Monday, September 14, 2009

Children’s Department: Idioms & Myths

“Monkey Business”
By Wallace Edwards
ISBN No. 978-1-55453-228-5

By Teresa Cardenas & Margarita Sada
ISBN No. 978-0-88899-795-1

Attention word lovers: there are books out there that want your kids to love strung-together letters as much as their authors do. There really are books around that will smarten up – not dumb down – your kids.
“Monkey Business” isn’t a long book. It isn’t even a very complex one. What it does have is a wholly contagious celebration of the sing-song delicacies of the English language that’s frankly beautiful to see given today’s kids’ devolving understanding of how words work, what they mean and why they matter.
Essentially, Edwards takes an idiom (defined in the beginning of the book as “a group of words whose meaning cannot be understood from the meaning of the individual words; an expression, peculiar to a specific language, that cannot be translated literally”) like “snug as a bug” and illustrates it as, in the bug’s case, a grasshopper wrapped up in a brightly coloured blanket reading comic books. That’s it. That’s the whole book. What no single review can convey, however, is what a joy it is to see “illustrated idioms” that remind you how lovely and playful words can be when rightly appreciated. It makes you think about all the other nooks and crannies of language (metaphors, personification) that you just don’t notice anymore because you’re too busy trying to decipher the legalese in your cell phone contract. [Sigh] It’s so nice to see words played with in such a respectful way instead of being massacred and hacked up by texting idiots. This book should be required reading for the little ones. Maybe there’s hope for the post-Millennials yet.
Words figure prominently in “Oloyou” too; from the mysterious title of its main character to a story told in dual translation. But whereas “Monkey Business” is all about the building blocks of language, “Oloyou” is all about the sharing of a mythic piece of storytelling from one culture to another.
The story goes something like this: At the beginning of time God-child creates Oloyou the Cat so he’ll have a friend. But one day Oloyou falls into the depths of Nothing and the kingdom of Aro, the Sea. When Oloyou falls in love with Aro’s mermaid-daughter her angry father throws them both back up into the heavens. And then things get complicated.
Parents raised on fantasy books like “The Lord of the Rings” will either want to read “Oloyou” themselves or read it to their lucky kids. The plot might sound complex but the book is friendly and accessible and its illustrations watercolour daydreams. The book not only introduces kids to an ambitious kind of storytelling but also to a different culture (the book is based on a Yoruba myth borne of a Cuban religious tradition brought to the Caribbean by African slaves). I complain a lot about how children’s books don’t challenge them; how most of them are just television in a flip-book format. “Oloyou” and “Monkey Business” are red flags for the kid lit publishing industry. These progressive bits of glorious edutainment and storytelling will get young imaginations racing.