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Books with a Dialect

I have had a hard time with books in which the author writes the text with an accent or regional dialect. Coming from New England, we speak without accents (really, those Boston accents aren’t everywhere!), and I feel a little uncomfortable reading with a regional accent and regional grammar.

We recently read and fell in love with two books that have accents written into them – A Louisiana Creole book – Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood is by Mike Artell, and illustrated by Jim Harris (we read it first to honor Mardi Gras); and a story about an African American farming family – Precious and the Boo Hag by Patricia C. McKissack and Onawumi Jean Moss, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. I feel a bit uncomfortable reading the accented words and speaking with the grammar as it is written in the books. I feel like I am caricaturing the people from that area, but wonder if instead I am honoring a different dialect – I feel very torn between the two. A friend also suggested that having books written in different dialects could be empowering for children – it is always wonderful to see yourself in a book! I suppose each book has its own answer, and both of these books are wonderful, and the dialect helps add to the sing-song nature of both books.

My children, do not feel torn about the dialect. They just love the stories and love the characters in the two books, and want them read over and over. I am glad I enjoy the stories, too, because otherwise I’d be getting sick of reading these books a couple times each day!

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood is by Mike Artell, and illustrated by Jim Harris. This version of Red Riding Hood takes place with geese as the main characters, in the cajun swamp. Petite Rouge (little red in French) and her cat, TeJean, set off with a basket filled with food for her sick Grand-mere. On the way to Grand-mere’s house, she is waylaid by a gator named Claude, who wants her food. When she refuses to give it to him (though she’s quite polite), he decides to trick Petite Rouge and races over to Grand-mere’s house.

This has been following the regular Red Riding Hood story, though all in Cajun, but it diverges here by having Grand-mere hide in the closet rather than being eaten (we like that change!). The story continues in classic Red Riding Hood fashion with Claude dressing up in Grand-mere’s clothes and Petite Rouge & TeJean asking questions about how different Grand-Mere looks. When Claude is ready to eat Petite Rouge and TeJean, though – there’s a fabulously Cajun twist that helps her get away.

The language is a bit tricky to read – between the Creole-French words and the writing out of the Creole dialect with all its apostrophes, but the story is fun and well worth the effort. It’s a really great twist on an old story – and done incredibly well. The pictures are fabulous, and use colors that make you think of the swamps. If you aren’t familiar with French or Creole, I would suggest reading it to yourself before you read it to children, though! This was a big hit with everyone here, and is now on our list of books we want to own, not just take home from the library.

Precious and the Boo Hag by Patricia C. McKissack and Onawumi Jean Moss, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker is another book we now want to own after getting it fromthe library. This story is set in the past in what appears to be the rural South. The family has to leave their daughter (Precious) inside the house alone with a stomachache, because it’s corn planting time and all hands are needed in the fields. Before her brother leaves, he tells Precious about the “Boo Hag” named Pruella who will do anything to get inside the house. Precious starts to laugh at him, but then he tells her how to identify a Boo Hag, and she starts to believe him. Of course, a friend of hers comes by and teases her about believing in Boo Hags, so Precious relaxes and enjoys being home alone for a while.

Pruella the Boo Hag does come, though – all horrible. Precious realizes what she is, though, and doesn’t let her in. In fact, she bolsters her courage by singing out her fear:

Pruella is a Boo Hag -
she’s right outside my window.
She’s tricky and she’s scary,
but I won’t let her in!

The Boo Hag finds many different disguises to try to trick Precious into letting her in, and Precious has to keep outwitting her – singing her song each time. My daughters found the song very empowering, and loved the idea of singing away a monster! The illustrations are as captivating as the wonderful song – they are a combination of drawings and collage using old-fashioned materials. It’s an incredible book that we strongly recommend – we are grateful to have found another book that entertained the reader, and kids aged 3-8!

One Response to “Books with a Dialect”

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