My recent focus on traditional songs and rhymes is an excellent background for this particular title, which takes the familiar children's nursery rhyme, This is the house that Jack built and turns it into a thought provoking picturebook about the drug trade and cocaine addition. What's so clever about taking such a topic and creating a picturebook is the wider audience it reaches. Children in primary can understand the simple text and look at and question the illustrations. Older students, teens and young adults, can use both the words and illustrations as a spring board for deeper, more thought provoking discussion. Its cumulative rhyme has a hip-hop beat to it, which again makes it very suitable for teens. The house that crack built was published nearly twenty years ago with the intention of helping children understand how to make the right choice about drugs. The proceeds of sales go towards drug education, prevention and rehabilitation programs that specifically help children.
The endpapers are scattered with coca leaves.
As we begin the rhythmic cumulative verbal text, the story reveals itself line by line on the verso, with the illustrations facing, on the recto: square illustrations with a white boarder, or frame, around them.
|Opening 1: "This is the House that crack built"|
|Opening 2: "This is the Man, who lives in the House that crack built"|
|Opening 4: "These are the Farmers who work in the heat and fear the Soldiers, who guard the Man, who lives in the House that crack built"|
In the next illustration we are shown the coca plant against a sunny blue sky, a pretty plant ...
|Opening 5: "These are the Plants that people can't eat, raised by the Farmers who work in the heat and fear the Soldiers who guard the Man who lives in the House that crack built."|
This illustration shows us what it's like in the street. Seen through a window, a faceless woman holding a baby. Outside, an anguished woman is banging her head on the wall, a man with an upside-down head, high - the cigarette or joint ends separating the foreground figure form those in the background.
We next meet "the Gang, fleet and elite" then the "Cop working his beat".
|Opening 9: "This is the Cop working his beat, who battles the Gang, fleet and elite, that rules the Street of a Town in pain ..."|
|Opening 12: "This is the Girl who's killing her brain, smoking the Crack that numbs the pain, bought from the Boy feeling the heat ..."|
"This is a book about choices." writes Michael Pritchard in the afterword, "... the author used his poetic voice to remind us the problem is out there. The illustrator used her artistic vision to bring the tragic nature of the problem powerfully alive. And the publisher chose to blend these visions into a book and use its profits (...) to help fight the problem. Together they have created a tool that can be used to open discussion and to help children learn to make the right choices. Together they have reminded us that in small and personal ways each of us has the power to change the world."
It is indeed a very powerful, though physically small, book and one I am certain can be used with teenagers and young adults in ELT contexts. I hope that in sharing this title, I have encouraged some teachers to take up the challenge.