Foreign Places and Languages in Children's Fiction

Term Paper, 2011

11 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Lorena Greppo (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1 Mrs. Overtheway’s Remembrances
2.2 The Wind Eye
2.3 The Granny Project
2.4 The White Darkness

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The idea that the use of the motif of foreign places and languages in Children’s Fiction is a phenomenon that came up due to globalization sounds evident, but turns out to be misleading. Peter Hunt, Professor Emeritus in Children’s Literature, attributes the interest in foreign cultures to “[…] the desire in the child to comprehend the shape of the world, literally and metaphorically” (Hunt 1994, 179). This has been present in Children’s Literature long time before, most likely in adventure stories and Fantastic Literature, and so the migrant literature is just another way of dealing with it.

In order to find out which effects it has to establish the setting in a place which is unknown to the young readers and to bring them into contact with foreign cultures, I am going to examine four books, written in three different centuries: Mrs. Overtheway’s Remembrances (1869), The Wind Eye (1976), The Granny Project (1983) and The White Darkness (2005). It is interesting to see how this motif works in the mentioned stories, what impact it has on the characters’ life and how it changes them. Therefore I will go further than just describing the relations the protagonists have to the foreign places or languages, but also try to interpret them.

2. Main Part

2.1 Mrs. Overtheway’s Remembrances

Mrs. Overtheway’s real name, Mary Smith, is fairly common, whereas the stories about her life that she tells to Ida are extraordinary. As her father is a very open-minded person and an enthusiast for foreign cultures, he teaches her and her siblings to be tolerant as well. He passes his passion on to his children, not only by naming one of his daughters Fatima, after having read the Arabian Nights and therefore entered the spirit of the Orient, but also by arousing their curiosity about ‘the other’, the unknown. When Mary and Fatima fancy their futures, none of them wants to be like normal English women, they have far more exotic plans set for themselves. Mary is to be an Amazon, a mythic female warrior, and Fatima, suitable to her name, wants to marry a sultan. It is not surprising that, when they move into the new house and hear about the Russian family that lived there before, they instantly start imagining their own story of, how they call them, the “Little Russians”. Mary even tries to learn Russian for that reason and although they know the translation of their house’s name “Reka Dom” (which means River House), they still use the Russian name. This shows that they easily accept the foreign language and don’t find a need to assimilate it into the English culture. For them the house with its beautiful garden is perfect, it provides them with an adventure, the story of the Little Russians, and it is an idyllic place to grow up.

For Mary it means even more, because their discussion about the meaning of the word home, which she linked with Reka Dom, forms a connection between her and Ivan, her later husband whom she meets at a tea-party. After that he and Mary’s father study German documents together, which means that he came by their house every once in a while and consequently meets Mary more often. They end up getting married and so we can say that Reka Dom, the house with the exciting Russian spirit, does not only make the whole family happy, but also makes Mary find love.

Therefore one result for the family of getting in touch with another culture is an enrichment to their lives. It grants them a pleasant childhood and it provides Mary with stories she tells Ida and thereby makes her happier. For Ida, the foreign cultures are totally unknown and hence she is free to imagine them as she likes.

2.2 The Wind Eye

The foreign place in The Wind Eye is actually a region in England, not too far from the family’s home, but supernatural incidents make some member of said family travel through time and find themselves in the 7th century. It is about Northumberland where Bertrand, the father of the two girls Beth and Sally, inherited a house from Uncle Henry and by means of a boat they found in a hut near the house that they go back in time.

The protagonists’ reactions towards the happenings are as different as they can be. Madeleine, Bertrand’s wife, is scared and does not want to have anything to do with it, although at first she seems to be very interested in all the stories and myths she hears about the place. But as it becomes real to them, she cannot bring up the braveness to face it. Bertrand in contrast thinks he knows everything best. When they arrive in the North of England he acts arrogantly towards the people living there. As they all talk in a dialect, they may seem simple and less well-educated than he is, but fact is that they knowledge is just different and refers to local happenings. This does not mean much to Bertrand and he cannot discern what they try to warn him from, so the lack of communication leads to his failure in his venture of changing the past. His arrogance does not even vanish when he sees himself confronted with a whole company of Vikings and again he fails in communicating with them.

The children on the contrary show a lot of respect towards the Northumbrian culture. Not only do they find the landscape spooky and intimidating, but also do they not try to change the course of history once they found out about how the boat works. Sally is attracted to the isles because of the Saint Cuthbert and therefore she escapes the charge of her father and sister to go and find him. Different from her father, she is able to communicate with Cuddy (that is how they call the saint) without a need of words. Later on she describes it this way: “It was all double-Dutch. He talked to me by signs – we got quite good at it.” (p.110). Her sister Beth and her stepbrother Mike set off to find her, but on the way Mike realizes the whole undertaking is too big for him and so Beth enters the isle on her own.

Like her sister she can communicate with Cuddy, on the one hand because she speaks Latin, which he understands, and on the other hand because both of them share a deep belief in the Christian religion. It seems as if the saint can look right into her soul and know about her wishes. They have an understanding that exceeds the limits of verbal communication.

The journey to Northumberland changes a lot. Madeleine, formerly impatient and quick-tempered finds her own peace by being a loving mother to her son.

Bertrand’s intolerance produces violence, he sees himself forced to kill a man after abandoning his family in a quest for historical knowledge and testimonial and it is not the circumstances that made him behave in that way, but his true character revealed after he found out that he does not know as much as he thought he did. He fails in communicating whereas the children succeed due to being open minded and tolerant. They can adapt to the new situation quickly and by accepting thing without the need of understanding them at all cost, it is a lot easier for them to deal with the foreign culture.

2.3. The Granny Project

The earlier mentioned aspect of migrant literature forms part of The Granny Project. Natasha, the mother of four children, is originally from Russia, more precisely from Novosibirsk. Consequently she is not a native speaker of the English language, but one would not notice it by the way she talks as her English is faultless. She is able to instantly paraphrase the difficult medical terms the doctor uses, to make them understandable to her children and her spontaneous enumeration of things she has to do while taking care of Granny shows her rhetorical talent. The only moment in which she becomes a part of “the other” again is telling her children Russian proverbs. Her children have an ambiguous relation to her speaking Russian. They sometimes get quite annoyed by them, especially when she refuses to translate them into English, but they can also function as an advice and help them in difficult situations. Henry apparently speaks Russian too, because he is able to understand the proverbs his wife sometimes launches. Although we can only guess what he thinks of her proverbs as it is only said

“Sometimes it appeared to Henry that the only thing his wife had brought with her when she moved west across a frozen continent was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ominous sayings” (p.8)

he shows to be an open minded man. Not only did he marry a migrant woman, but also does he do an Italian language course and at his mother’s funeral he wonders how other cultures express their grief at a funeral.

At least to other people, the whole family seems exotic and exciting. The guests that come to Natasha’s party wonder about how open the Harris children are in comparison to the English youth and “they put it down to cultural differences, Natasha being Russian” (p.49) although none of the children has ever been to Russia and neither do they speak the language. But it is not just the people’s imagination that they are different, because the children, like their mother, have great language skills as can be seen by how easily the words come to them for example writing their homework for Social Sciences. In addition, the four siblings are extraordinarily close together which may as well be referred to the fact that their migrant family background makes them somehow special. There has to be some kind of flair around this family, that makes the guests expect great entertainment from Natasha’s party and they are not really surprised as the director of the school Henry works for, who usually dos not talk much about his private life, tells them stories about his senile mother.

It is left to the reader to decide whether the foreign culture influences the nature of the children or if it is just their intelligence that makes them special, but fact is, that getting in touch with another culture besides does make their living more exciting and it might as well be the reason why the children are so open if it is not only the imagination of the people in the story.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Foreign Places and Languages in Children's Fiction
University of Osnabrück  (Fachbereich Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften)
Experimental Children's Fiction
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
454 KB
foreign, places, languages, children, fiction
Quote paper
Lorena Greppo (Author), 2011, Foreign Places and Languages in Children's Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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