December 14, 2017

Birthdays Around the World

Written by Margriet Ruurs
Illustrated by Ashley Barron
Kids Can Press
40 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2017

Global perspectives are difficult concepts for very young children to grasp.  They are typically just learning about their own place, here and now, and understanding that there is much beyond that is challenging.  By focusing on a familiar and shared concept such as birthdays, Margriet Ruurs has found a way for young children to connect with those around the world.
From Birthdays Around the World
by Margriet Ruurs
 illus. by Ashley Barron
Birthdays around the world, boldly illustrated by cut-paper collage artist Ashley Barron, looks at children in 14 different countries around the world and tells about their family, birthday greetings, celebratory activities and food.  The children and countries depicted in each double-spread include:

  • Arvaarluk from Canada (Nunavut, specifically)
  • Alana and Kainoa  from the United States (Hawaii)
  • Opal and Delroy in Jamaica
  • Mercedes in Peru
  • Ieva in Latvia
  • Dmitry in Russia (on the border of Europe and Asia)
  • Bram in Belgium
  • Maame in Ghana
  • Nthabeleng in Lesotho
  • Ninoshka in India (Kashmir region)
  • Shinobu in Japan
  • Athom and Arunny in Cambodia
  • Phúc Khang in Vietnam
  • Thea on Norfolk Island, Australia
From Birthdays Around the World 
by Margriet Ruurs 
illus. by Ashley Barron
A mixture of boys and girls of different ages and living in different types of communities (big cities, islands, remote towns, rural areas) will ensure that young readers might see something of themselves in these children.  Some of their stories are presented by a sibling e.g. Athom speaks for baby sister Arunny.  Some are atypical celebrations that are held country-wide rather than commemorating the birth day of an individual. And, even though many of their celebrations will be foreign to young readers e.g. the dumping of flour on Delroy's head, there is much that they can envision, different as they may be.  Special foods and treats, good wishes and blessings, family and friends.  Whether they dress in a silk kimono, a palaka aloha shirt or a favourite outfit, these children know how special this day is for them and others to celebrate with them.

Margriet Ruurs does a stellar job of bringing the world in a little closer to home.  She always does (e.g., Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, illus. by Nizar Ali Badr, Orca, 2015). In Birthdays Around the World, Margriet Ruurs has endeavoured to include all continents (except Antarctica) and cover the full range of birthdays, from simple days of food and family to elaborate days of military parades and more. Both secular and religious observances are included, as is appropriate, and Margriet Ruurs even helps direct discussions of the reader's birthday celebrations in an addendum called "Your Birthday" and provides activities for parents and teachers relating to the book's contents and more.  And everything is so much better for the unique art of Ashley Barron, whose cut-paper graced earlier works Up! How Families Around the World Carry Their Little Ones (Susan Hughes, Owlkids, 2017) and Kyle Goes Alone (Jan Thornhill, Owlkids, 2015).  The cut-paper artwork adds astounding depth and clarity to the text, guaranteeing that Birthdays Around the World is a relatable and visually expressive children's book on the global perspective of birthdays.
From Birthdays Around the World 
by Margriet Ruurs 
illus. by Ashley Barron

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