Cultural Differences When Writing For Children


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Writing children’s books is a tantalizing and gratifying experience, that everyone should try at one time or another. If the story line is in one’s own culture the process is more easily adapted to the plot and is not the primary focus. However, if the story involves a different culture, than the process takes on a more complicated approach. In this situation the scope of the story should be approached in a different manner. The end result, in either case, is a sense of achievement but the guidelines can be quite different.

The book “The Great Eagle Spirit” is a case in point. (See The research can be found in the story of a young Alaskan boy living in the village of Unalaska on the Aleutian Islands. The adventures of the young boy could never have been told without an in depth knowledge of the people living on the islands. To accomplish this delicate undertaking, every aspect of the culture must be reviewed to achieve plausibility. The reader should be able to enjoy the book seamlessly without it being out of character with the theme of the culture within.

The following guidelines between one culture and another would be helpful. HISTORY: Depending on the story line a historical reference point is vital to place the story in its proper context. The Aleutian Island culture began thousands of years ago, and the people called themselves Unangan. They came to the Americas via a land bridge call Beringia which long ago disappeared. Around 1750 Russian fur traders came to the islands for otter and seal fur and in the process exploited the people and called them Aleuts. Their culture has never been the same sense. Today these same people want to be known as Unangan. This historical reference point is the basis for the “The Great Eagle Spirit”. Without this perspective, the story could never have been written.

ENVIRONMENT: The Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea are all about wind, rain, and fog. Any story in these climes must take these physical features into consideration.

ECONOMY: The Aleutian Islands has very few roads but a long history in a very large fishing business which dominates the lives of the people. It is the corner stone of their existence.

RELIGION: Depending on the story and time frame, religious history may play a significant role as in role of the Russian Orthodox Church.

CURRENT LIFE STYLE: While the computer and internet brings people together, there are still tremendous differences that need to be explored and developed. Many of the activities of young people in remote places are quite different from more populated areas.

ECO-SYSTEM AND MARINE LIFE: The islands represent a text book example of the fragility of the eco-system. The area is undergoing great changes and is very susceptible to disruptions. Any story in this area of the world would encounter an environment that must be taken into consideration.

These are only a few guidelines that make writing a book within another culture easier. There are many other factors but the above points can help achieve a book that is realistic and believable. Once the facts are identified within the confines of the particular society, the story line can be developed. The ensuing results should be a pleasure to write and read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hal Granum is a long time resident of the Pacific Northwest and has lived in Alaska. He is now a resident of Georgia. His book “The Great Eagle Spirit” is a product of the above guidelines. See his web site at or write him at .


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