This isn’t my house

New York schools will continue to stock a book that implies the average American family is homeless. This Is My House pictures houses in countries around the world with a few sentences of text. The Washington Times reports:

“This is where I live right now. My family is staying in our car,” reads the text by author Arthur Dorros. “We will move into a house when we can.”

The accompanying drawing shows a scowling white mother and two children sitting in a car parked in a dilapidated urban neighborhood of graffiti-covered houses with boarded-up windows. An empty lot is strewn with trash and a discarded tire. The book purports to illustrate how people live in countries around the world.

The book shows a log cabin as the Russian house, which is not typical Russian housing either.

Publisher’s Weekly says:

Dorros’s work includes 22 dwellings in such diverse locales as Turkey, Norway and Samoa. Unfortunately, the small type identifying each location is frequently difficult to make out, and the short paragraph paired with each drawing offers very little factual information. Bolivia, for example, merits only two brief sentences: “I live in the high mountains, where there are few trees. We built our house out of stone.”

Contrary to the Times, “This iz my hows” isn’t Ebonics; it’s phonetics. The book provides a phonetic rendering of “This is my house” in each country’s home language.

Caerdroia complains that schools ban good books for offenses against political correctness while allowing books that are just plain dumb. I don’t believe in removing books from school libraries unless they’re truly awful. But this book sounds like a waste of money.

About Joanne


  1. How does the book imply the “the average American family is homeless”??

    According to the article, the book explicitly states “The houses pictured in this book are not the only types to be found in the respective countries. In any country, many types of housing can be found.”

  2. It would be more correct to say that the book identifies homelessness as typically American, then, which is still unjustly negative. The family living in the car does indeed happen, but is a rare and temporary situation when it does.

  3. “This Iz My Hows” seems to indicate that the phonetic notation in the book is English-based, since the use of “y” for “ah-ee” and “ow” for “ah-oo” is English-specific. Such a choice makes sense for monolingual English readers, but as a linguist, I cringe at what the phonetic notation for the other languages in the book must look like. Linguists prefer “neutral” notation systems that are not so closely based on the idiosyncracies of one language’s orthography. True neutrality doesn’t exist, since decisions have to be made to go with one symbol over another.

  4. There would be nothing wrong with including a drawing of the car if a *range* of American houses were presented, but if it is the *only* American house presented without any disclaimer given, then it is potentially misleading.

    “The collection of drawings includes pictures of smiling families in Mongolia living in a neat and carpeted tent; in Russia, a sturdy log cabin; and in Mali, a mud-brick building.”

    (sarcasm on)
    Technology corrupts. While others live happily in low-tech harmony, Americans are trapped in high-tech hulks.

    Gee, I guess I would have artistic license to draw some … unflattering individuals representing, uh, nations of color as long as I say, “The people pictured in this book are not the only types to be found in the respective countries. In any country, many types of people can be found.”
    (sarcasm off)

  5. well, I bet if they showed the Americans living in a luxurious or even nice house, the book would be banned as insensitive to people who don’t have houses that nice.

    so the idea is to show almost the worst case possible so people feel good about what they have

  6. JimInNoVA says:

    Amritas – I’m having serious trouble with my Japanese pronunciations for just that reason. At least their system is fairly consistent, I just have to brake old habits.

    Anyone who’s seen the book – Out of curiosity, is the american the only one scowling?

  7. B Reilly says:

    Material World by Peter Menzel is an interesting book and CD-ROM which attempted to show how a typical family lives in 30 countries around the world. Each family is photographed outside their home with all of their possessions.

  8. At least the didn’t show us southerners in a wooden shack with an outhouse in the yard.

  9. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Dang, it didn’t show Californians living in a geodesic dome covered with Visqueen with naked kids running around? When will they ever tell the truth?

  10. Laura (southernxyl) says:

    Around here, “my” is pronounced as a cross between “mai” and “mah”. There’s no diphthong. And “house” might be “hayos”.

  11. I live on the edge of what passes for ghetto in Milwaukee, and had occasion to drive into the depths of it today. I saw some boarded up houses, but they rarely stay that way long. Almost no grafitti (nowhere near what Kim du Toit says he’s seeing in Germany) and the empty lots are more likely to have new construction under way than to have enough trash to notice from the street.