________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006


This Little Light of Mine. (Raffi Songs to Read).

Raffi. Illustrated by Stacey Schuett.
Toronto, ON: Random House of Canada, 2004/2006.
27 pp., board, $10.99.
ISBN 0-375-82887-7.

Preschool / Ages 1-4.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**½ /4


I'm gonna take this light around the world

And I'm gonna let it shine.


If you're of a Christian background, as a child you likely met the song, “This Little Light of Mine,” in Sunday school, or, if that's not your spiritual heritage, then perhaps you just encountered it in a secular setting, such as around the campfire at a summer camp. When you sang its lively lyrics, you likely didn't think about the song's origins, but it is actually a Negro spiritual. Because of its self-affirming content, the song experienced a revival during the American Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950's and early 1960's, being sung at protest gatherings.

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     Canadian children's entertainer Raffi created his “Songs to Read” series in the belief that, if children had already enjoyed a song's lyrics, then this familiarity would help them make the transition from singing to reading. Raffi's version of the song has removed any of the lyric's obvious religious connotations, and Shuett's illustrations, all double page spreads, carry the “story” and place the action solidly in a secular context. A group of children appear to be preparing for some type of public performance, likely a school concert. A little girl, wearing a pink sweater with a large orange-red heart on it, can be seen either on the edge or in the background of virtually all the illustrations. As the book progresses, she moves from what may be shy passivity to greater engagement as the other children, who are from various racial groups, learn their lines, select costumes, paint the set, arrange the lighting, and gather the props. Finally, on the evening of the show, the little girl appears on stage literally as the star of the show.

     While children may be attracted to the book because of their familiarity with the song or perhaps their previous auditory experiences with Raffi, the storyline, which is delivered entirely through the illustrations, is too sophisticated for its intended preschool audience. The little girl's body language does convey her shyness and/or her initial reluctance to become involved in the production, but her facial expression fails to confirm the emotions conveyed by her body. Younger children, in particular, will have a great deal of difficulty in recognizing the little girl in the book's final illustration as her principal identifier, the pink sweater with its large heart, is completely covered by the star costume.

Recommended with reservations.

Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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