- Multicultural Folk and Fairy Tales for Children:Around the World in Eight Picture Books
“In a country of multicultural heritage,” Eileen Tway suggests, “children require books that reflect and illuminate that varied heritage” (109). Canadian publishers Tundra Books, Kids Can Press, and Groundwood Books since the 1970s and Tradewind Books since 1996 have the shared goal to promote societal changes in Canada, a goal that is rooted partly in the country’s governmental policies on immigration and bilingualism as well as in neo-liberal conceptions of multiculturalism with its beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s. As such, it is not surprising that the four publishers behind the eight books reviewed here are [End Page 206] well known for giving “English-speaking Canadian children … access to picturebooks that deliberately [reflect] the evolving model of Canadian society as explicitly multicultural” (Edwards and Saltman 2).
Although publishers play a significant role in the dissemination and promotion of multicultural-themed books for young readers, the focus of this review is on the expressive plurality of voices coming from authors and illustrators in contemporary Canadian children’s publishing, with an examination of eight books published within the last five years. As Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman observe in their extensive study Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing, the movement from stories of adventure and wilderness (associated with earlier Canadian children’s literature) to recent texts that reflect the “ethnocultural diversity of Canadian society” (3) marks a specifically Canadian distinction in picture books. That said, while the books featured here do not address multiculturalism in terms of issues such as immigration, war, justice, and freedom, they contribute nonetheless in their own ways to the building of a contemporary cultural mosaic that promotes a Canadian identity open to heritage languages and ethnocultural traditions. Edwards and Saltman provide a number of examples of picture books from the 1970s to the 1990s that exemplify the risks for authors and illustrators in speaking for and representing cultural stories and practices within their collaborations, as well as the decidedly purposeful omissions that occur for a variety of causes and reasons. The books included in this review attempt to go beyond the dangers of misrepresentation and cultural appropriation, even though no multicultural book can escape such issues fully.
To add another layer of complexity to this already intricate mosaic, we cannot ignore the role the picture book format has in communicating the ideas mentioned above to a young audience, nor can we gloss over the use of folk-tale and fairy-tale genres to explore the heritage cultures and traditional texts brought forward by these four Canadian publishers and their mandates. Because picture books are “invariably the first books that children encounter” (Graham 209), they carry with them a unique ability “in an increasingly visual, image-based culture” (Salisbury and Styles 7) to introduce and to integrate children into a specific culture while encouraging a diverse set of readings (Salisbury and Styles 75). Moreover, the use of folk-tale and fairy-tale genres within the picture book format contributes to the ongoing trend...