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  • Origin Narratives: The Stories We Tell Children about Immigration and International Adoption by Macarena García-González
  • Élodie Malanda
    Translated by Nikola von Merveldt
ORIGIN NARRATIVES: The Stories We Tell Children about Immigration and International Adoption. By Macarena García-González. Series : Children's Literature and Culture; 122. Routledge, 2017, 190 pages. ISBN: 978-0-415-78548-8

In Origin Narratives, Macarena García-González analyzes the narratives of race and ethnicity in sixty works for children published in Spain. Her corpus comprises picturebooks and novels for readers under the age of eleven on the topic of international adoption and immigration. All works are recommended by the Servicio de Orientación a la Lectura Infantil y Juvenil (S.O.L, Children's and Youth Readership Orientation Service), the main authority in Spain making reading recommendations. García-González's interdisciplinary monograph, drawing on sociology and literary studies, is based on field work that she did at the S.O.L. in order to understand the selection and labelling criteria. The analysis of her interviews with the mediators of the S.O.L. as well as of the reviews themselves is revealing because it sheds light on possible problems the works may encounter in the reception process. But the author goes beyond this sociological approach to present thorough literary and iconographic analyses of the selected works. Given that some studies on similar topics tend to simply identify and denounce negative stereotypes, this attention to the aesthetic dimension is commendable.

The volume is divided into seven chapters. In the first two, GarcíaGonzález presents the research question and methodology as well as the result of her field work at the S.O.L. She advances the hypothesis that the apparent consensus on what qualifies as a "good book for young readers" prevents reviewers from recognizing the subjectivity of their judgement, necessarily influenced by their socio-cultural norms. This hypothesis is not further developed but certainly intriguing for those thinking about children's literature and interculturality. The next two chapters, titled "I came by plane" and "They came through the desert" respectively, focus on children's literature on international adoption and immigration. Both follow the same structure, beginning with an explanation of the geopolitical context of adoption or immigration in Spain. García-González thus situates the children's books within the larger social discourse, implying that the questions she poses are equally valid for discourses other than children's literature. She then goes on to analyze recurrent narratives and tropes in both categories of children's books. She concludes the chapters by a narratological analysis of selected works, paying special attention to modes of focalization. In the next two chapters, García-González examines the works' discourse on race and racism, exposing how it is intertwined with the discourses on gender and class. In the concluding chapter, she looks at the narrative of the family as that of the nation.

Since three-quarters of the works in the corpus are picturebooks, more analysis of the iconographic narratives would have been desirable, especially in the first half of the study; however, this does not diminish the overall merit. The conclusions GarcíaGonzález draws from her detailed analyses prove relevant beyond the realm of children's literature. When she observes, for example, that the happy ending in many books on immigration is brought about by the self-exoticization of child immigrants [End Page 70] who perform their supposed difference to be accepted; when she notes that some authors, wishing to validate the child's origins, reduce the young protagonist to his or her cultural roots; or when she uncovers the paradoxes of books that claim to celebrate diversity while advocating a certain colorblindness. In all these instances, she also denounces the contradictions governing the everyday behavior of many well-meaning people when faced with strangers. While she does not always provide tools to avoid these contradictions, she does prepare the ground for a much-needed reflection on narratives of the "Other" in pro-diversity texts for children.

The eclecticism of the critical works cited—ranging from cultural studies, sociology, and critical race theory to...


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