I have had so many requests since I started working at Barnes & Noble for multicultural children’s books, and the honest and sad truth is that there are really only a few and fewer that we keep on the shelves, so I was excited to come across All in a Day, which all but defines multicultural. It tracks eight different characters in eight different countries through a 24-hour cycle. In an attempt to weave the depictions together, a ninth character, who is stranded on an uncharted island, is introduced as the narrative voice. He calls out to the other eight, describing what they are doing at a given point and pleading for rescue from the island where he has been shipwrecked. There’s no explanation for how these messages are transmitted or received.
This book is the product of ten author/illustrators, including such famous names as Eric Carle, the Dillions, Raymond Briggs (others I assume are well known too, though I don’t recognize their works). Each character is done by a different illustrator from a different country. Theoretically, cultural and art school differences are apparent in the illustrations alone, but the average days of these characters more clearly explore cultural differences, where the British boy sleeps in a bed and the Japanese girl sleeps on a mattress on the floor beside her parents, the American boy is sent to bed while his parents celebrate the New Year while the Chinese boy stays awake to set off firecrackers and watch the fireworks. The illustrators compare dreams too, specifically those of a Kenyan boy and the Russian.
The sparse text can be difficult to follow, particularly as the narrative character is set out of line of the others and is the most washed-out, making him difficult to see, and it almost assumes some prior knowledge of the cultures, which I found difficult. The characters are not labeled with their names but with their countries and the current time and can only really be labeled by the narrator who will mention either their country or what they are doing. Not all of them are named on the first pages either, so there are strangers whose lives the reader is following, some of them strangers almost through the whole of the book. This is a book I had to read twice to grasp, and I would have liked to have read more and with more focus when I could digest the book. Its illustrations are its main feature and I think would benefit from some thorough exploration.
In the back of the book are two pages of further explanation and facts for older readers, which I didn’t get to read. These included explanations of how the earth’s rotation creates daytime and night and some information about how timezones work.
This will not be my first choice for a multicultural book (it reminds me of Mirror by Jeannie Baker, which I think is easier to follow, though maybe because that covers only two cultures, and I do not know that Baker has the intimate knowledge of both cultures that these illustrators have with the cultures that they are depicting), but I do certainly appreciate how many cultures the authors capture in a brief 32 pages and the narrator’s attempt at a humorous and cohesive narrative.
Anno, Mitsumasa. All in a Day. Illus. Gian Calvi, Leo Dillon, Diane Dillon, Ron Brooks, Eric Carle, Raymond Briggs, Akiko Hayashi, Zhu Chengliang, Nicolai Ye. Popov. New York: Puffin-Penguin, 1999. First published 1990.
This review is not endorsed by Mitsumasa Anno, any of the illustrators, Puffin Books, or Penguin Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.