Monday, 12 March 2012

Book Review: All the World

This is one that I picked up at the library this week: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee.  I'd not heard of it before, but it had received a Caldecott Honor (an award for illustrations) from 2010.

I assumed when I picked it up that it would be a book about the physical world, showing many different locations, but in fact it's more about society: the world as we experience it, or rather, as a child does.  It follows different families through a day in a rural community, through settings like a beach, a farmer's market, a park which is hit by a sudden storm, forcing several characters to seek shelter in a cafe.  The day ends with a cosy party at one house, complete with roaring fire and musical instruments.

Youtube trailer:

The story is a poem, which is certainly lovely, but what really stood out to me were the illustrations, which tell the story.  They are both beautiful but incredibly detailed, repeating the same characters on different pages (my favourites are the two elderly ladies on the tandem), and I've gone back and forth through the book several times, looking for who appears where!  No characters are ever referred to in the text, which tends to stay abstract.

It's too old for my one year old daughter.  The story is too abstract and the illustrations too busy for her.  She's patted the pages with some interest when I've been reading it to her brother, but she's not stuck around to pay attention.  My three year old son has enjoyed it, and likes discussing the pictures, but he's not demanding it be read over and over.  He has picked it up independently to look through the pictures--his favourite is the tree with children climbing through the branches.

I think a year ago he would have loved it, and when he's old enough to follow the detail in the illustrations himself, he'll be more fascinated again, but right now he likes books with characters and humour.  This is definitely not a funny book!

However, it's one I'll remember for when I go back to teaching, because it would be a great one to read at circle time in school.  It's beautiful, peaceful, inclusive and inoffensive without being stiltedly politically correct.

Notes for the Parent

There really isn't anything controversial or worrisome in this book, which tends towards a wholesome view of life.  If anything, I'd warn people that it's too idealised, and very much on the crunchy side.  The activities of the people in the book are virtually technology-free--save for one image of a child on a phone near the end.   No computers, televisions, video-games or stereos!  There are a handful of cars, but most characters walk or pedal.

Educational Stuff

The loose moral of this story is responsibility and love for the world around us.  Young children obviously have no concept of prejudice, so this is a lovely illustration of how to teach tolerance and acceptance without having to teach the bigotry that exists.

While the story takes place within a single community, the art avoids any sort of cultural designation.  There are many things that strike me as distinctly North American in feel, but there aren't any obviously American traditions.  The setting feels contemporary, but there's little to date it either.  Some of the characters are clearly white or black, but most are ethnically ambiguous, and at least one family is multi-racial.  There is no suggestion of any religious practice during the day as shown, but the double-page spread showing the community does depict a building that looks like a church.

The real beauty of the illustrated storylines is that so much is open to interpretation, allowing the reader to relate things to their own child's world-view.  There's a picture of a young woman holding her baby in a perfect latching position.  Her top isn't raised (or lowered), so she'd need some concealed opening to be breastfeeding, but that's exactly what it looks like she's doing.  But it's not something a child unfamiliar with nursing would pick up on.

That same young woman appears three or four times holding her child, but there's never a father in evidence.  Clearly, there could be a father somewhere off-camera, as it were, but equally, she could be pointed out as a single mother--a hardworking single mother, who is studying while breastfeeding.

That's the kind of thing I love about this book... there's nothing so obvious as two men pushing a stroller (although I think it would be fantastic if there was), but the tandem-riding ladies co-habitate.  At the end, they're shown on a garden swing, their cycling helmets beside them and the older woman's arm around the younger (age determined only by hair colour--neither looks young).  They could be a mother and daughter, or they could be closer in age: a pair of spinsters or a longstanding couple.

For more conventional literary skills... it's a nice vocabulary builder.  The poem's stanzas tend to begin with a couple of lines listing things that can be found in the pictures.  There are more than a few opposites as well and several more abstract concepts.  The text appears in different places, depending on the images, but it's always going from top to bottom, left to right, and shouldn't confuse an early reader.

All in all, an absolutely beautiful book, and one I will likely buy so that we have our own copy to keep.

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