STREET ART TO DISCUSS IDENTITY WITH CHILDREN? WHY NOT

“Typically the ‘where are you from?’ conversation opener doesn’t start with the kids at the playground, but it does start from the parents,” Elisavet Arkolaki, bloger at maltamum.com, has observed. To create a new international tool for raising children to take full advantage of multicultural environment, she is now crowdfunding to finance publishing a book illustrated with street art.

Elisavet Arkolaki

The book will feature murals by street artist Platon. Crafted for children roughly from pre-school to eight years of age, the book intertwines stories of nine children, from Malta to China, living on all six inhabited continents. The children get together to find a universal answer to the question ‘Where am I from?’

Elisavet’s estimate is that the ambitious project needs €10,500 in about thirty days, which she hopes to collect by 15th August. Platon will then paint the murals in Athens and photograph them. Faraxa Publishing in Malta will publish the book. Elisavet tells Eve about how this idea was born.

Eve: In your Kickstarter campaign, you write: “I was actually very surprised to see this has never been done before – marrying words with street art for a children’s audience.”  Before the book comes about, what do you normally read to your child?

Elisavet Arkolaki: We read lots of different books, in all three family languages, English, Norwegian and Greek. We are now going through a phase where our eldest wants us to read to him books with folklore stories and our youngest wants to go through board books with photos.

I haven’t found any children’s picture books dealing with the question of where we are from in any way other than the biological sense, as opposed to a philosophical sense.

Eve: How is the book’s theme, multiculturalism, relevant to Malta?

EA: The Maltese society is very mixed and multicultural. You see children everywhere from all over the world, with their very own unique blend of cultures and identities. The kids listen, and repeat, and form opinions based on how the adults act and react. Within a multicultural family’s setting though, [identity] is a subject that comes up often. Kids soon realise that others might not be speaking the same languages as they do, that certain behaviours which for them are normal (ie Mediterranean kids tend to be loud at home) might not be accepted in another cultural setting and might be seen as something to be corrected. Our son is growing up with a Greek mum and a Norwegian dad and during the first years of his life he lived in Malta. Small things like this can be big causes of confusion and frustration for small children.

Photo credit: Platon

Eve: Why is ‘Where are you from?’ an important question?

EA: When one moves several times, one’s home country might no longer feel like ‘home’, at least not in the same sense as it used to before. Let’s try now to reverse this and see it from a child’s perspective, someone who grows up in between countries and languages and cultures. What if one is soaked in multiple cultures since birth or early childhood? Where does that small person, who has this massive need of belonging, comes from?

It is during the first years (0-3, 3-5) that many of our beliefs about our identity and how we see the world are formed and this is why I wanted to write a story appealing to children of pre-school age till about eight years of age. My wish is that multicultural children can grow up confident, standing their ground, knowing that they belong to the local communities as much as everyone else. To compliment the story even further, I created a free to download guide titled ‘How to Raise Confident Multicultural Children’ written with full chapter contributions by professors and experts in the field who feel as strongly about this subject as I do.

I also wish the local children learn how to embrace them and give them the chance to blend in without effacing the unique flavours of their backgrounds. What a better way to move towards that direction than a book story?

Further reading:

Interview with Elisavet Arkolaki