Thursday, December 22, 2011
For children: Judging the rabbit
This children's book — Judge Rabbit and the Tree Spirit: A Folktale from Cambodia — occupies a narrow slice of cultural relevance. It's a traditional Cambodian folk tale that has text in both English and Khmer.
This bilingual story is, to echo the theme in the story, about as rare as a magic rabbit solving all your problems. Very few children's books are available in Khmer and English. While most families won't be mesmerized by the story, it will be treasured by any multiracial family that is trying to bridge the cultural gap between Cambodia and the English-speaking world. It's also valuable if you want to expose young children to Khmer, both written and spoken.
Beyond the language benefits, the story emphasizes family ties and relying on clever thinking to solve problems. The Judge Rabbit of the title solves the central conflict by outsmarting the antagonist, something that the human characters are unable to do. It is a gentle story with a happy ending.
It is written for a younger audience, perhaps primary school or younger. My son has enjoyed it since he was 3 years old.
That said, it is a faithful translation of a well-known folk tale and older scholars may be interested as well. If you want to deeply analyze it, there are themes of abandonment, a wife's submissive role in Cambodian society, a tenuous legal system, animism and a clear depiction of traditional beliefs about forest spirits. But you don't have to analyze to it enjoy it.