Monday, January 24, 2011

Evaluating for authentic voice

I  just started poking my way through Reading Globally, K-8: connecting students to the world through literature by Barbara A. Lehman, Evelyn B. Freeman and Patricia L. Scharer (372.64 LeR 2010).  Haven’t got through all of it yet and ended up jumping ahead to chapter 7, How should I evaluate global books? that has a section related to authentic voice.  This is the book for me.

If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you know I’ve mentioned the importance of authenticity in children’s literature which ties in closely with an author’s background.  The closer an author is to being an insider to the culture she is writing about, so the understanding goes, the more genuine the story should be.

The authors include several comparisons between books, illustrating points to look for when reading global literature.  At the end of this chapter there is a two-page evaluation form with lots of thought provoking questions to help determine both authenticity and literary merit.
So, I’m setting myself a challenge.  I have long loved the book Go and Come Back by Joan Abelove (823 Ab356G FIC 2000) but since become aware and better informed about ‘authentic voice’ have felt very uncertain in recommending it.  The story is told from the perspective of Alicia, a native Isabo living in Poincushmana, a fictional village in the Amazon rainforest.  We learn about her culture as well as more about our own (North American) culture when two graduate students come to live in her village for a year.

What I love about this novel is seeing us, the ‘dominant’ culture, from a different point of view which is far from flattering.  As well, I did feel that I gained more insight into Alicia’s life.  I know that Joan Abelove is not from an indigenous group living in Peru but did live two years as a graduate student with a group very much like the one she writes about, however.  So it’s possible she may be misrepresenting some of the cultural values of this group. But how do I know?

Now with the evaluation criteria laid out in Reading Globally, I will revisit Go and Come Back and see what I can determine.

I’ll keep you posted.


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