Think about the books in your classroom; the ones you read regularly with your students, even the ones that you see on sale in the bookshops at the mall. Where do they come from? And who are the main characters? They probably come from the USA or the UK, and probably feature characters that, although well-loved, are entirely Anglocentric. They serve as window books and not mirror books. But what exactly are window books and mirror books?
Window books make the strange familiar. They acquaint children with people from other lands, with various cultures, a variety of cuisines, an ensemble of customs, and curious and colourful costumes that are different from their own. Window books cultivate empathy, neighbourliness and humanity. They emulate the Qur’anic sentiment of universal humanity and affability, promote integration, and lead to moral literacy and emotional intelligence. Children are better equipped to stave off negatives like racism and prejudice, discrimination and bigotry.
Mirror books promote positive self-esteem in children. They mirror the child and all that is familiar to the child such as family, home, community, lifestyle, clothes, food, school, buildings, animals, landscape, daily practices, culture and religion. They reflect the child and endorse the child’s lifestyle. They connect children with what is meaningful to them in terms of their heritage and history. Mirror books play a very crucial role in the development of a child’s positive self-identity formation because they give a child a sense of place and a sense of belonging. Children feel a sense of dignity and honour for themselves, their parents, family, peers, faith, community and nation. Children who develop a strong sense of identity generally make a positive impact on the world around them. They go on to do grand things in life. They love who they are and they love their heritage.
Both types of books are important. However, in terms of developing a positive self-image, it is important that children are given an opportunity to read mirror books from an early age. This is why the majority of books that children in the USA and UK have are Anglocentric. It would be peculiar for American children to have books where the landscape, buildings, costumes and people were from, say, Saudi Arabia, Oman or Kuwait.
And yet this is precisely what children in some regions of the Middle East have.
The story, the setting and the values present in children’s reading materials are integral not only for identity but also for those who are learning English as a second language. Providing children with images that are familiar speeds language acquisition. This is what inspired Silva Education Ltd, an independent publisher, to produce Arabia Readers, a six-level collection of easy readers that allow developing readers and English learners in the Gulf region to learn through engaging stories that celebrate their own values and culture. Each story in the collection follows two British children, Haya and Hamad, as they visit their cousins, Amal and Ali, in the UAE. The cousins’ adventures explore cultural heritage in a modern and enjoyable way, while also inspiring readers to lead exemplary lives. In A Special Tree, for example, Haya is fascinated by the palm trees she sees in the garden, having never seen a palm tree in the UK. This prompts Grandmother to tell the girls about all the special properties of this important tree. And in A Very Clever Bird, the children help out a Bedouin man who is camping in the desert after his clever falcon repeatedly visits their house.
Developed by educational and cultural consultants in the UK and the UAE, the texts expose children learning to read in English to language in a natural, yet graded way. Divided into six levels, the collection offers shorter stories for younger readers and longer, chapter stories for those developing more confidence. As well as a valuable library and English classroom resource, Arabia Readers can be used to support Moral Education teaching. The collection has been mapped to the Moral Education curriculum (UAE) and additional teacher’s resources, including classroom materials, provide instructions on using the books in guided and independent reading sessions that cover the pillars of Moral Education.
Many school libraries and classrooms are filled with window books. These are important, but by giving children access to books such as the Arabia Readers collection we can help them grow up with an increased sense of self-worth and more motivation to learn.
To find out more about the Arabia Readers collection, visit www.arabiareaders.com.
Available to order from Panworld Education/Magrudy’s. Available in print and digital versions.
By: Fawzia Gilani-Williams and Rhiannon Ball