Toy stories : photos of children from around the world and their favorite things by Gabriele Galimberti offers an unusual way to enter into the lives of children from around the world (58 countries) giving us insights into their lives, interests and those of their parents too, as it turns out.
The compositions are fairly straight forward. Typically the child is centred in the photo with their toys (or toy, as the case may be) splayed out around them. The preceding page offers their first name, age and the country they live in. Sometimes there are lots of objects, sometimes only one. It’s fascinating to see what is deemed a ‘toy’. The ones you’d expect are there: animal stuffies, all manner of vehicles, dolls and Barbies, a myriad of plastic figures and animals, a few bikes, a few games (both board and video).
But the picture with Maudy (3, from Zambia) standing in front of a few dozen pairs of sunglasses is definitely unusual. Apparently, a box of sunglasses fell from a passing truck and became toys, the only toys in this village. They like to play pretend market. Or there’s Callum, 4 from Alaska, standing with a couple of shovels and sleds in a wintery landscape that also speaks to a very specific kind of interest in a particular kind of environment.
A few children seemed keen on guns (a little scary), and I found only three photos where books were included (a little distressing).
You do see what you would expect to in terms of differences between affluent and poor families (more and less, literally). But the introduction offers a couple of interesting perspectives about this observation:
“The fewer toys a child had the less possessive he or she was about them. Galimberti describes having to spend several hours winning the trust of Western children before they would consent to let him touch their planes, cars, or dolls. ‘In poorer countries, they don’t care as much. They play in a different way, running around, sharing one ball between them all.’ … Likewise, children who enjoy a free-roaming existence in the countryside seemed to place less value on their toys than children living in busy cities, confined and isolated. ‘City children mostly stay inside, and mostly play alone, ’he says. ‘They tend to have a lot more toys and to be a lot more possessive.’”
The short introduction is well worth reading.
Using this book with Material World by Peter Menzel and/or Much Loved by Mark Nixon would make an interesting threesome. Though all three don’t have to be used together, pairing at least two of them offers a classroom teacher a visual way to explore material culture on a level that kids could easily relate to. Looking at their toys and finding out what they mean to them and then looking at how other children live might make the conversation about quality of life more comprehensible.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.