How Well Do Children’s Classics Travel Abroad?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Do children inherently prejudice the familiar over the foreign?

By Edward Nawotka

My daughter turned four recently and it’s no surprise that among the gifts — which included a My Little Pony doll and a set of Zoobles — were several books. These included a copies of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Nutcracker, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, and Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, both given by a well-intentioned literature professor friend of ours.

Our friend, who is married to a musician from Poland, speaks to his own son in Polish, buys him books in Polish, and as one might expect, has him reading well beyond his years. His preference is for children’s classics from overseas — many from Poland. With his family’s direct roots in the Polish culture, he is able to establish a context for the titles that helps his son understand the books better. In the case of our daughter, she goes back and forth between accepting certain books from abroad (Irish tales about fairies are popular), while appearing indifferent to some (Grimm’s Fairy Tales), and flat out rejecting others, such as the Finnish Moomin books which, reading them to her, she instructed me to “take them back to the store immediately.”

So tell us, what has your experience been trying to introduce your child to books from a foreign culture? My instinct tells me that a child only learns what their parents expose them to, so it should be an open door — after all, my daughter’s two favorite TV shows are Peppa Pig (from the UK) and Pokoyo (from Spain). But experience suggests that even at an early age they are forming a cultural identity that, while malleable, also prejudices the familiar over the, well, foreign.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.