My son, Jude, developed a fun (and challenging!) game that involves reading an imaginary story. He holds up an imaginary book (his hand), and his father or I get to make up a story while he turns the imaginary pages. Sometimes we use familiar characters like Thomas the Tank Engine or something he is interested in like dinosaurs, but inspired by Emily Meyer’s post last week about Brazil, I decided to use one of these opportunities to make the “foreign familiar”.
I re-created a story about Barney going shopping with two pals. Barney Goes Shopping isn’t exactly my pick for great children’s literature, but this is currently one of my son’s favorite books mostly because it is an interactive book which asks questions and has a little car at the top that the child drives to each destination.
In my story, I changed the characters to Isadora, Danilo, and Lia (Brazilian names). I described the rich scenery of Brazil including the highland mountains providing a dramatic backdrop for the city and the open-air market or feira. Isadora, Danilo, and Lia shop at various stalls to buy fruits, spices, and pastels (meat and cheese filled turnovers) for a party. We used our fingers to imagine our new friends walking through the narrow paths between stalls that sell all sorts of handmade items, clothes, baskets, and natural medicines.
Of course, this would be easy to do with any culture. And if your child was older you could make the story more elaborate and have them help create the story. An easy way to get started is to pick a story that you know well, you know the one you have read a hundred times, and use that as a starting place like I did. Change the characters’ names to ones that are from another culture, change the scenery to a less familiar part of the world. Insert activities or objects that might be customary for that part of the world. Try to use some words from the language that is spoken by this culture. Ask your child questions as you go through the story to get them to use their imagination and to keep them interested.
Using the imaginary book game to enlighten your child about other cultures will stimulate their imaginations and help them appreciate differences and similarities between their own lives and those of children living in other parts of the world. Believe me it is definitely more fun on my end as a parent, when I can offer an imaginary book as an alternative to the 123rd reading of Barney Goes Shopping!