PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 10:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 6:57pm
I recently had coffee with friends who were emigrating to a small town in Australia. Aside from envying how the idyllic environment would influence the positive growth of their young child, we also pondered what it would be like for a Chinese child to grow up in a community where he would be the only non-Caucasian child.
We considered the need for my friend to stock up on books about Chinese children living in a non-Chinese community.
Wouldn't it be ideal to find picture books showing a Chinese child who enriched his life and those in his community through acknowledging their cultural differences as well as their common humanity, we thought.
Fitting in is part of the universal experience of growing up
We explored the range of books featuring Chinese children, and only came up wit those littered with Asian stereotypes: studious girl, dutiful boy, racist bully, tiger mum, new immigrant family, and so on.
My friends and I then reflected on our own childhoods in Canada, where we were among a handful of non-Caucasian children at school. We realised that back then, all we wanted to do was simply assimilate. Would a fictional story showing a Chinese child being different, even if in a positive way (cherishing best of both worlds), have made any impact on our younger selves?
Fitting in is part of the universal experience of growing up. It's not until we reach college that individuality is valued, and even considered "cool".
In the end, my friends and I agreed that perhaps the best books for their child would be those that celebrate differences. Picture book creators are amazingly inventive when it comes to the using anthropomorphic characters to show differences.
Chen Chih-yuan has written and illustrated two storybooks about characters that try to conform, with funny and poignant consequences. Guji Guji is a story of a crocodile that grows up among ducks, but has his loyalty tested when he encounters other crocodiles for the first time. The Featherless Chicken is a playful spin on the ugly duckling fable, and follows the adventures of a featherless chicken as he attempts to acquire beautiful plumes like the other chickens.
Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein is a gentle rendering of vignettes around the world with different cultures, faces and sceneries. It is an ode to the power of spreading goodwill, illustrating the possibility that one little girl's smile can influence many lives in direct and indirect ways.
What I Like About Me! by Allia Zobel Nolan is an enjoyable picture book for children to embrace and be proud of the things that make them special, such as glasses, braces and big feet. I appreciate that the differences of the children are presented as positive attributes, rather than shortcomings that need to be accepted.
It is important to teach children to be compassionate, not just about skin colour but any kind of difference.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of the non-profit organisation Bring Me a Book Hong Kong bringmeabook.org.hkdedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them