Whether it's Barbies, GI Joes, princess dolls, or video games, cell phones, and junk food, our children are being exposed to some very powerful products. Companies are marketing their products to younger and younger children.
Many of these products and advertisements seem to encourage our children to focus on outer beauty, materialism, instant gratification, and unhealthy living. It's impossible for a child NOT to be exposed to such negative influences. Even when a parent limits the advertising and products their children are exposed to at home, they are sure to encounter these things at their friends' houses. What's a parent to do?
While it's a great idea to openly discuss and evaluate products and commercials together (especially with older children), there's one thing you can do right from birth: READ, READ, READ!
Why do I feel that reading is the most precious gift you can give to your child? Here are just a few of the reasons:
- Babies and toddlers love to hear your voice. If you read to them from birth, it'll become a treasured activity. Learning to read will also come a lot more naturally later on.
- Children of all ages learn a lot about themselves through books. If they put themselves in the places of book characters, they will be more prepared to handle real life situations. Chances are greater that they will develop positive character traits, such as empathy, as well.
- Children learn a lot about the world through books. I'm not just talking about nonfiction, either. Different genres of children's literature reflect the world's many different cultures and ways of life.
- In comparing different books, children learn how to think critically and creatively.
- Children can learn about any subject, and visit many different real and imaginary places without leaving their own homes.
- The more children read (or are read to), the more likely it is that they will be able to remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create, as per Bloom's Taxonomy.
- You don't have to spend money to read. All you need is a library card!
Okay, so what does this have to do with Cinderella? Well, as I mentioned in Part 1, if your daughter plays with princesses, you might be concerned that she'll focus on outer beauty alone. However, if your child reads a lot, she'll be a lot more likely to focus on the interaction between the dolls instead.
So, while any kind of reading will help your child to focus on inner beauty as opposed to outer beauty, there are many versions of Cinderella which we can all learn a lot from.
Today, I'd like to share two very unique versions of this classic fairytale. Children will learn a lot about character and culture while reading them.
Children between the ages of 6 and 10 will learn about African culture, sibling rivalry, and inner beauty if they read John Steptoe's Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale. Whether it's used in a classroom or home setting, it would be interesting for children to predict what will happen in the story when they look at the cover.
While this beautiful story was inspired by a folktale which was published in 1895, "the illustrations were inspired by the ruins of an ancient city found in Zimbabwe, and the flora and fauna of that region." Keep your globe or world map handy for this read aloud!
Children between the ages of 8 and 11 will learn about Mexican culture and character in Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition, adapted by Jewell Reinhart Coburn. Please note that the mother dies and comes back as a spirit (briefly) in this version.
Once again, there's a lot to be learned about character. Domitila's mother tells her to "do every task with care, and always add a generous dash of love," and she lives by these words. Although Domitila has outer beauty, it is her deep inner beauty that the Governor's son admires.
Positive character traits are emphasized throughout the book, and there are even Spanish and Mexican proverbs (in English and Spanish) on each page. I guess that's the author's way of "adding a dash of love."
There are no fairy godmothers or glass slippers in either of these very unique folktales. While they are each very different from the original version of Cinderella, you and your child will enjoy talking about the similarities and differences between them.
So, do you see how reading can help your child to see things, including dolls and other products, in a whole new way? We can't stop our children from being exposed to negative influences, but we can help them to look at the world from different angles. If we keep the lines of communication open, and seek out really great books, we will be able to say that we've really prepared our children for the outside world.
It's not easy out there these days. Our children have become the targets of some pretty heavy marketing campaigns. Oh, and did I mention peer pressure?
I don't have any statistics for you, or research papers. I'm just trusting my instincts and my experience on this one. My gut feeling is the same as it was when my first child was born.
No matter what new product or technology ever comes along, nothing will ever compare to a really great book. It doesn't matter how old you are, where you come from, or what information you're seeking. Reading simply improves lives. Whether we read to ourselves or to our children, books can make the world a better place for all of us.
I'll leave you with this thought: imagine if the story of Cinderella was never written down at all. What if there were no books? Where would we all be now?
Do you have a favorite version of Cinderella? Please feel free to share it with us...
For part 3, click here.