May 01, 2008


Everybody Bonjours! By Leslie Kimmelman. Illustrated by Sarah McMenemy. Knopf. $16.99.

Let’s Eat! ¡A Comer! By Pat Mora. Illustrated by Maribel Suárez. Rayo/HarperCollins. $12.99.

      Americans are fairly insular when it comes to languages other than English, despite the prevalence of Spanish in many communities and the importance of native languages to many immigrant groups. Both these books for young readers take a gentle approach to bilingualism that should appeal to parents hoping to broaden their children’s linguistic horizons. Everybody Bonjours! is also a travel book – in fact, it is attractive largely because it is a travel book, not a teaching tool. Intended for ages 5-8, Leslie Kimmelman’s book focuses on a family trip to Paris, where “everybody bonjours.” The little girl enjoys visits to the Louvre, the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe and many other famed Parisian landmarks – shown on the inside front and back covers in a sort of visitors’ map. The text is very simple, with the attractive illustrations by Sarah McMenemy carrying the book along: “Bonjour solo.” (Scene: Paris Opéra Garnier.) “Bonjour crowd. Everybody bonjours!” (Street scene with many dogs.) Eventually the trip ends and the family returns home, where “everybody hellos.” But there is more enjoyment at the very end of the book: a section called “Out and About in Paris,” describing the sights and scenes where the story occurs. The use of French is actually minimal here, although of course it fits right in; and families should enjoy learning the French names of such famed places as Le Quartier Latin and Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

      The teaching may be more or less incidental in Kimmelman’s book, but it is the whole point of a new bilingual series for ages 3-6 called My Family/Mi Familia – in which the first entry is Let’s Eat! ¡A Comer! This is a simple domestic story told, sentence by sentence, first in English and then in Spanish: “On the table, we see a big pot of beans. Sobre la mesa vemos una olla llena de frijoles.” “Dad looks at all the good food. Papá mira toda esa rica comida.” The mundane nature of the events – just a family sitting down to dinner, including three children, two parents and a grandmother, plus a dog – makes it easy for kids to understand what is going on, and the simplicity of the language will help young children make the transition between English and Spanish without a struggle. There is even a moral, of sorts, to the story: one little girl, seeing all the food on the table, asks, “We’re rich, aren’t we, Dad?” “Somos ricos, ¿verdad, Papá?” And the father, also looking at all the food and then at all the happy faces of the family, says yes, we are rich; indeed, “Somos muy ricos.” That’s a fine concluding sentiment for an introduction to bilingual thinking and speaking.

No comments:

Post a Comment