I have always loved children’s books. The large vibrant illustrations, the rhymes, the rhythm. As a child I remember learning short verses and poems by heart, enjoying almost playing with the language. I can still recite some of these poems now. I think they helped me develop my love for languages, both my native English and also my love of learning new languages, be that Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Catalan. I have a mountain of English language children’s books that we had as children, ready to be passed on and shared with S as he grows (most of them are not board books so I won’t let him touch them yet!).
It seems I am not alone in valuing rhyme, rhythm and repetition in children’s literature. Mem Fox, author of popular children’s books such as Two Little Monkeys and Time for Bed explains, “Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition are incredibly important in books for small children. Repetition and rhythm probably even more than rhyme. All of those three elements are mesmerizing for a start. When children are born, they’ve been used to the mother’s heartbeat in the womb. When they’re born, they’re rocked and cradled. There is the rhythm of life itself. There’s rhythm in the nursery rhymes and songs that are sung to children very early on. And those rhythms and rhymes and repetitions morph into children’s books, which are like a bridge from spoken language to the written language. The repetition, rhyme, and rhythm in written language then morphs into more normal language. It’s like a stage of learning.”
Last week we traveled to Madrid to attend a friend’s wedding. I was excited about visiting a Spanish speaking country and topping up our selection Spanish language children’s books. We have a few books in Spanish that were given to S by relatives although most have paper pages. So far, I have been reading S board books from the library and just translating as I go into Spanish. This had been perfectly fine for simple vocabulary building books with pictures of animals, shapes, toys etc, and also OK for simple stories. However to be able to enjoy the rhythm, rhyme and repetition that are a fundamental part of so many of these books, they need to be read in the original language, English. A few of the recent books that S loves that spring to mind are Bear on a Bike and What a Busy Baby, and of course there are classics like Each Peach Pear Plum and Peepo! All have original, interesting artwork, classic rhythms and satisfying rhymes. So, my plan while in Madrid was to pick up a few similar boards books with simple repetitive rhyming texts in Spanish. Not so hard, you might think??
In Madrid we visited Casa del Libro, a large bookshop with an extensive children’s section but to my surprise I found it hard to track down this type of book. There were many simple vocab building books, those based on traditional fairy tales, popular cartoon characters, even a significant number of translations such as the That’s Not My series and beautifully illustated books by Emily Gravett, such as The Odd Egg. When I saw something that looked promising they also turned out to be translations, from Italian or German. Where then are the children’s books by Spanish or Latin American authors? Am I missing something?
I hope this post is going to cause people to rush in with rallying cries to promote their favourite Spanish language children’s authors. I was looking particularly for board books but I would be interested in hearing about any children’s books using rhyme, rhythm and repetition. Until then I shall have to keep alternating between reading the text in English and talking about the pictures in Spanish!