Many moons ago at university, I wrote an essay exploring the common themes in short stories from different cultures. Whether we realise it or not it doesn’t matter where we come from, as a people we have the same human experiences. Whether its love, hate, joy, and sadness, we all experience it as some point in our lives. However, what differs is our processing and management of the experiences due to our cultural background. I thought the run up to World Book Day was a great occasion to introduce my kids to stories from other countries. I was delighted to receive a copy of In Their Shoes from Pushkin Press. There is an old saying “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” We come to understand the protagonist of each tale by making the journey with them in their shoes. In Their Shoes is filled with timeless enchanting folktales and fairy tales from around the world.
In Their Shoes is suitable for ages 5 years and up. There are eight stories in total all of which have been translated from their original language: Classical Chinese, French and Russian. The tales vary in length. Parents can read the tales in parts for younger ones with shorter attention spans. When I showed the book to Angelo and Valentina, they thought it was a book for older children. They are used to highly illustrated books. In fact, each tale has one illustration by Lucie Arnoux. The illustrations are delicate and quite detailed.
I read two stories from In Their Shoes to Angelo for and Valentina. Admittedly, I omitted parts and changed certain words to make them less scary for their age. I’d forgotten that many of the tales we have become fond of as children have been edited to be suitable for a younger audience. The tale of ‘The Red Shoes’ is an excellent cautionary tale about the perils of vanity and pride. However, the when Karen arrives at the door of the executioner and says to him:
‘Don’t strike off my head, for then I could not repent my sins’ … ‘strike off my feet and the red shoes on them’.
I felt the image was too scary for Angelo and Valentina kids. On another night, I selected the story of ‘Perseus and the Winged Sandals’. I was excited to share it with them. I loved Greek folktales when I was little. When I got the part when Perseus says to King Polydectes:
‘I shall offer you the head of Medusa, the terrible Gorgon’.
I knew they would be scared. In the end I carried on reading the tales to myself. I was quite taken by ‘The Story of Yexian’. Yexian’s tale is very Cinderella. It dates back to 9th Century Tang Dynasty set on the coast of what’s now Vietnam. In this story the Stepmother is a wicked barbarous woman. Yet, when she and her daughter were stoned to death, I felt sorry for them as did the cave dwellers in the tale who buried their bodies afterwards. The deadly sin of greed is not rewarded in this tale. ‘The Story of Chernushka’ is also quite like Cinderella. Even the name ‘Chernushka’ is Russian for Cinderella. Although, it isn’t a fairy godmother who comes to the aid of the young maiden but two doves.
I think In Their Shoes is a wonderful way to introduce children to literature from different countries. Although same tales maybe scary for younger ones. The compilation is entertaining and delivers clear moral messages. It’s a book that can stay and be passed down through a family. It’s a paperback original and RRP £6.99. Visit Pushkin Press website for a full list of their children (and adult) books. You can also register for email updates. World Book Days falls on 3rd March 2016. Visit their website for information on resources and activities .