Review also includes:
The Elves and the Shoemaker, ****, retold by Henriette Barkow, ill. Jago, 978-1846111815
Dual language books are an invaluable resource as wars, the EC and migration bring more and more children whose first language is not English to our schools. Interactive technologies like the ‘TalkingPen’ are very useful aids to language learning but most important are books and stories that engage and hold the learners’ attention.
Lion Fables (Urdu/English) is the latest addition to the ‘Fables From Around the World’ series, which takes a fable from Aesop and pairs it with another traditional story having similar characters. I’ve never found the majority of Aesop’s fables to be received with much excitement by young children, partly perhaps because of my own antipathy towards them, and this rather wordy version of ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ does little to induce me to share it with listeners or readers. Jan Ormerod effectively uses limited colour and tight focus views to portray the power and ferocity of the ‘King of the Beasts’ and the vulnerability of the mouse, but these do not, for me, make up for the limitations of the lacklustre story.
The second story, ‘The Hare’s Revenge’ is a Malaysian version of a South East Asian tale wherein a wily hare tricks an aggressive lion into coming face to face with his own bullying image and thus rids himself of his nasty neighbour. Once again, despite the striking visual images, the verbal telling lacks any of the real zest one expects in a tale from the oral tradition.
The Elves and the Shoemaker (Chinese/English) strikes me as a far better choice for dual language use. The cumulative nature, natural repetition of words and phrases and the use of onomatopoeia all make for a lively and memorable story, which also has a hint of mystery about it.
Jago’s illustrations make wonderful use of colour, pattern, perspective and detail to further enliven the telling. Indeed each turn of the page brings a fresh treat to the eye and the funky shoe designs are almost worthy of the catwalk.
In each book the English text is secondary and smaller than the ‘foreign’ language and there is also an English only edition available. Both books offer a choice of eighteen dual language versions. Lion Fables and The Elves and the Shoemaker each have thirteen TalkingPen enabled languages to date.
This neat little piece of technology resembles a large chunky pencil (about fifteen centimetres long). Once activated, by touching the ‘hot zone’ at the left and/or right, the pen reads the page in the language chosen. I have shown the TalkingPen to a number of teachers and it has been extremely well received. Children, too, were excited by it, and even those as young as four were able to use it to read the books.