Multicultural Easy to Read books

In this globalised world, we increasingly meet people from different cultural backgrounds. In school, pupils with other cultural backgrounds often find that the schoolbooks and materials they are studying do not reflect their own reality.

What kind of literature do they need so that they can recognise themselves? Does it have to be specially directed to their ethnic, language or cultural group, or can the same book function as well for different cultures?

A pupil with a non-majority or migrant cultural background often feels that the materials offered by the school are foreign to their world. The teaching materials have been prepared for pupils, who speak the school language as their home language.

At school pupils are also expected to identify themselves with certain social values, which are considered to represent the nation. Those with another home language and a different culture or those living with many languages and cultures do not fit into the model. Being a stranger starts often already at school and too often influences the future perspectives of a pupil.

How can we support these pupils and include them? There are many possibilities, and one method is to use Easy to Read books. Bokpil’s experience with using Easy to Read books in several languages and cultures shows that the same book is suitable for different cultures and contexts.

Easy to Read books have many benefits:

  • They are easier to understand for pupils, who experience difficulties with the school language.
  • When the whole class reads the same Easy to Read book, everyone is included in the discussion and the work with the book.
  • If the pupils read the same book parallel in several languages, their language and translation skills develop, and also their vocabulary and thinking improve.

Bokpil’s Pedagogical Easy to Read books support the educational goals, and they can be used as extra reading in various subjects at school. But an Easy to Read book must be written and illustrated to suit many cultures: it does not have to be written for a specific culture. It should instead be multicultural, so that it functions in different contexts.

Philip and Miranda around the world

All Easy to Read books by Bokpil have been translated from Swedish into English, and many books have appeared also in Bulgarian, Serbian and Tatar. More languages are on the way. The books are being read both by people who speak these languages at home and by people who are studying the languages.

Philip is the hero in many of the books. He grows together with the readers. Philip’s world – family, school, friends – can be anywhere in the world. He lives in a town, just like the majority of the world’s population today, but the events could happen anywhere.

Philip encounters events and situations anybody can meet with. The author Sabira Stahlberg and the illustrator Maria Viitasalo have consciously created characters and environments anybody can identify with.

The experience and feedback Bokpil has received from different parts of the world, and from teachers, pupils and readers in various cultures, shows that Miranda, a book about bullying, has been easily understood also in cultures where bullying does not exist as a discussion topic.

Miranda’s encounter with a dolphin is differently described in various languages; in some languages the story is more descriptive, while in others it is more action. The story touches the reader in spite of the language differences. Many readers from different cultures have shared their own experiences of bullying, finally finding words to express their experiences and emotions.

The project LäsLätt (ReadEasy) 2.1 for informing about Easy to Read is realised by Bokpil and Colorit ry.rf. and supported by The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland.

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