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Say Can You See?

A front page article recently in The New York Times distinguished between the likely educational outcomes for preschool-age children who hear as few as 600 words a day, and the children of usually wealthier “professional” parents who may be exposed to as many as 12,000. Which sure does sound like a whole lot of words. Professional parents indeed.

The article goes on to further differentiate between words overheard from television and adult conversations, and “child-directed” words – so sorry, no credit for yattering on the phone while your offspring are staring into the middle distance from their bottomlessly upholstered strollers, and no Ivy League advantages either. Talk to your children, is the point of these studies, or at least locate someone who will, and by third grade anyway, they are exponentially better prepared to meet minimum literacy standards.

Or you could read to them, I suppose, indeed a host of enterprising publishers are allegedly in a hurry to exploit these latest developmental insights with books that pose such questions as: “I see a yellow taxi. What do you see?”

Well, I see flash cards. I see thirty or forty words that I will need to joylessly revisit about a hundred times a day if I am ever to meet my minimum quota, and I wonder: if I were the type of parent who could not generate at least 600 words of “child-directed” conversation in the first place, would I really be any more likely to initiate mind-numbing educational exercises?

Okay, maybe mind-numbing for me. Still, it is a part of the mission of this site, or anyway the suspicion, that we’re just going to stop reading these things unless there are elements about them we can genuinely, selfishly enjoy: a conversation we are not always on the verge of evacuating for whatever is on the other end of our chirruping devices.

Walk This World retails for around 17 bucks, admittedly a big step up from the sort of disposable looking pamphlets featuring Balls and Dogs and Umbrellas that appear to saturate those corners of the bookstore where one- and two-year-olds are presumed to be drooling and marauding and otherwise resisting our efforts at education.

Here are flaps to open (“more than 80!”), which might just make you suspicious, like buttons and noises and flashing lights, at the lack of substance they are probably hoping to disguise, yet here I think the Finnish illustrator Lotta Nieminen puts them to appropriate – and irresistible – use. The journey of the title begins in New York, and, though not all of the subsequent panoramas are explicitly labeled, I counted Paris, someplace in Africa where women carry baskets of fruit on their heads, an Italian amalgamation of Venice and Pisa and Pompeii, Moscow or St. Petersburg, Rio, Delhi, Tokyo, London and Australia. Fully one hour might have passed before I remembered myself in the middle of that picture book display, salespeople eyeing me nervously, babies gnawing on my shoes.

But the flaps! You could get pretty compulsive about looking behind all of these windows, beneath bridges, in tunnels, for what are cities if not layers upon layers of tantalizing clues? Blink and you’ll miss them: the gondola passing, the window-washer reaching, an artist spraying graffiti on a roof. Look – isn’t that a dressmaker in Italy applying some fashionable final touches? Bones beneath the volcano? A girl wading into a fountain?

To name just six. With more than seventy-four flaps still to go! The walk also comes with some minimal narration, though frankly I wish they’d left well enough alone, and found no evidence toward the conclusion “that though we might look different, underneath we’re just the same.”

Yeah, whatever. Anyway, where were we? Oh: Paris, where high in the belfry a hunchback stands pulling a rope, then London, where two blokes in a pub are just digging into their Shepherd’s Pie. There’s a kangaroo but also a concert hall in Australia, DJ’s, bikinis and capoeira in Brazil. Russian ballet dancers and onion top domes. In Tokyo: samurais and karaoke bars. As well as about a thousand other curiosities to pass the time. Oh, the places I haven’t been – and the places you might. It probably couldn’t hurt to start planning.

Filed Under:  Language    School    Travel  

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