A guest post by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, originally posted on Babel Babies:
Last year some friends came to stay and we were very impressed with 7-year-old Alethea’s bedtime book, Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant and translated by Linda Burgess. Instantly in love with its gorgeous illustrations, I simply had to get a copy for my then 2-year-old. It’s a story about exploring other cultures, it’s bright and funny, and it’s got reusable stickers – what’s not to like?
Who is Mouk?
He’s an irresistibly cute cartoon Parisian bear, with an impossibly large head full of ideas and curiosity about the world, who is about to embark on a round-the-world tour. From the moment he wakes up in the morning, he’s getting ready for his big adventure, practising his “Bom dia” and “Ni hao” and reading about komodo dragons while eating his breakfast. A quick chat with his friends, and he’s off!
“I’m off… Off to see the world, make new friends and visit old ones.”
And off we go on a colourful whirlwind tour of five continents, where Mouk quickly settles in to the local climate and culture with the help of some extremely hospitable animal friends. Each action-packed double page spread has a little message home to Mouk’s friends, full of local customs and observations. The rest of the book’s text is just speech bubbles, so there’s no narrative as such. Each time we dip in and play with the stickers we just read a few of the comments and talk about a few of the charming and cheeky characters – there’s just too much going on in every page to talk about all of it!
From Lapland, where he tries out cross-country skiing, he heads to Greece where he goes diving and makes masks out of water melon skins. He is amazed by all the stars, and gets sand in his ears, in the Sahara, and plays peekaboo with hippos in Burkino-Faso. This page has our favourite scene: two feuding geckos have bitten each other’s tails off and are pointing at each other shouting “He started it!” The village elder, a wise lion has a suitably wise response: “Go back to the swamp, geckos. When your tails grow back you’ll make friends again.”
He dances to reggae with the lemurs in Madagascar, where the air is full of the smell of vanilla, gets stuck in a traffic jam caused by a sacred cow sleeping in the road in India and tries a durian, the world’s smelliest fruit, in China. Surfing in Australia is followed by a cherry blossom picnic in Japan and a spell of altitude sickness in the Andes. His last stop is New York where he stocks up on donuts before jetting home to see his friends, who sit eagerly listening as he excitedly shares story after story about his life-changing travels on the book’s final page.
In just 11 double page spreads, this book does more to inspire a lust for travel and exploration than any travel agent’s brochure could dream of. It’s a delicious and colourful mix of the mundane details of life in another country and the awe and excitement of seeing it through an enthusiastic traveller’s eyes. Mouk makes every effort to do as the locals do and with him you’ll learn useful phrases in 11 languages. This is a book that should be stocked in every primary school library and every secondary geography classroom, and makes a lovely present for children and globe-trotting adults alike.
Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a literary translator from German, Russian and Arabic, and an occasional Arabic teacher. She has two small children and co-founded Babel Babies during her first maternity leave, as a way of sharing her love of languages through singing and stories. She blogs regularly about kids’ books, education and languages at http://babelbabies.com/blog/