Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review - Children Just Like Me: A New Celebration of Children Around the World

Children Just Like Me: A New Celebration of Children Around the World (Children Just Like Me)
by Catherine Saunders, Sam Priddy & Katy Lennon
Date: 2016
Publisher: DK Children
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 80
Format: e-book
Source: library

A favorite in classrooms, libraries, and homes, Children Just Like Me is a comprehensive view of international cultures, exploring diverse backgrounds from Argentina to New Zealand to China to Israel. Children will learn about their peers around the world through engaging photographs and understandable text laid out in DK's distinctive style.

Highlighting over 30 countries, Children Just Like Me profiles over 40 children and their daily lives. From rural farms to busy cities to riverboats, this celebration of children around the world shows the many ways children are different and the many ways they are the same, no matter where they live.

Meet Bolat, an eight-year-old from Kazakhstan who likes to cycle, play with his pet dogs, and play the dromba; Joaquin from New Jersey who enjoys reading and spending time with his family, and whose favorite food is bacon; or Yaroslav from Moscow who likes to make robots. Daily routines, stories of friends and family, and dreams for the future are spoken directly from the children themselves, making the content appropriate and interesting to draw in young readers.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this special project, all-new photography, maps, and facts give unique insight to children's lives in our world today showing their homes, food, outfits, schools, families, and hobbies.

A passport to a celebratory journey around the world, Children Just Like Me is perfect for children who are curious about the children of the world and their stories.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Many years ago, I picked up the original Children Just Like Me from the library. Even though I was just out of childhood myself at the time, I still found the book fascinating. When I saw that there was an updated version, I thought I'd have a look. I'm sad to say that I didn't find this one nearly as interesting as the original. It didn't seem as diverse as I remember the other one being, especially with regards to kids' economic situations. In fact, for a large portion of this book (especially in the Americas and Europe), I thought it should be retitled to something like: Children Just Like Me in the 1%.

I'm Canadian, so the book didn't start off on a great foot for me. All of Canada, a huge country with myriad adopted cultures--as well as varied Indigenous cultures--is represented by one little girl from Quebec who eats poutine. Setting aside for a moment the fact that a lot of the time Quebec doesn't even want to be part of Canada, who thought that one kid for such a vast and varied country was a good idea? The US got four kids to represent them. It's obvious who this book was written and published for.

The questionable selection of kids continues through South America. I had no idea everyone there was so wealthy! (I'm being facetious, of course.) Two out of the three kids (only Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia are representing the whole continent) appear to be quite well off, especially Trini, who plays tennis and golf, lives in a fancy house, and goes horseback riding in the mountains. Is that typical for most Argentinian kids? I have my doubts.

In Europe, we have two boys from France, and a weak selection of examples from other countries. Countries like Scotland (yes, I know it's part of the UK, but England was included separately), Italy, and the Netherlands don't appear at all. Much of Eastern Europe is missing, too, and the Russian kid likes to go on vacation in the Ukraine (there are no mentions of any political issues, or why this could be problematic).

Africa gives us a little more diversity, and we see the first example of a kid with any sort of disability (a little girl with spina bifida). I found this aspect of the book unrealistic. Aside from her and the kid from New Zealand (who had leukemia when he was younger), everybody is healthy. Nobody else has any sort of disability. Even the siblings are all typical. These days, when pretty much everyone knows someone who has something like autism or ADHD, it seems a bit disingenuous to put out a children's book that doesn't reflect this reality. In a true cross-section of the population, at least one of these kids (or their siblings) should have one of these conditions, considering the current rates.

There are other things I don't like about this book, either. The page on China simply states that many families only have one child. No mention is made as to why this is. Kids aren't stupid. I think they can handle knowing that there was a law that dictated how many children parents were allowed to have. Such information could've opened up interesting discussions. Instead, the book uses an approach that almost seems a bit like censorship. While I get that nobody wanted to write a depressing book, the reality is that some kids live in places that suck. The political climate might be oppressive. The weather might be causing people to suffer. There might be a war going on. None of these things are addressed in the book. There are no children living in refugee camps. There aren't even any refugee families living in new countries. Since this book was only published in 2016, I would have liked to see some of that new reality included.

Finally, if these kids are representative of our future, then our planet is kind of screwed. Sure, they give lip service to wanting to help the environment, but at the same time, nearly all of them (even the Buddhists) eat meat-heavy diets. The kid from Brazil who's so worried about deforestation comes across as naive and totally brainwashed by his culture and parents. Animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to rainforest destruction, so you can't say you want to stop deforestation while you're stuffing your face with meat... unless you're okay with being a huge hypocrite. Where are the vegetarian/vegan kids who are passionate about animal rights? There are none in this book. That makes me sad.

One day, I'll have to go back and have a look at the original Children Just Like Me and see if it's still as good as I remember it being. I'm afraid that this updated version left me cold. The selection of kids just isn't good enough. Larger countries or countries with diverse communities could've had more representation. More countries could've been represented. France doesn't really need two examples, especially if it's going to be at the expense of other countries that didn't get included at all. South Africa could've included a white kid instead of two black ones. (Nelson Mandela is mentioned, but only in passing; the book just calls him a famous South African leader. This could've been an opportunity to talk about racism and apartheid, but it was missed.)

This just seems like an unrealistically cheery, cherry-picked book. I expected better, especially from DK.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

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