Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day!
We at Unite for Literacy pride ourselves in presenting a library of books that celebrate the diversity found among families that call the United States home. This day of recognition for multicultural children’s books is a nice opportunity to publicly embrace a larger effort to ensure that all children have books with which they can personally relate and from which they can grow in their understanding of their fellow humans.
We have a multi-dimensional diversity in our online library. Language and culture are intimately connected and the fluent native speaker narrations of Unite for Literacy’s free library provides 130 non-fiction book for families to enjoy and discuss in English and nearly 30 mother tongues for speakers of indigenous and immigrant languages, plus American Sign Language.
When I expressed an interest in being involved with today’s celebration, the organizers sent me a book to review that reflects our uniqueness. Why Juan Can’t Sleep (2012 by Karl Beckstrand and Luis F. Sanz, Premio Publishing, Midvale, UT) is a lovely exploration of one child’s experience during the kind of sleepless night that every child experiences from time to time, regardless of their home cultures. The name of the sleepy youngster, Juan, suggests that our hero is from a Hispanic family, but Juan’s seemingly endless ordeal, tossing and turning in his bed, crosses cultural boundaries.
This book’s language and rhyme are fabulously rich and evocative of the artistry of Shel Silverstein. On several occasions, Juan blurts something to himself with a Spanish word in it, but beyond that enriching dimension, every child can relate with Juan’s sleepless night. I enjoyed learning about his fears regarding his abuelo’s (grandfather’s) driving and felt deeply Juan’s frustration as he cries an exhausted, “Basta!” (Enough!). He is tired, yet fascinated, by the onslaught of imagined events that unfold with his sleepy stream of consciousness—and sometimes UNconsciousness— it’s kind of hard to tell! This blurring of lines makes this colorful book all the more realistic for all of us who have had sleep elude us.
Why Juan Can’t Sleep will provide families everywhere not only with a great opportunity to share this very personal, yet very common event, but will offer all families an opportunity to explore the rich language of these talented authors. That language conveys nicely how actually similar children’s personal lives can be to those whose home cultures may seem totally different from their own.
Children can relate with each other in many ways that amplify differences in family structure, home cuisine, manner of dress, religion and all the rest, but mostly they can understand each other as fellow children. During National Book Month, this day to celebrate the breadth and richness of American culture as presented in children’s books is a great time to consider not just the differences in the life experiences of children sitting next to each other in the classroom, but also their similarities.