Picture Book Perusal: The Hello Atlas!

picture book perusal button

Today’s nonfiction picture book from Allen & Unwin – The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak – is one to excite and amuse anyone, young or old, who is interested in language.  Or anyone who just wants to be friendly in foreign lands.  We Shelf-dwellers always like a good illustrated atlas-type book because there is something uber-fun about poring over different places and finding out about stuff.  And not only is the book huge and brightly illustrated and informative, it also comes with a handy app that allows readers to actually hear languages from around the world being spoken.  Enough of the teasers though; here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Look into the lives of children all over the world with this book that celebrates one of humanity’s greatest achievements: written and verbal language. Including fully illustrated word charts, featuring children depicted in their home country, doing ordinary things, this book features more than 100 languages, from well-known and lesser known indigenous languages that introduce us to some of the world’s most remote communities. With foreword by ethnobotanist and explorer, Professor Wade Davis. Comes with a free, downloadable app for iOS and Android that allows you to hear the phrases in the book, each recorded by a native speaker.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak.  Published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016.

As you can probably infer from the cover illustration, this book is all about people talking.  The understanding that people in different places communicate using different sound patterns will no doubt spur on motivated youngsters to find out more.  This is definitely the book for that youngster.  The atlas is divided into sections relating to different continents, and each section features a range of images of children doing everyday things – playing sport, taking a walk, going to school – captioned with the child’s name and the language they speak.  Each child is also accompanied by a phrase in their native language (and in some cases, alphabet) with an English translation.  Here’s an example:

hello-atlas-page-spread

While there is only a small amount of text for the plethora of images and languages, many of the children are pictured in some form of national dress, or performing an activity that is associated with their region of the world – ice hockey in North America, for instance – so there is plenty of visual information to flesh out the text.

The illustrations are done in attractive pastel tones and, happily, represent a range of skin colours for each continent.  On my initial flick through the book, I was a little overwhelmed with the number of children featured and I was worried that it might be a bit of information overload for younger readers.  Each section is preceded with a map of the particular continent that shows each of the children who will be showcased in the following section and where on the continent their language is spoken.  This provides readers with a chance to flick back and forth through the section to give a visual reminder of where each language group sits in the broader scheme of things:

hello-atlas-page-spread-2

I was quite interested to see whether any Australian Indigenous languages would be included and after a cursory inspection, I found three – Arrernte, Warlpiri, Yolngu – as well as Australian Kriol.  I wanted more, to be honest.  I realise that there has to be some kind of cut off point, but considering Australia had over 200 separate language groups once upon a time, it’s a bit of a shame that only three and a half made the cut here.

In a handy turn of events, The Hello Atlas also comes with a free app for smart devices that allows readers to actually hear the languages in the book being spoken.  I decided it would be remiss of me not to download it (even though it’s a pretty big app – you might need to clear some space first!) and I was pleasantly surprised that it is simple and streamlined in design and would be perfectly easy to master for anyone with even a basic knowledge of app-related pointy finger-jabbing.

The opening screen reflects a map of the world, and once you have chosen which continent you would like to explore, you can select from a list of languages and then click through to hear a native speaker intoning a few choice phrases such as “What’s your name?”, “How are you?” and the like.  Here are some screen shots of the menus and such:

hello-atlas-screenshot-1hello-atlas-screenshot-2  hello-atlas-screenshot-3

I had a bit of fun clicking through and listening to the different languages, especially the ones that use a different alphabet to English.  It was quite satisfying hearing how to correctly pronounce some words that I could make head nor tail of by reading the letters!  Being most interested in the Oceania region, I eagerly clicked through to listen to some indigenous Australian speakers and…..

…nothing.

Not one of the three indigenous Australian languages in the atlas was featured in the app.  Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed.  And a bit cranky.  Surely it couldn’t be that hard to find one representative of one of the three groups to get a sound bite for the app?!

Although it was super easy to use, one aspect of the app did strike me as a bit strange and that was the fact that of all the languages I listened to, not one was spoken by a child.  All the male and female voices on the app belonged to adults, which is perfectly adequate for those who want to just hear how the language sounds, but I found it a bit strange that while children are pictured in the book, adults are doing the talking in the app.  Again, surely it couldn’t be that difficult to find child native speakers of a majority of these languages.

Overall, I found this to be a fun and informative book that is the perfect size to pop on a classroom or library shelf to entice budding linguists.  The large format of the atlas means that multiple readers can gather round it at the same time, which can only be a good thing for a book that is based on the topics of communication and personal interaction.

I’d definitely recommend this one to classroom teachers, as well as parents who want to inspire a love of language and diversity in their mini-fleshlings.

Until next time,

Bruce

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