Ralph Flies The Coop book encourages international learning

Ralph Flies the Coop, the brainchild of Vermont-based author/illustrator team, Jaimie Scanlon and Ellen Tumavicus, aims to teach children about broadening their horizons through travel, intercultural experience, and foreign-language learning.

The story uses the character of Ralph, a rooster who leaves the farm and travels the world meeting new people and learning to say “cock-a-doodle-doo” in different languages, to introduce children to the concept that stepping outside our comfort zone and being open to different types of people and experiences can change our lives–and ourselves–for the better.

The book’s message of “openness to otherness” became particularly salient, says its creators, given the current threads of anti-immigration and xenophobia dominating the political climate around the globe.

Scanlon and Tumavicus, both veteran educators, drew upon their own experiences living and teaching abroad to create the story and imagery. Scanlon was inspired to write the story over a decade ago while teaching English to children in Japan. “I was teaching a group of kindergartners the sounds that farm animals make in English–the cow says ‘moo;’ the pig says ‘oink, and so on. The kids thought it was hysterical and wanted to teach me the sounds in Japanese. I wanted to write a children’ book that would capture that playfulness and the fun of language-learning and international travel, especially for many kids around the U.S. who may not have much exposure to multiculturalism.”

“The world needs this book.”

When author and illustrator began working together, they agreed that the final product needed to address the broader, related themes of acceptance of diversity and the meaning of global citizenship. “We wanted to offer an antidote to the xenophobia that seems to be taking hold around the world,” Scanlon said.

Tumavicus, a public school art teacher who has taught at international schools in Trinidad and Spain, cites current events, including terror attacks around the globe and Donald Trump’s anti-immigration platform, that sparked a sense of urgency about including the message of acceptance and a desire to encourage parents and educators to start conversations with children about cultural diversity. “The future will depend on the ability of today’s children to move past the fear and break down these perceived barriers,” she said. “We hope this story will lay that groundwork in a fun, age-appropriate way.”

Ralph Flies the Coop is being praised by educators as a positive resource for studying diversity and community. “The world needs this book,” said second-grade teacher, Deb Pierotti, who field tested the story in her class. “It stimulates discussion of how journeys can expand awareness of ourselves and others, and encourages children to view differences with curiosity and respect.”

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