Children’s Books

Children’s Books: Kindling an early interest in bilingualism

CorrespondentJanuary 25, 2014 

My daughter started teaching English as a second language at the school where she first fell in love with Spanish. The school’s approach to learning a second language changed both my children’s lives. At UNC, they each spent a semester in Sevilla and both walked the Camino Santiago, a popular long distance trail. My daughter taught in Spain and Vietnam and my son is raising his daughter bilingually.

That’s part of what drew me to Ben Gundersheimer’s “ABC Fiesta” ( mistergsongs.com; audio available from Amazon). “Mister G.” is a Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning artist whose collection of songs on “ABC Fiesta” links his passion for music, literacy, bilingualism, community and cultural differences.

His original songs have a huge range, yet consistently show his understanding of how music and language inspire learning. They have lots of repeatable phrases and strong rhythmic appeal whether the style is Calypso or disco. The songs can be serious or silly, each capturing a magic moment of childhood.

There’s diversity in the numbers of instruments and vocalists in each piece and the way two or more languages are expressed in the arrangements. Sometimes languages switch back and forth without translation; other times translation serves as a bridge. All songs are engaging and child-centered and will get listeners singing and dancing as they learn body parts, the alphabet, and the commonality and differences of language.

Two traditional preschool songs appear in bilingual versions. Rene Colato Lainez’s “Señor Pancho Had a Rancho” (Holiday House, ages 2 and up), inspired by the author’s bilingual students, adds Spanish to a song that’s been sung around the world for 300 years.

The two parallel story-songs introduce a pair of farmers and their animals. The book begins: “Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. Hello!” The opposing page invites children with: “Señor Pancho had a rancho, cha-cha-cha-cha-cha. Hola!” Rhythmic verses and comic illustrations by Elwood Smith name and animate animals and their sounds, for example, the rooster/ gallo’s cock-a-doodle-doo/quiquiriqui. Nearing the end of the book, a cow and una vaca meet across fences and the book’s pattern changes as the languages unite in a way that seems so natural one wonders why the original ever existed solo.

Author-illustrator Angela Dominguez gives a new twist to another favorite in “Maria Had a Little Llama/María Tenía Una Llamita” (Henry Holt, ages 2-5). She sets the story-song in the Peruvian Alps and offers the traditional verses in English and Spanish.

Dominguez’s colorful folk-art style uses bold lines and reflects elements of Andean dress, culture and landscape. Her vivid renditions extend the fun of reading aloud. The visuals hint at language connections that could easily lead to discussions of the Peruvian elements shown. Whatever their native language, young children will recognize and appreciate the open affection of the llama and her human.

Wilde: susiewilde@bellsouth.net

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