Ghanaian Early Childhood Literature-group project reflection
The component of my group project on Ghanaian children's literature that I found most provactive returned to the notion of identity that we have already touched on throughout the semester. In researching the growth of children's literature in Ghana, the same emphasis on the necessity of familiarity came up. For too long, Ghanaian children, if exposed to age-appropriate literature at all, were confronted with stories of white children, apples, rain and snow--stories that in no way related to their own experiences. The content was irrelevant to their lives. Beyond the simple misfortune of this fact, I am sure such books were entirely confusing as well.
I tried to convert this issue of identity and accuracy to my own life. But as a white, middle class girl, the content of the literature I read was never an issue. The characters looked like me, talked like me, lived in houses like me and even faced the same challenges I did. The stories I read as a child acted as an affirmation of my life, proof that my appearance and experiences were shared and "right."
I wonder then, just what the impacts of irrelevant literature have on children. On the one hand, as mentioned, I think the affirmation of experience is entirely important at a young age. On the other, exposure to other lifestyles is beneficial. Ultimately, I think it can be agreed upon that a mesh of both is ideal. Yet for too many children in Ghana this was not an option. The affirmation of experience, appearance and world view has been severely lacking.
Learning more about Debbie's prize was a truly remarkable moment for me. I think that Debbie's efforts to encourage authors and illustrators to write books for Ghanaian children is both necessary and inspirational. The necessity of affirmation of identity is critical. I hope that as more children are exposed to literature that they can make meaning from, they will grow up with a more solidified sense of self and will hopefully be able to eventually appreciate the necessity of this literature and contribute to the cause themselves.
On a final note, in questioning these ideas of literature and identity, I would like to learn more about access to different stories and experiences in American culture. How easy is it to find books featuring Hispanic protagonists or African-American protagonists in books for young children? Are they books that take place in inner-city neighborhoods or are the settings always middle-class suburbs? In America, we might have more exposure to the understanding that there isn't a "single story" due to the diversity of the country---but this diversity still needs to expressed in the literature given to our children as well.