning Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters that the story is a “polished retelling of one from G. M. Theal’s Kaffir Folktales.” The actual title is Kaffir Folklore(Theal 1886), and there is no tale in that collection that remotely resembles the one in the picture book. Maybe getting a title right is a scholarly hang-up, but it does seem reasonable to expect a reviewer who claims something is a “polished retelling” at least to look in the card catalog. To his credit, Steptoe (1988) points out that he was simply inspired by Theal’s book to explore Zimbabwe tradition and come up with his own story, that he “did not write and illustrate a special interest picture book,” one “said to be based on an African tale.” Yet, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is reviewed, sold, classified, and, awarded, I presume, as an “African” tale.
One of our students, Jenny Schwartzberg of the Newberry Library, tracked down an on-line copy of Kaffir Folk-lore and after reading through all the tales, I feel the one that probably inspired Steptoe was “The Story of Five Heads.” However, the commonalities are minor; Steptoe’s story is really an original, his alone. Additionally, information about Great Zimbabwe (found here and here) indicates a far more tangled history than can possibly be deduced from Steptoe’s story and illustrations.
Our students agreed by the end of our discussions that this book was better used within a language arts unit than in a social studies unit. I agree wholeheartedly!
On child_lit someone noted how extraordinary it was to be part of a world of readers that Saturday, July 21. To be aware that millions all over the world were all reading the same book you were. Incredible …. And so I am now fascinated by the way so many of us are experiencing this particular story. We often read and then extend our readings by talking about a particular book. Sometimes we see a movie of it too. And sometimes we may also read or see interviews with the author about the book. Hear them talk about their books and read from them. But I feel this is somehow different (or maybe just more). To have the story of Harry Potter heightened by Jim Dale, Rupert, Emma, and Daniel; by the online conversations, the release parties, Rowling’s interviews — all of this is turning it into a very interesting new kind of story I think. Does anyone else feel this way or am I just getting carried away?
After writing this in a post to the ccbc-net list serve yesterday I received an interesting email from Marc Aronson who suggested that this was what sociologist Benedict Anderson called the “imagined community.” One compelling example Marc offered was that of large numbers of people reading a particular part of a religious work all over the world at services on a particular holy day. Completely unfamiliar with this idea and curious to see if I could find a bit more about it in terms of books and reading, I did a little looking around and found this article about bloggers being an imagined community and this conference built around the idea, “The notion of the imagined community in our program title, of course, refers to Benedict Anderson’s concept of the nation as a particular kind of imagined community, in which experiences of commonality, and a sense of the self as being part of a wider national community, are to a large extent facilitated by shared practices of reading mass mediated texts.” Unfortunately, I truly don’t have the time to go down this path, but if anyone knows more and/or has some sources to explore, please do provide them in the comments. And, of course, if you just want to weigh in on the idea, please do that too!