«A Comparative Case Study of North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) and Ireland by Melanie Liese B.A. School of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies ...»
The central theme of the story is difference, with an emphasis on physical features, personal characters and abilities. However the adjectives „dark‟ and „fair‟ can be interpreted in two ways as in the colour of someone‟s hair or the colour of someone‟s skin. If the latter is meant it perhaps refers to the ethnicity of some children in a general sense. Because it is mentioned along other differences that make us different from one another and not set against one big majority, it does not appear in an excluding way. The children are not presented as being separate from the majority of society. This point is further confirmed by the illustration below the text (Image 8).
Source: “It‟s not Fair!... that I‟m little“. Trolls, Squirrels and Dragons. Dublin: Carroll Education Limited. pp.48-49.
The image which accompanies the story explores ethnic and cultural diversity as well as physical difference, as it shows children with different skin colours, a boy wearing a skull cap which is associated with Judaism, a child in a wheelchair, small children and tall children. The image is further discussed in the Skills Book which asks students to “look at the pictures [and guess] what the story might be about” (Trolls, Squirrels and Dragons Skills Book, p.62).
6.6 “Basia‟s Birthday Present” The story of “Basia‟s Birthday Present” (Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate, pp.18-21, Appendix C, p.X-XI), which focuses on the subject of refugees and the hardship they often face, draws attention to an another kind of ethnic and cultural „other‟. In this story Basia, her mother and her grandmother are in transition somewhere between their country of origin and the country they intend to travel to. They are very poor, suffering from cold and hunger and therefore cannot afford a birthday present for Basia “until [they] reach another land” (ibid, p.18). After seeing Basia weeping and sad, her grandmother reminded her that they “are not the worst-off refugees” (ibid, p.19) as another refugee family just had a new baby which they needed to support additionally. Feeling empathy towards the baby, Basia made a doll of straw and sacking and offered the doll to the new baby as a present. Basia experienced the joy of giving and felt happy afterwards.
The family described here is presumably from Poland as a note at the beginning of the story tells the reader that Basia is a Polish name (ibid, p.18). Although the story does not mention any specific time or place the matter of refugees is linked to Ireland in the accompanying skills book where students are asked to consider refugees living in Ireland. This is an example of the story being applied in an Irish context. One question draws attention to the terminology of „refugees‟ and invites students to think about the reasons behind somebody becoming a refugee: “This is a story about people who have been forced to leave their own country to look for a new home. Do you know what such groups are called? Why might people have to leave their own country?” (Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate Skills Book, p.23).
Another question directs students to empathise with refugees as they are asked to identify with the situation of being a refugee. It reads: “Imagine you and your family were refugees in a foreign country. How would you like to be treated? We have many refugees in Ireland. How should we treat them? Have a class discussion.” (ibid, p.23). This kind of questioning and discussion can help students to develop positive attitudes towards refugees as they are asked to put themselves in the situation of refugees. In other words, it is more likely that students would want to be treated well if they were refugees and therefore would agree that refugees living in Ireland should be shown respect. This story gives young readers a chance to explore the theme of refugees while the methods of questioning might influence their views in a positive way.
6.7 “Happy Birthday, Dilroy!” The lack of adequate representation of ethnic and cultural diversity in mainstream print media and other everyday texts is discussed in a poem entitled “Happy Birthday, Dilroy!” by John Agard (Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate, p.106, Appendix C, p.XII). Dilroy, “a little black boy” is eight and receives a birthday card which says “it‟s great to be eight”. But Dilroy questions his mother as to “why they don‟t put a little boy that looks a bit like [him]. Why the boy on the card so white?” (ibid). Dilroy feels that the birthday card does not represent him because the boy on the card does not have the same skin colour as he. His observation encourages discussion and critical thinking. However, it also implies that children like him, i.e., who have a dark skin colour, although part of Irish society, are not accepted as such in representations of that society like those, for example, made by the media.
An illustration of a mother with dark skin holding a boy in her arms accompanies the poem. In the picture, the boy is holding his skates which he received for his birthday in one hand and the birthday card in question with a white boy on it in the other hand (Image 9).
Source: “Happy Birthday, Dilroy!” by John Agard. Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate. 2001. Dublin:
Carroll Education Limited. p.106.
6.8 “The wumpy choo” In “The wumpy choo” (Blue Skies Stories and Poetry, pp.62-69, see book), an extract from Anne Fine‟s story Bills New Frock, ethnic and cultural diversity is mainly represented through images showing children with different skin colour and a girl with traditional Asian clothing in a school playground. In this extract “Bill Simpson [who] wakes up one morning to discover he‟s a girl” (ibid, p.62) volunteers to kick “a football straight through the cloakroom window” (ibid, p.65). Bill, being a girl and wearing a pink dress, received some strange looks by Talilah who warned him to be careful about his dress (ibid, p.65).
Talilah in the extract in the textbook could be identified as the girl who is wearing traditional Asian clothes in the accompanying image. However, this is not confirmed in the extract.
Although the extract in the textbook does not mention Talilah‟s features, she is described in Anne Fine‟s story as wearing “a bright red satin salwar kameez” (Fine, p.10). However, the description of her dress is mentioned alongside the description of what the other characters in the story wear: “Flora was wearing trousers and a blue blouse. Kirst and Nick were both wearing jeans and a shirt. Philip was wearing corduroy slacks and a red jumper, and Talilah wore a bright red satin salwar kameez.” (ibid). Therefore, Talilah‟s dress, which perhaps suggests Indian origins, is mentioned within the wider description of the characters‟ clothing. It does not stand alone against the majority and thus does not separate Talilah from the others.
Wearing a “salwar kameez” comes across as normal as wearing a “red jumper”.
Even if this description of the original story had been included in the extract, a normality of an ethnic and culturally diverse Irish society would have still been conveyed.
Other names mentioned in the extract are Astrid and Leila which might also suggest a different ethnic or cultural background (Blue Skies Stories and Poetry, p.64).
Astrid, Leila and Talilah are shown to be part of everyday school life and are not marked as “different” in any way.
6.9 “Normal” In “Normal” (Blue Skies Stories and Poetry, pp.116-123, see book) Penny, Mark and Marigold are bullied by Barry Hunter until Celeste helps everyone. Here a shopkeeper named “Mr Hamid” (ibid, p.117) is mentioned in relation to Penny who likes to buy sweets in his shop. His name also suggests an ethnically and culturally different background and reflects the diversity within the retail sector. The illustrations that accompany this extract include children with different skin colours and a teacher who has dark skin as well.
In the original story, The Angel of Nitshill Road, Celeste is described as having “gold hair [that] shimmered” (Fine 2007b, p.10) and was “gleaming bright” (ibid, p.8).
Furthermore, a picture in the original story confirms this description and shows Celeste with fair skin (ibid, p.11). However, in the extract in the textbook she is portrayed as having dark her and dark skin (Blue Skies Stories and Poetry, p.120).
This suggests perhaps a conscious choice on part of the publisher to portray ethnic and cultural diversity in the textbook for students.
6.10 Normality of Diversity in Images
Ethnic and cultural diversity is often presented through images only, without any reference being made in the text extracts, conveying the idea that diversity is a normality in Irish society today. The visual demonstration of difference is mostly realised through the focus on skin colour or traditional clothing as seen in the examples of Talilah in and the boy wearing a skull cap above. Two further examples of ethnic and cultural diversity within images are given here.
6.10.1 “The Mummy‟s Tomb” “The Mummy‟s Tomb” (The Spooky Castle, pp.78-82, Appendix C, p.XIII-XV) is a short story set in a Dublin museum. When Michael visits “the Treasures of Egypt Exhibition” (ibid, p.79) he finds a little mummy opening his eyes and running around before he helps her to go back to her tomb. Within the story there is no reference to the ethnic or cultural „other‟. However, the images which accompany the story show many characters from diverse backgrounds. The people portrayed are a mixture of fair and dark-skinned people (Image 10).
The overall presentation of this story including the illustrations, conveys ethnic and cultural diversity as a normal part of Irish society.
6.10.2 “Girl in Goal” In the story “Girl in Goal” by Rob Childs (Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate 2001, pp.11-17, Appendix C, pp.I-VII) Samantha wanted to play football with the boys at school only to be told by them to “Clear off” (ibid, p.11). However, one of the boys invites Samantha to come and play in the school‟s football team where she proves to everyone how well she can play. This story is accompanied by three illustrations which display the ethnic and cultural diversity at the school in the story showing some children as having a dark skin colour. Below is one of the images to give an example.
Source: “Girl in Goal” by Rob Childs. Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate 2001. Dublin: Carroll Education Limited. p.17.
6.12 Summary The analysis of the texts in the Irish case show that the ethnic and cultural „other‟ is mainly presented implicitly through images and/ or names which perhaps suggest an ethnic or cultural background other than that of the majority society. Only in two instances is a direct reference made to the ethnic and cultural „other‟. In the poem “Happy Birthday Dilroy!” (Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate, p.106, Appendix C, p.XII), Dilroy is referred to as having dark skin and in “Basia‟s Birthday Present” (Giants, Fishbones and Chocolate, pp.18-21, Appendix C, p.X-XI), the reader is told that Basia‟s name is of Polish origin. The analysis in relation to the original source stories has furthermore shown that some original stories include a direct reference by which the ethnic and cultural „other‟ can be identified as such. For example, while Michael Mullen‟s original story “The Caravan” (Mullen 1990) contains a number of direct references to the Traveller community in Ireland including stereotypical descriptions, the extract chosen for the textbook only includes one which relates to the build of the caravan. Similarly, in the extract “I want to go home!” (Bright Sparks Stories and Poetry, pp.170-181, see book) only the name of Doctor Azid suggests an ethnic and cultural background different to that of the majority.
However, in the original story his physical? features are described. Interestingly, at least one extract suggests, that the publisher consciously included ethnic and cultural diversity by including images of a dark- skinned child in the textbook since in the original story that child is described as having “gold hair” (Fine 2007b, p.10).