Rosemary Stones considers how the Third World is presented in non-fiction for young readers.
Two thirds of the world’s population live in what has become known as the ‘Third World’, that is in the poorest countries of the world. Many of these countries were until recently the colonies of European countries who ruled them and some are thereby the homelands of immigrants to Britain in the last decades. What our children learn about the Third World is important, therefore, not simply because the majority of the human race live in Third World countries but because our knowledge of and attitudes to Third World countries contribute to an understanding of our own multi-racial society in Britain. But what do children’s books tell children about the Third World?
In 1971 the Institute of Race Relations published a critical survey of books about countries from which people have come to Britain to settle, Books for Children: The Homelands of Immigrants in Britain, carried out by a group of librarians from the London and Home Counties branch of the Youth Libraries Group. In her introduction the distinguished London librarian Janet Hill wrote:
‘Many books are blatantly biased and prejudiced. Not surprisingly this criticism applies most strongly to books about countries which have been closely connected with England, notably India, Pakistan and the African countries.’
Thirteen years on little progress seems to have been made in publishing for children about the Third World. Delegates to the recent Council of Europe conference on teaching about Africa were warned that ‘pupils were receiving only stereotyped ideas about “the dark continent” – images of drought and famine, primitive tribes, and poor countries living off foreign aid’. A survey of school students in Oxfordshire, aged from 13 to 17, found that 81% ‘felt they knew little or nothing about the Third World’, and a teacher who had done work on children’s perception of the Third World reported that:
‘the term Third World suggested starvation, poor agricultural practice and people unable to look after themselves in all of the children’s minds. No one spoke of technological advances that have been made, the Green Revolution or any positive feature of the countries … I think it is important that we not only teach about the Third World … but that we also present a more balanced picture of the area in which the majority of mankind live.’
Clearly geography, history and RE textbooks play a part in this stereotypical perception of the Third World and critiques of these books have been carried out in the last few years by, among others, Dave Hicks (in Images of the World), Dawn Gill (in Assessment in a Multicultural Society: Geography) and David Wright (in A Portrait of Racism in Geography) who have found that even recently published and well-reviewed books often contain inaccurate and insulting attitudes to Third World peoples. Even the Educational Publishers Council has expressed concern at the state of affairs in its 1983 report Publishing for a Multi-Cultural Society which said:
‘Reference to the lives of Africans and Asians is scanty and simplistic; their life styles are accepted as primitive, their customs and festivals strange; assimilation of European culture is assumed to be desirable. The language reveals the conventional assumptions of writers: empires are “shared out”, countries “discovered”, the third world “developed” by Europeans …’
Sifting through recent books from mainstream publishers and from the development education agencies I did find some encouraging signs that criticism about the presentation of Third World countries is beginning to be taken on board – but in a piecemeal fashion. It is still not possible to recommend without reservations a complete series, or the output of a particular publisher, or even some of the publications from the development education agencies who really ought to be getting it right.
In The World: People and Places by Kenneth Maclean and Norman Thomson (Save the Children Fund and Macmillan Education 1984, 0 333 34755 2, £5,95) for Primary age children for example, a section introduces the concept of ‘race’ as to do with differences without introducing at all the concept of the genetic unity of the human species. The section goes on to describe the ‘Caucasoid’ as having ‘straight or wavy’ hair and ‘thin’ lips while the Mongoloid has ‘coarse’ hair and the ‘Negroid’ ‘woolly’ hair and ‘thick and protruding’ lips. In this description the au`thors assume that whites are the norm and they therefore describe other people by comparison to whites. Why are white people’s lips not ‘inverted’ rather than Black people’s lips ‘protruding’? To describe hair as ‘coarse’ or ‘woolly’ is to introduce a comparison with unfavourable connotations which is then dressed up as ‘science’ by the use of terms like ‘mongoloid’.
For secondary school age. readers, Christopher Barlow’s The Third World (Batsford Educational 1979, 0 7134 1878 8, £6.95) presents Third World poverty without explaining the causes. In a section on land reform Barlow criticises Zambia for growing tobacco and Ghana for growing cocoa (‘these crops do not fill empty bellies in the Third World’) but omits to explain that in many Third World countries local industries were destroyed under colonial rule and rural economies diverted to producing cash crops for the overseas market.
For us adults, ourselves almost invariably uninformed or misinformed about Third World countries and issues, it seems essential to gain background knowledge to enable us to supplement or explain inadequacies in the information books about the Third World that we will be presenting to young readers.
The following books were written for older secondary school students but they provide succinct and accessible introductory information for teachers that could also be adapted for younger readers if a project were undertaken.
Roots of Racism
0 83001 023 3, £1.50 plus 30p p&p
Patterns of Racism
0 85001 024 1, £2.00 plus 40p p&p
The Institute of Race Relations (from 247/9 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NG. Tel: 01-837 0041).
To make sense of the relationship between the rich world and the poor world it is necessary to go back in history and examine the 400 years of European colonial domination. These two strongly written books cover the establishment of the colonial system, the genesis of racism, the impact of the Industrial Revolution and its legacy for the Third World.
The Third World
Roger Clare, Macdonald Educational Colour Units, 0 356 04490 4, £1.95
A simply laid out introduction to the problems that beset Third World countries today which also provides explanations, and places issues in economic and historical context.
John Turner, Longman Social Science Studies, 0 582 22138 2, £1.95
This outstanding book examines clearly the roots of world poverty and the present unequal relationship between the Third World and the industrialised countries.
A SELECTION FROM RECENT BOOKS FOR CHILDREN ABOUT THE THIRD WORLD
Homes Around the World
Anna Sproule, 0 356 10198 3
Food from Many Lands
Beverley Birch, 0 356 10197 5
Macdonald ‘My First Library’ series, £3.50 each
Two attractive books for primary school age children which look at ‘homes’ and ‘food’ round the world in a way that emphasises the similarities as well as the differences in the ways that people live, North and South, and presents each way of life as equally valid.
Palle Petersen, 0 7136 1978 3
Village in Egypt
Olivia Bennett, 0 7136 2292 X
Sakina in India
Tony Tigwell, 0 7136 2243 1
A & C Black ‘Beans’ series, £3.50 each
Three of the best titles from a high standard series of photo-information books for primary school children about different countries. Some of the titles in the series are rather bland (e.g. Zambia by Palle Petersen), but most capture the detail and feel of life in a particular part of the world with sympathy and immediacy. Sakina in India is particularly successful in this respect with its first person narration by Sakina herself, a lively 10-year-old girl who lives in a Northern Indian village with her parents who are weavers.
0 333 30676 7
0 333 30677 5
0 333 30675 9
0 333 30678 3
Save the Children Fund/Macmillan Education ‘Round the World’ series, £3.50 each.
Four information books for middle age range readers which attempt to develop concepts about different topics by taking examples from countries round the world. Unfortunately the books do not explain the difference in the standards of living described. In Food for example, we are told: ‘In Lesotho [the Save the Children Fund] gives thousands of children a meal a day’ without being told that Lesotho is in economic thrall to South Africa. However this series would be useful for project work if additional information was made available.
Learning in Life
0 333 31195 7
0 333 31196 5
0 333 31192 2
Food for Life
0 333 31197 3
0 333 31194 9
0 333 31 193 0
Olivia Bennett. Macmillan Education/Save the Children Fund/The Commonwealth Institute ‘Patterns of Living’ series, £4.50 each.
For older readers, the ‘Patterns of Living’ series jars occasionally as when (in Food for Life) it provokes a squeamish response from readers by comparing foods from different cultures – ‘Would you like to eat the mpane worms in the white bowl? The children who live in the Kalahari desert of Botswana love them’, but some of the titles are well done (e.g. Family Life) and there is lots of useful material here.
Through the Year in the Caribbean
Dave Saunders, 0 7134 3974 2
Through the Year in West Africa
Malcom Green, 0 7134 3964 5
Through the Year in China
Frances Wood, 0 7134 3968 8
Through the Year in the Middle East
Taqui Altounyan, 0 7134 4075 9
Batsford, £6.95 each
A lively series, for secondary age readers which invites a specialist in a particular country to write about a year there including details of its culture, history and politics. The result is these enthusiastic individual accounts written from personal experience.
Let’s Visit Cuba
John Griffiths, Burke, 0 222 00797 4, £3.95
The ‘Let’s Visit’ series usually takes a tourist’s eye view of other countries but Let’s Visit Cuba is a well told and detailed account of Cuba’s history and present economy for older readers, which also manages to explain well Cuba’s tricky relationship with the USA and the Soviet Union
The Food Chain: A Game of Choice
Michael Allaby, Deutsch, 0 233 97681 7, £3.95
An original book that asks the young reader of 10 years and upwards to try to distribute food around the world by making a series of choices about courses of action in different political situations and in countries with very different resources and terrains – but which is the right choice?
Tsiza and the Caravans
Christine de Cherisey, 0 356 11151 2
Mokhtar of the Atlas Mountains
Elizabeth Thiebaut, 0 356 11152 0
Tarlift, Tuareg Boy
Anne Rochegude, 0 356 11153 9
adapted by Bridget Daly, Macdonald ‘My Village in…’ series, £4.95 each
A new series first published in France, these three ‘My Village in…’ books for middle age range readers about Third World village life cover two North African villages (one in the Sahara, one a Berber village in Morocco) and a village in Nepal. The books impart their information by describing the life of a village boy (no girls so far) and his family. This usually cumbersome. device is surprisingly well handled and all three books have a fresh, unselfconscious style and convey the feel as well as the detail of the way of life of each village.
Winston James, Macdonald ‘Looking at Lands’ series, 0356 07105 7, £4.95
For Primary school age readers the need to explain clearly and simply sometimes means that an information series falls into generalities and stereotyping. The ‘Looking at Lands’ series has been rather superficial in its approach so far but this latest title, The Caribbean, achieves a good balance of information, history and ‘things to do’ told in a chatty style. The history sections include the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slave who led the fight for freedom in the Haiti (St Domingue) of the 1790s.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION:
The Development Puzzle
Nance Lui Fyson, Hodder & Stoughton/ Centre for World Development Education, 0 340 34940 9, £5.25
A most useful resource guide on books and other materials about the Third World with suggestions for projects.
International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, Canon Collins House. 64 Essex Road, London N1 8LR. (Material on apartheid)
Centre for World Development Education, 128 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9SH. Tel: 01-730 6480 (Reference library of world development materials)
Save the Children Fund, Mary Datchelor House. Grove Lane, London SE5. Tel: 01-703 5400 (Materials on world development)
Third World Publications, 151 Stratford Road, Birmingham B11 1RD Tel: 021-773 6572. (Distributes children’s books from the Third World)
Oxfam, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7DZ. Tel: 0865 56777. (Materials on world development)
Unicef, 55 Lincolns Inn Fields, London WC2 3NB. Tel: 01-405 5592. (Material about Third World children)
Commonwealth Institute, Kensington High Street, London W8 6NJ. Tel: 01-603 4535. (Reference library; materials on Commonwealth countries).
Books for Children: The Homelands of Immigrants in Britain, edited by Janet Hill, The Institute of Race Relations (1971); now out of print.
Images of the World, Dave Hicks, The Centre for Multicultural Education, University of London Institute of Education, (1980) 0 85473 102 4, £1.00 incl, p&p.
Assessment in a Multicultural Society: Geography, Schools Council Report.
A Portrait of Racism in Geography, David R. Wright, ‘Education Journal’ 1983.