The value of cultural diversity — guest post by Sarah Ellis

Sarah EllisI like a good festival. In Vancouver you can pretty much move right from the Vaisakhi parade through Italian Day on the Drive to Carnaval del Sol through to Chinese New Year if you’ve got the endurance and you love food trucks. (Apparently there is even a St. David’s Day celebration for my people but I haven’t attended because I don’t think there’s a Welsh food truck. Welsh food: now there’s an unrealized business opportunity. “Hey honey, wanna grab some Welsh takeout tonight?” But I digress.)

These cultural festivals make us feel good. They make us feel Canadian and mosaic-ey and hyphenated. Who doesn’t enjoy closing the streets to cars, drinking a beer outside in public, (it doesn’t take much to make a Canadian feel naughty), and watching those Ukrainian dancers, their ribbons flying? But festivals aren’t enough. At festivals nobody wants to bring up cultural divisions, political rifts, racism, alienation, appropriation or awkward historical truths. Festivals don’t give us the inside story. For the real inside story, fiction is an excellent source.

I review books for the American reviewing journal the Horn Book. Because I’m a Canadian I guess I count as international because they tend to assign me books in translation. I’m delighted by these assignments. What I learn from imported books is not so much that daily life in Finland or Tanzania is different from ours, it is that basic assumptions are different. Take the relationship between parents and children, for example, a subject of enduring fascination for the child reader. Everything we hold dear about the roles and responsibilities of parents? Guess what. That’s just us. There are other ideas about this relationship and we live with those ideas when we read a book that grew in that other place. That new immigrant kid in the class? He might hold those other ideas.

People talk about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins. That’s true, of course, and books are great places to try on other people’s shoes. But after the book is over, if it has truly connected with the reader, that reader’s own shoes should feel slightly uncomfortable for a while. That’s a good thing. Let’s be slightly uncomfortable with our own assumptions. That’s the value of diversity.

Outside in by Sarah EllisOutside In

by Sarah Ellis

Lynn’s life is full — choir practice, school, shopping for the perfect jeans, and dealing with her free-spirited mother. Then one day her life is saved by a mysterious girl named Blossom, who introduces Lynn to her own world and family — both more bizarre, yet somehow more sane, than Lynn’s own.



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