‘I’ll Believe You When . . .’: A Journey Around World Languages in Idioms

The picture book I’ll Believe You When…: Unbelievable Idioms from Around the World, written by Susan Schubert and illustrated by Raquel Bonitais, is forthcoming in the US in May and in the UK in June:
Although it’s written originally in English, we thought it fits our “world kid literature” remit, as it brings together brilliant idioms from around the world, all of which begin with “I’ll believe you when…” We asked author Susan Schubert how the book came about, what made her choose “I’ll Believe You When” as a starting point, and how she decided which languages to include:
Susan Schubert: I have worked with our local immigrant population for over 10 years as a teaching assistant in the community college ESOL program. Part of the program included some common idioms. However, many examples came up spontaneously because we encouraged students to note and share any confusing vocabulary or phrases they encountered in their interactions in the English speaking world. Parents were especially concerned about words that their children were bringing home from their day with peers in the public schools. Were these real words?  Were they appropriate or disrespectful? We explained the terms and ranked them as appropriate for everyday use, okay to use only with close friends, and those which you should not use with people like your mother-in-law or boss! (A classic example of the latter was when a husband newly married to an English speaker came home and was surprised by his wife’s reaction when he lovingly (in his mind) greeted her with, “Ah! Here is my lovely ball and chain!”
Naturally, much discussion would follow about the oddity of each idiom, and often students would think of a similar one in their own language. Soon everyone would be chattering and sharing the richness of these bits from their own culture.
Now that I am semi-retired, I have had time to devote to writing. Thinking about all of the books I have read over my thirty year previous career as a kindergarten teacher, I knew that idioms were appealing to young children. The “craziness” of idioms would also lead to exciting illustrations. The comparisons of similar idioms in other languages would highlight the mindset and creativity of various countries, a valuable idea for children to appreciate.
Thus, I began collecting and comparing world idioms. My first draft was of about 20 matched idioms in English, French and Spanish since these were the languages with which I am most familiar. I also had access to many native speakers who could validate these phrases. Once Lantana Publishing decided to develop this manuscript, the plan was to expand the work to include five examples for each entry. This led to major internet searches across many more languages from all over the world. An idiom would not make my list unless I could find it in more than two independent passages or had one of my native speakers vouch for it. My editor in Europe (and I assume her staff) also added to the idiom pool. The result was a fascinating but now unwieldy compilation of too many interesting phrases competing to be illustrated!
So, we backtracked. Our goal was visual impact and cultural diversity, and the idiom “when pigs fly” with ten exciting linguistic examples from across the world best fit the bill. This gave us a manageable, more focused book.
Are there ways in which you imagine this book being used (ideally?) in the classroom? 
Susan Schubert: As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to encourage rereading a story and expanding class discussions. Among the thoughts shared between myself, the editor and the illustrator were using the end papers for maps where readers can match the characters with their home nation (front) and with the actual phrase in the native language (back). I also suggested hiding some of the animals and objects in a “Where’s Waldo” style in most of the illustrations so that interest could be maintained as we revisited the story on another day. (“Today as we read, I want you to raise your hand whenever you see the pig; put your finger on your nose for the frog, etc.” This technique easily assures at least two or three engaging re-readings!)
I also like to encourage children to make a class book on the topic at hand, hence the suggestion that each child make up and illustrate her or his own idiom: when cows lay eggs, when snakes wear skates. These illustrations are collected and “bound” into a book which is circulated among the families.  I include a sheet where parents can add their reactions and comments and, in this case, any idioms that they might wish to share. Such books become part of the classroom reading shelf and sometimes the school library for other grade levels to enjoy.
If I were to use this book with older children (7 years and older), I would divide the class into small research groups to report on an assigned country. Depending on the age and skills of the children, I might provide a form to fill in basic information such as name of the country, list of neighboring countries, capital city, languages(s) spoken, names any major rivers or mountains, two or three industries or products, and space for several “fun” facts that the group found particularity interesting. Over the week, each group would be given some time to report back their findings to the entire class or two panels of five groups could present in a longer more formal panel style. A copy of the report on each country could be included in the class book as further reference.
What do you hope young readers take from it?
Susan Schubert: As the world becomes more interconnected, it is especially important to help children to understand that all cultures have an interesting heritage and something of value to contribute. Just like the idioms, there are many variations of thought, but there is also a unifying common theme.

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