Educators have long been able to prove that the earlier a child begins learning a second language, the more likely he or she is to achieve fluency in that language. The mind of a child is like a sponge, soaking up vocabulary and grammar conventions we take for granted in our native language, and often cannot begin to master in another. For English- or Spanish-speaking parents looking to give their children a head start on a second language, and for children who live in homes in which both languages are spoken, bilingual children's books enrich both the pleasure and value of reading to kids.
Soraya Sus, a graduate student at the University of Florida, has written and illustrated a book called historias minimas - minimal stories, published by Editorial La Serpiente Emplumada, a publisher based in Bogota, Colombia. Written for children ages two to four, historias minimas is structured around eight animals, each colorfully and exquisitely drawn by Sus: a lion, an elephant, a bird, a cat, a fish, an owl, a frog, and a turtle. On the page opposite each animal, two short blocks of text appear, the first in Spanish, the second in English. In the upper left-hand corner of the page across from a yellow, wide-eyed fish, Sus writes, "Gluu, gluu, gluu . . . / . . . nado en el dia / y nado en la noche / navego en las aguas / de rios y mares / y no tengo bote!" In the lower right-hand corner, it reads, "Blup, blup, blupp . . . / . . . I swim day and night / I swim in the waters of rivers and oceans / and I don't have a boat!"
Each animal's story, to the extent that it is a story, is indeed minimal, but perhaps that is the point. The book is not, after all, primarily an introduction to narrative, nor to the animal kingdom. Rather, given the number of narrative animal books already available to children, the book opens the world of other language possibilities so that a child reading historias minimas - minimal stories recognizes that "bote" means "boat," and that a frog says "Croac, croac" in Spanish and "Ribbit, ribbit" in English. In sharing a "borderless" joy of language with their children, parents also communicate to them the idea that there are at least two languages, and two different ways, to describe the same "animale."
Copyright 2006© Dave Reidy
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Wednesday, 24-May-2006 13:51:52 EDT