I reviewed Krishnaswami's Grand Plan to Fix Everything, a fun-filled middle grade read, and raved about the setting. Krishnaswami takes us to India to see the mountain area of Swapnagiri. The lush green tea gardens are easy to visualize from her descriptions. Here, Krishnaswami tells us how to read books like a traveler instead of a tourist. How to let go of your preconceived notion and let the book take you along on a journey:
PaperTigers has a Reading the World challenge going on right now. I love that idea, to get people all over the world to make a concerted effort to "read the world," especially within the framework of children's literature.
In an interview with Talk of the Nation host Neil Conan last week, travel writers Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux tell us how we might go about the business of seeing the world: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=137202335. They offer five tips for making travel meaningful: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/15/137202335/near-or-far-make-your-travel-meaningful.
The program got me thinking about the differences between travelers and tourists. A tourist travels with an agenda already in mind, a list of places to go to. The traveler goes with an open mind. Tourists see what they want to see, and notice nothing else, or if they see things that don't coincide with their view, they either reject those things or they decide they hate the place. Travelers see what there is, and understand that sometimes misdirection and stolen bags can take them to magical places and experiences. Tourists want to leave the place with trophies in hand (pictures, movies, purchases). Travelers seek to emerge transformed. The tourist's trip is about himself. The traveler's trip is about the place and its people.
Apply this to story and what do we have? Here are my five tips for reading the world like a traveler and not a tourist:
1. Look for questions rather than answers. It's worth investing time to learn the fine art of living with questions.
2. Read each book as a product of its own time and circumstance. Understand that it may not be the book you'd have written, nor the classic you loved that was written a century ago about the same place. Those are part of a different journey.
3. Prepare to work a little; working at understanding a book is not such a bad thing. Working at understanding the world may be a survival skill we all need.
4. Expect to have your assumptions challenged. When I read Beverly Naidoo or Siobhan Dowd, I'm after their pictures of South Africa and Ireland, not a confirmation of my own preconceptions.
5. Just go! Don't look back. Expect to come back changed.
Here are three of the books I've picked out from my 2011 desktop bibliography. They fit the requirements of the challenge. Tourists may be disappointed. These books work when you read like a traveler.
Good Night, Commander by Ahmad Akbarpour, illustrated by Morteza Zahedi, translated from the Farsi by Shadi Eskandani and Helen Mixter and published in Canada by Groundwood Press. The author and illustrator are Iranian, and the setting of the book is a boy's room--a boy who has lost his leg and his mother, a boy struggling to cope with the change that is to come. Hope comes in the end from the richly drawn world of his fantasy play. Those who go into this compact picture book looking for answers may turn away disappointed. But it stirs the humanness of reader and characters together in startling and moving ways. It is unflinchingly true to itself. It refuses to moralize. It's the kind of book that can only reach into your mind and turn its realities upside down if you allow it to do that.
The nonfiction title in my Reading the World list is I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by performance poet, storyteller and teacher Arthur Flowers, with illustrations by Patua scroll artist Manu Chitrakar from rural Bengal. Designed by Guglielmo Rossi and published in India by Tara Books, it's a "telling replete with the Will of the Gods, with Fate and Destiny and the Human Condition." The text, with a marvelous rolling cadence, sometimes runs along the stream of the highly interpretive fusion art. Sometimes they yield place to one another. Sometimes they seem to interrogate each other--are the victims of lynchings from the American south or from rural India? The story is richest in those moments of pause when I turn the page and there is no text, so that my visual reading mind can take over and integrate the river of text that's just poured into it in previous spreads. An extraordinary book, not always easy to read, and one that demands active engagement.
Reading the World asks readers to choose at least one book set where they live. My "local" book, set in northwest New Mexico, is Songs of Shiprock Fair by poet, writer, teacher, storyteller Luci Tapahanso, illustrated by Anthony Chee Emerson and published by Kiva Publishing. Then and now, tradition and modernity, fuse energetically in this book. It's a delightful account of the oldest fair in Dine country, seen through the eyes of young Nezbah. It's an unapologetic celebration of laughter, family, and community, a story told with love from the inside. "You'll get your blessings if you are awake," Grandpa tells the children. It's a good line to remember.
To enter, send an e-mail to GrandPlanGiveaway@gmail.com.
In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address).
One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/30/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 7/1/11 and notified via email.
Watch the book trailer on Uma's homepage: http://www.umakrishnaswami.com/
Uma's blog: http://umakrishnaswami.blogspot.com/