Happy Cultural Diversity Day! The UN Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the values of cultural diversity. It celebrates mutual respect and understanding between different cultures, and aims to create dialogues between them.
Cultural diversity is at the heart of everything Tiny Owl does. Our first books aimed to share the rich culture of Iran with British readers through beautiful, meaningful picture books. This began with The Little Black Fish, considered a modern classic in Iran but until recently hardly known in the UK. Since then we’ve gone on to publish many more books translated from Farsi into English, such as There’s Room for Everyone, A Bottle of Happiness, and When I Coloured in the World. Our wordless book Little Eli by Laura Bellini was originally published in Italian as Eli Sotto Voce. We’re looking forward to publishing many more translated picture books in the future, including one from Slovenia! Reading translated books is vital for increasing our understanding of other cultures and gaining a fuller view of the world. This is so important when children are learning essential values like acceptance and appreciation of all people. Books from other countries help them to learn about the unique qualities of other cultures and the ways in which we are all the same.
As part of our aim of promoting cross-cultural understanding, we started the series One Story, Many Voices. These books reinterpret traditional stories that will be familiar to British readers, giving them a new cultural context and highlighting the universality of stories. We began with Cinderella of the Nile, based on an early Egyptian variant of the Cinderella story. While it’s quite different from the version popular in the West — instead of a fairy godmother, she has Horus the falcon god — the message of kindness and perseverance remains the same.
The series continues with The Phoenix of Persia, a retelling of the story of Prince Zal and the firebird Simorgh from the Persian epic poem Shahnameh. While extremely well-known in Iran, the story will be largely new to UK readers. We’re excited for them to discover the mystery and magic of Persian legends. The next book, Quill Soup, is a collaboration between British author Alan Durant and South African illustrator Dale Blankenaar. It’s a version of the ‘stone soup’ fairytale popular in Europe, reinterpreted as a vibrant African animal tale. There are many more One Story, Many Voices books still to come! We hope that children from all cultures and backgrounds will delight in these stories and that they help to broaden their horizons.
We have been working to create many collaborations between authors and illustrators from different countries. Our monster-under-the-bed story Grobblechops was written by the Scottish, New Zealand-born Elizabeth Laird, illustrated by Finnish artist Jenny Lucander, and depicts a South Asian family in a story inspired by the Persian poet Rumi. Putting all these pieces together can be a challenge, but it’s worth it to create such a truly cross-cultural book.
For cultural diversity to flourish, we have to make sure that children’s book creators come from all kinds of backgrounds. We’re happy to say that there have recently been some great steps to promote BAME authors and illustrators, such as the brilliant BookTrust Represents initiative and the Pathways programme from Pop Up Projects and House of Illustration. We’re proud to publish many authors and illustrators of colour, from the UK and further afield. As we argued in our Diversity Now campaign, we all lose out when diverse voices are excluded from publishing.
To celebrate Cultural Diversity Day, we have a challenge for you! With your child or class, try reading a picture book that’s:
- Translated from another language
- Created by someone from another country, OR
- By a BAME author or illustrator
Bonus points if you manage all three! Shout out to us on social media and show us which books you’ve chosen!
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