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By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 22 November 2006 —Karen Shariati's Meet Arzeen Citizen of the World is a children’s book written for independent readers or for adults to read to early readers.  The central theme of the book is to introduce children to the world around them through the eyes of a child named Arzeen, as he and his bird travel the world. 

The concept of the book is a great idea but it fails in the opening to engage young readers by introducing the central character who proclaims himself as Citizen of the World.  The message in the language and the illustration of Arzeen dressed in business attire sitting behind a big desk in the first two pages of the book fosters images of superiority and teacher; this tone is not child friendly or engaging.  Then as we travel with Arzeen and his bird, we are provided with a look into each continent using a tourist approach. Dr. Lousie Derman-Sparks, diversity and social justice scholar, writes "Tourist curriculum is both patronizing, emphasizing the "exotic" differences between the cultures, and trivializing, dealing not with real-life daily problems and experiences of different people, but with surface aspects of celebrations and modes of entertainment."

The other flaws with this book are:

  • The story is told through the eyes of a male character and girls / women are depicted serving food, participants in marriage ceremonies or dancing.
  • The illustrator does not show the diversity of the people in many of the places that we visit– e.g. South Africa, India and Brazil. 
  • The illustrations on each page capture too many items, trying to present the whole continent in limited space.  This is further complicated by labeling the sites or objects combined with the text creating a layout which is not child friendly.
  • The ending where Arzeen has children from around the world circle around him and he tells us they are his friends.  The illustration reinforces his superiority by him being in the center instead of part of the circle plus projects a stereotype of the Native American with his hand over his mouth.

Parents and teachers who are interested in providing their children with excellent books which provide them with opportunities to learn about children around the world, should:

  • Visit the International Reading Association website.
  • Read the following books: Children Just Like Me by Barnabas and Anable Kindersely, DK Publishers and any book written by Ann Morris (On the Go, Weddings, Hats Hats Hats, Families ….)

Quote from: Anti-Bias Curriculum Tools for Empowering Young Children by Louise Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force published by National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1989, page 7.

Meet Arzeen Citizen of the World
By Karen Allison Shariati
Illustrations by Jay Jiyeon Kim
Hardback: 45 pages
Arzana, Inc., Potomac, Maryland, USA (2006)
ISBN: 10: 09880475-0-4
ISBN: 13:978-0-9770475-0-5

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