Review of Jane Yolen’s “Encounter” by Ilanna

December 12, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Review of Jane Yolen’s “Encounter” by Ilanna

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Encounter is a picture book written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by David Shannon. It tells the story of the first meetings between a young Taino boy and European explorers (presumably Christopher Columbus and his crew). Written in eloquent, lyrical prose and accompanied by beautifully painted illustrations, the book is both poetic and poignant. The story is told from the perspective of the indigenous people that Columbus encountered, and draws attention to an often-neglected aspect of European exploration and imperialism. Although the subject matter is too narrow and the text is a bit too vague to be used exclusively when teaching these topics in a K-12 classroom, when used in conjunction with other texts this book brings an invaluable and important perspective to these topics.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The storyline of Encounter is simple enough for young readers: it follows the story of a Taino boy who is at first fascinated by the arrival of Europeans to his land and the goods that they bring with them. However, his apprehension grows as he sees the newcomers’ fixation not on friendship with his people, but on the gold armbands and jewelry that they are wearing. His fears are confirmed when he, along with several other young men, is taken by the Europeans as a slave. The boy escapes and tries warning other native people of the danger they are in, but they do not heed him. The story ends with the boy, now an old man, reflecting on the loss of his people through destruction and assimilation.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Although the story itself is simple enough, the book is written so poetically that following the plot could be a challenge for young readers. For example, the description of the Taino’s first sighting of Europeans reads as follows: “The baby canoes spat put many strange creatures, men but not men. We did not know them as human being, for they hid their bodies in colors, like parrots.” The story is filled with metaphors and poetic language that add an incredible level of poignancy to the narrative, but this may confuse weaker or younger readers. Although the illustrations can help guide the reader through the text, teachers should be aware that younger students will likely need a lot of support to fully grasp the story.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Because the narrative is told entirely from the perspective of a Taino child, the context of the story is deliberately left out. While this is the most defining and valuable feature of this book, it also means that teachers cannot use this book as the only text for teaching students this topic. For example, it is never explicitly stated who the newcomers are or where they came from. Instead, the narrator and his friends decide that the strange men must have come “from the sky.” It is clear that the author’s intention was not for this book to be the only source of information that the reader is exposed to on this topic. Indeed, a young student would need a good deal of supporting material and help from the teacher to comprehend the context of the story.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The facts that are included, however, have a very high degree of historical accuracy. Although not much is known about the Taino, the author succeeded in staying true to the historical record that exists while still building a rich, compelling world. Details about Taino rituals and culture match with archeologists’ findings, and interactions between them and European explorers correlate with information from the travel logs of Christopher Columbus and his crew. An author’s note at the end of the book provides further information about the Taino and the Encounter, as well as an explanation of some of the existing primary sources. The illustrations, too, reflect a high degree of accuracy in its depiction of both the Taino and the explorers, and an illustrator’s note explains his sources as well. For these reasons, this book is an excellent introduction to both the events and the cultures being described.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Encounter is both a great read and an important book for exposing young readers to European imperialism in the Americas. Most books on this topic that are geared for a young audience are very Euro-centric in their perspective; they often glorify European conquerors as great heroes and gloss over the more problematic aspects of imperialism. Rather than emphasize what was gained by Europeans’ actions, this book introduces young readers to what was lost. While not designed to be read at the exclusion of other texts, Encounter is an invaluable resource for introducing students not only to the historical topic of European exploration and imperialism, but also to the concept of varying points of view and competing historical narratives.


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