Searching around for a really special gift for multicultural families and teachers working in diverse communities? Check out our new, exclusive collection of 25 of the best multicultural books for grades 1-3 that celebrate diversity and teach children about different cultures. (Note: Additional sets targeted to Pre-K through K, and to grades 3-5, are also available on the Language Lizard site.)
New Set of Multicultural Books Makes a Memorable Gift for Teachers & Families
The books portray children from various backgrounds, including Hispanic, Asian, African American, Middle-Eastern, and Native American. The stories help children embrace their unique heritage, better understand the immigrant experience, and enjoy entertaining folktales from around the world.
With this collection, children in diverse communities will appreciate those around them and build self–esteem as they read books in which their cultures and ethnicities are represented.
Multicultural Stories Include:
- An inspiring book about an immigrant girl from Korea looking to fit into her new life in America. A “Best Children’s Book of the Year” by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, this story is very relatable to children of all backgrounds moving to the United States, trying to create a new home.
- A story about a young girl during the holy month of Ramadan who must choose between covering for her brother and doing the right thing.
- A child is reminded to be proud of her unique and special hair and, more importantly, proud of who she is. Many children and adults alike will relate to this story of self-acceptance and self-love.
- A folktale from Thailand that teaches a valuable lesson about being thankful for what you have, and the risks of having much more than you need.
- A girl who has lost her vision is able to overcome adversity to run in her school’s Field Day race. With the help of her friends, teachers and family, she proves that she is able to do all the same things that somebody with sight can do.
- A heartwarming story showing the hardships an elderly person faces when adjusting to life in a new country, and how a grandmother and grandchild are able to help their family by sharing parts of their culture.
- The story of two girls, one Jewish and one Muslim, and their beautiful friendship. Both go to great lengths to care for the other’s well-being, providing valuable lessons to all children who read this book.
- A story about the discrimination African Americans faced in the workplace teaches children about the simple things that were denied to them, and how many people bravely fought to end these unfair practices.
- A Penn Belpre Honor Book Award winner, this story about relating to your grandparents, who do not share the same customs or language as you, pertains to many second or third generation children in America.
- A simple chapter book about a young Latino reporter who will do anything to find out how a worm got into her friend Javier’s burger. She hopes this story will be her big break to becoming a distinguished reporter!
- The struggles of an immigrant Chinese family to settle into their new life in America are relieved when a stranger helps them connect to their past home in a way they did not know was possible.
- Winner of a Benjamin Franklin Award, Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Children’s Choice Award, this Native American folktale shares the important lesson of believing in yourself and not listening to the negative words of others.
- A Coretta Scott King Award winning story about the hardships of life as an African American girl in the early 1900’s who wants to attend school, her fight to get there, and the ambitious learner she becomes through hard work and dedication.
- A story about the daughter of migrant workers who feels as if she cannot find her place anywhere since her family is constantly moving according to the harvest. Eventually, she succeeds in making her mark.
- A young girl living in West Africa wants to be like the other women in her family and wear a malafa, but her family believes she is too young to wear it. She wants to show them that she is old enough to understand the significance of wearing it and respect the sacred act.
- A Vietnamese folktale about brothers who lead very different lives, one rich and one poor, and how fate always has a way of making things even in the end.
- An enlightening story about a young boy trying to escape the shadow of his father because they have the same name. He loves his father dearly, but wants to create his own name so he can have a different legacy.
- A children’s book that teaches the importance of diversity and how it makes us unique. The children in the book learn that being nice to everyone regardless of what they look like is crucial, and that everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity.
- A Caldecott Medal winner, this book shares the touching story of a young man who came to America in search of a new life and adventure, and his eventual return to his home country of Japan. The book then shares his daughter’s and his grandson’s story, coming full circle in the end.
- A classic Chinese folktale about a duck that is taken by a Lord who wants to keep him as a prized possession. A kind maid releases the bird and faces punishment, but will her deeds be rewarded?
- A multicultural book that follows a boy going around the world to learn about different cultures and to meet diverse people. The details and friendly illustrations allow readers to travel around the world in a book.
- A Cherokee legend about a husband and wife who quarrel, and then make up by a field of sweet strawberries, teaches important lessons about the act of forgiveness and gratitude.
- Two Jim Crow era young African American girls fight discrimination by creating a shoe store of their own where African Americans can try on shoes in the store, which is something they cannot do in any store operated by a white person. This story teaches important historic lessons while also showing children who persevere in the face of adversity.
- Ganesha, a young elephant child, loves anything sweet and sugary, but he takes his love too far. A humorous twist on a classic tale (with amazing, colorful illustrations) that introduces Indian culture and Hindu literature.
- A Caldecott Honor Book that shows a community coming together to help a family in need, and celebrates the joy of working hard to save up for something special.
A few reviews of the books in this collection:
– “A sensitive and inspiring portrait of a family’s triumph in the face of adversity.” – Kirkus Reviews
– “Wonderful watercolor illustrations complete this sensitive, sweet story of learning to love yourself without compromise.” – Chicago Tribune
– “The immigrant experience has rarely been so poignantly evoked as it is in this direct, lyrical narrative that is able to stir emotions through the sheer simplicity of its telling… [The illustrations] seem to be moments taken from life, intensely personal and at the same time giving voice to and confirming an experience shared by countless others.” – Horn Book, starred review
– “Yoon may be new to America, but her feelings as an outsider will be recognizable to all children.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review
– “This one stands tall not just for delving into a piece of labor history not previously covered, but for its ability to relate history with heart in resonance.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
– “..a picture book story influenced by Native American folklore. The stylized artwork and the educational addendum perfectly complement this enchanting fairy tale.” – Midwest Book Review
– “Celebrates the natural world simplified, softened, and sunlit. A delectable choice for reading aloud.” – Booklist
– “A tender knockout… it’s rare to find much vitality, spontaneity, and depth of feeling in such a simple, young book.” – Kirkus Reviews
– “… rich with magic, compassion and love. …elegant watercolor and pastel drawings… are exquisite.” – Publishers Weekly
– “When Shirin helps Ali, it changes their relationship and reveals the meaning of Ramadan.” – Booklist
– “A poignant yet realistic story… stunningly illustrated.” – Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center
Language Lizard is thrilled to offer a new, exclusive collection of must-read multicultural books for preschool and kindergarten children! This set of books gives you an instant, award-winning library of diverse books for your classroom or home. No need to search around! We’ve selected 25 of our favorite multicultural stories that expose children to cultural and ethnic diversity and celebrate differences.
The books portray children from various backgrounds, including African American, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, Asian and Native American. The set includes stories related to the immigrant experience, books that help children embrace their unique heritage, and folktales from around the world.
The entertaining and well-reviewed stories help students appreciate diversity and build community with those around them. Children in diverse classrooms will build self esteem as they read/hear books in which their culture or ethnicity is represented. (Note: All books in this set are in English. Educators looking for bilingual multicultural books, click here or visit Language Lizard’s language-specific pages.)
Stories Included in the Collection
- An Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner that explores the similarities of two children who live in very different communities across the world.
- A child revels in who she is despite her differences. An ode to self-esteem, with fun and silly illustrations.
- An Asian folktale in which a young child is rewarded for his honesty and loyalty. An IRA-CBC Children’s Choice and An American Bookseller “Pick of the Lists.”
- A sweet story in which a girl helps her Tia (aunt) earn money for a new car (since much of their savings goes to relatives who live far away). Winner of an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, an Amelia Bloomer List Selection and an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book.
- An introduction to Ramadan in which a young boy shares his experiences of this special time and wants to try to fast like the grown-ups do.
- A book that looks at children all over the world and illustrates our common humanity.
- A child is teased for looking different and learns how to celebrate his differences.
- A book celebrating non-violent social change and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, illustrated by a three-time Caldecott Honor Recipient.
- A Latino boy “conquers the world” (except his sisters!) while teaching kids about a theatrical, action-packed sport that is popular in many Spanish-speaking countries. A Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year and an ALSC Notable Children’s Book.
- Observing the features that make us unique, a story that celebrates what makes each child special.
- A Chinese girl learns to appreciate what her culture has to offer during an “American” holiday. An IRA Notable Book for a Global Society.
- A simple introduction to racial and ethnic diversity that teaches children that you can’t tell what someone is like from the color of their skin. An ALA Notable Book.
- A book with diverse characters that inspires and guides young children to recognize their self-worth and develop confidence in themselves. Includes a section of discussion questions, activities, games and tips.
- A trickster gets into trouble when he tries to do what goes against his nature. Winner of an ALA Notable Children’s Book, an ABA Pick of the Lists, and a National Parenting Publications Gold Award.
- A story that uses colors as the backdrop for sharing Muslim culture, with artwork that brings classical elements of Islamic art into a modern setting.
- A classic Chinese legend in which a poor boy helps thwart a greedy emperor’s plan.
- With bright, bold illustrations, an artistic child notices and appreciates the colors of her friends.
- A young girl delights in her favorite Korean dish… with details about how readers can prepare it themselves!
- A reassuring book that encourages kids to embrace their individuality and celebrate multiculturalism.
- A lovely Native American folktale that cautions children against bragging and teasing. An NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Parenting Magazine Reading-Magic Award Winner.
- A look at different families around the world, what they do and how they help each other.
- A Caldecott Medal winner, magical woodcuts are used in an Indian fable that explores big versus little, and the nature of pride.
- A book celebrating different cultures illustrates that the things that make us different also make us special.
- A simple story about friendship with culturally diverse characters and suggested after-reading activities.
- A lovely book about the children of the world and their inherent similarities. Supports The Global Orphan Project.
Just a Few Reviews of the Books in this Collection
- “Bold illustrations celebrate diversity with a child’s open-hearted sensibility and a mother’s love.” – Kirkus Reviews
- “With its universal themes of wanting to fit in, self-acceptance, and self-esteem, this read-aloud is sure to strike a chord with many young readers/listeners, and on a variety of subjects, not just race.” – School Library Journal
- “Explores the child’s experience of straddling two cultures – and serves up an ending as satisfying as sweet-and-sour pork and crusty dessert.” -The Washington Post
- “A beautifully crafted book that will be enjoyed as much for the richness of its illustrations as the simplicity of its story.” – School Library Journal
- “Children will appreciate the warm, personal narrative, as well as the connections with Muslims all over the world.” – Booklist
- “Beautiful full-color illustrations portray this ancient Chinese folktale…” – Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies
- “A splendid tale, perfectly paced for an amusing read-aloud” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
- “… strong, dramatic woodcuts perfectly interpret the old fable.” – School Library Journal
- “[An easy read] with child-friendly illustrations and easy-to-understand examples of real-life situations.” – Skipping Stones: A Multicultural Children’s Magazine.
- “Expressive, child’s-eye watercolors get in on all the activity… in this celebration of a well-loved cultural dish” – Horn Book
- “… [focuses] on positive thinking and assertive, kind behavior that can bolster children’s mental health, their relationships, and their performance in school.” – Sean Covey, best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Happy Kids
- “Beautiful…. This will enrich and spark discussions of diversity.” – Booklist
- “The Strength of family and the importance of pursuing one’s dreams are the bedrock of [this…] picture book.” – Publishers Weekly
- “An essential book that acknowledges in the simplest of terms our common humanity.” – Kirkus Reviews
In a previous article, we offered tips to get you started in terms of choosing the right bilingual baby books, making dedicated reading time and reading with enthusiasm. In this post, we would like to offer some of our favorite bilingual books for babies and toddlers.
In a recent interview published in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Casey Lew-Williams, co-director of the Princeton Baby Lab and Princeton assistant professor of psychology, discussed research regarding how young children learn and communicate, and how this supports their development. Lew-Williams mentions that quality of speech comes first, and then quantity. In other words, it’s not important to talk all the time; even when playing with a young child, you’re interacting with them and exposing them to language, often in creative and meaningful ways.
In terms of reading to babies and young children, he says: “Reading is another fantastic way to expose a child to language. Ideally you’re not just reading the pages in a book. You’re pausing to engage with the child: How does this relate to his or her life? Children’s books are more diverse in terms of vocabulary and grammar than speech. So there’s an extra value to reading, because it gets parents outside their own natural tendencies or conversational topics and into the language and ideas of an author.”
Our Favorite Bilingual Books for Babies and Toddlers
The Wheels on the Bus
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Row, Row, Row Your Boat… If You’re Happy and You Know It… Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
Walking Through the Jungle
Room to Read
How to Enter:
Inspired by her experiences with foreign language learning, in professional settings and in her own family, Christine Jernigan, PhD, set out to write a unique guide for parents who want to raise their kids to speak more than one language. Specifically, Family Language Learning is designed for parents who are still in the process of learning a second “target” language themselves, or who are fluent but living in a country where another language is dominant. Jernigan, who instructs foreign language teachers at North Carolina State University and works as a language coach for parents, writes in a flowing, humorous and engaging style. The many personal anecdotes told by the author, as well as by other parents raising bilingual children, range from amusing to deeply moving. Readers will find themselves relating wholeheartedly to the language learning adventures (and misadventures) these parents have experienced.
This book is meant to be a how-to guide, or “springboard” as Jernigan calls it, for parents in the early stages of teaching their children a new language. It is also intended as a motivational tool, or “cheerleader” for when those parents inevitably run into roadblocks, or are feeling discouraged. Throughout, readers are encouraged to remain flexible, and to make adjustments when a situation demands it: “Keep your language plan in play dough, not stone,” as Jernigan very nicely puts it.
Family Language Learning stands out particularly because of Jernigan’s unique approach to the subject of language learning. While most experts focus on the academic, social and economic benefits of learning a second language (as does Jernigan, from the very first chapter), this author also explores in depth the greater emotional bond that learning a new language can create.
This book is accessible to every stage of language learner, even those at the very start of their journey. Concepts and terminology are explained in a clear and concise manner that assumes you have arrived with no prior language training. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of language learning, from why it’s important for your children to learn a new language to why you should encourage your kids to read foreign language material on their own, and how to motivate them to practice writing in the target language.
While Family Language Learning can easily be read cover-to-cover, thanks to Jernigan’s conversational style of writing, the chapters are broken into sub-sections that also make it easy to flip to the particular topic you’re seeking answers to. So, even when you’re well into your language journey, you can find just the right words of guidance and encouragement you need when you reach a bump in the road.
You May Also Want to Read…
Additional, valuable information on bilingualism and language learning can be found in A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker, a classic book in the field now in its fourth edition. This book is an extremely thorough guide for teachers of bilingual students, as well as parents who are raising bilingual children, whether they are fluent in the second language or not.
A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism can serve almost as an encyclopedia of language learning because it offers a wealth of information on a very wide range of topics. Each chapter is dedicated to distinct subjects, like “Family Questions,” “Language Development Questions” and “Reading and Writing Problems,” and within each chapter are Frequently Asked Questions that Baker has encountered over decades of working with parents and colleagues in bilingual education, as well as in his personal experience successfully raising three bilingual children.
A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (4th ed) is available in hardcover and paperback at Amazon.com.
New Words, New Friends
Written by Karen Nemeth
Illustrated by Diego Jiménez Manzano
Paperback and ebook
Available in English and Spanish
Review by Sue Kwon
Theo and Wyatt, two friends at school, are at the center of New Words, New Friends, the latest children’s book from Karen Nemeth, a national expert on early education and advocate for dual-language learners. Theo and Wyatt play just fine together, until their paths cross with that of the New Kid. “The New Kid got the ball and bounced it away. ‘Hey, You!’ cried the boys, ‘we need the ball to play!'” As we know, there is no greater offense for young children.
Little ones can sometimes get upset when reading about or seeing an emotionally charged situation like this. Yet Nemeth narrates this story with a sweet, uplifting rhyming style that allows kids to understand the important aspects of the plot without prodding any negative emotions. The lines are kept brief and concise – something adults will appreciate when kids ask to hear the book again and again. (And with this one, they will.)
The story’s characters, brought to life by Spanish illustrator Diego Jiménez Manzano, are drawn in a bold, playful, childlike style. The characters have round faces and big, bright eyes that are sure to please young readers. Jiménez Manzano also takes the time to fill each page’s background with small, colorful details, so there will be something new for kids to find on multiple readings.
In the story, Theo and Wyatt are lucky to have a knowledgeable, nurturing teacher who takes the time to explain why the New Kid behaves the way she does: She speaks another language, and didn’t understand what they were saying to her. The teacher tells them, “‘When a friend speaks a language that’s different than you, these are three things you can easily do.'” Thanks to her thoughtful guidance, a brand new friendship is able to grow between Theo, Wyatt and the New Kid, who we find out is named Violet. This story is about the importance of kindness and empathy when interacting with people from different backgrounds.
While New Words, New Friends is a book that kids will love reading, Nemeth also intends it to be “a storybook resource for teachers, librarians and parents.” The end of the book features Discussion Questions to help adults get their kids thinking and talking about the important lessons in the story. This book is meant to be a guide for adults who are helping little ones navigate the tricky yet essential journey of learning social and communication skills. “New Words, New Friends” delves into these important tasks, and presents it in a fun way, for both adults and children.
New Words, New Friends is available in English and Spanish, in paperback and ebook on Amazon.com.
Be sure to check out languagecastle.com, Karen Nemeth’s website that offers a wealth of resources for anyone who teaches young children who speak different languages.
With spring finally here, it’s hard not to SMILE! And did you know that NATIONAL SMILE POWER DAY is just around the corner on June 15th, 2014? (Yes, this is also Father’s Day… another reason to smile!)
With this in mind, we’ve decided to GIVE AWAY our favorite bilingual book about SMILING: Augustus and His Smile. This award-winning book – available in over 20 languages* – teaches children that happiness can be found all around and within us (see review at the bottom of this page for more details about the book).
How can you get a free bilingual copy of this book?
There are two ways you can receive a free copy of “Augustus and His Smile”: either make a purchase of $150 or more via our website; or enter our lottery to win the book (3 lucky winners will be chosen)! Here’s what you need to do (by June 15, 2014):
Option 1) Place an order of $150 or more on our Language Lizard website between today and June 15, 2014, and we will add a FREE copy of the book to your order! To be eligible, you must write the word SMILE in the order notes (also write the language edition* that you would like). Note: this giveaway cannot be applied to orders already placed. Product total must be $150 or more (excludes shipping/handling).
Option 2) Enter our GIVEAWAY. THREE Winners will be chosen at random to win a copy of the book (your choice of language edition). Fill out our contact form in full by June 15, 2014. In the Questions/Comments section, write “SMILE GIVEAWAY” and include the language edition* that you would like. Note: we never share your contact information, we use it solely to notify you and send you the prize if your name is chosen.
–> Want an extra giveaway point? Simply write a comment on one of our other blog posts or post about the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Let us know that you have posted when submitting your contact form and you will be entered twice!
And be sure to subscribe to our Culture Connection Newsletter to be notified of future giveaways and special promotions!
*This bilingual book is available in English and you can select one of the following language editions: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese Simplified, Czech, Farsi, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Irish, Panjabi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovakian, Somali, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, and Welsh.
Details: Winner will be selected using random.org‘s sequence generator. Winner must include ship-to address in order to be included in drawing. Only new orders placed and contact forms received between May 20 and June 15, 2014 will be eligible for the book giveaway. The offer is only for shipments to the US and Canada. For more details, please see our giveaway page at http://www.LanguageLizard.com/Bilingual-Book-Promotion.htm
“Augustus the tiger was sad. He had lost his smile.” So begins an epic quest as Augustus searches for his lost smile. His search takes him under bushes, up to the treetops, and to the crests of the highest mountains. He finds a beetle, chirping birds, and swirling snow clouds, but no smile.
As his journey progresses, however, Augustus’ expression gradually begins to change. His pleasure becomes evident as he swims in the oceans and “splishes and splashes with shoals of tiny, shiny fish.” His long tail also begins arching in a smile to match the one on his face. Suddenly he is prancing and parading in a desert, dancing and racing in raindrops, and splashing through puddles. Then he finds it – in the reflection of a “huge silver-blue puddle” – his smile!
Augustus comes to realize that he carries his smile with him, “whenever he (is) happy”. His journey teaches him that he only has to do the things that please him, like swim or dance or look around him at the world “for happiness (is) everywhere around him.”
For Augustus and his Smile, award-winning author and illustrator Catherine Rayner spent hours observing and sketching tigers at the Edinburgh Zoo. Her talent and attention to detail are evident as we watch this boldly-drawn tiger move through his various poses. Children will appreciate both this story’s message as well as the illustrations of Augustus.
The last page of the book lists some “amazing tiger facts” and notes their endangered status.
(Review by Maureen Barlow Pugh)
It’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and who’s that woman with the big grin leading millions of Americans into 2014? It’s Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with a commanding view of her hometown and her hand firmly on that all-important crystal button.
Why did organizers choose Justice Sotomayor? To put it simply, she is an inspiration. From humble beginnings, she graduated from Princeton and then Yale Law School. Her law career went from strength to strength, and she rose through the ranks to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and only the third woman to serve there.
What a great choice of person to bring us into the new year with a bang! Organizers could have nominated someone like Miley Cyrus, who was performing in Times Square that night as well, but instead went with a hard-working, fearless, intelligent Hispanic woman who is a wonderful example to both boys and girls everywhere.
When Sotomayor pressed that crystal button, it was a call to us all to make 2014 our Year of the Strong Woman.
Of course as parents, caregivers, and teachers, we are always looking for ways to support and encourage our girls to grow into women as amazing as Sotomayor, and show our boys that women should be equally valued members of society. Reading about strong female characters in books is an excellent way to bring these ideas into the home and classroom.
Cinderella’s story is a classic one. However the Cinderella you know from the movies is meek and passive, while the Chinese Cinderella is a much “stronger character”, according to reviewer Maureen Barlow Pugh. She describes how our “kind and clever” heroine makes the decision herself to go to the Spring Festival through which she eventually marries the King, and “makes it happen because she is ‘so determined’.” This Cinderella doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen to her! What a great example for little girls who want to grow up to be princesses. You could use this as a talking point, too: maybe being a princess wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as being a lawyer, or a doctor, or a professor, or a chemical engineer!
Manju Gregory’s retelling of the well-loved Jack and the Beanstalk really puts girls in their place – right on top! This fairytale female even makes Jack envious of her beanstalk-climbing prowess. It will be fun and useful for all children to see a girl in the traditional role of the warrior who takes on the giant…and wins.
This timeless tale is a perfect example of how our culture already has awesome females embedded into its folklore. Little ones will love the witty illustrations, but will also see how hard the hen works, and how tenacious she is — and how she creates a loaf of bread to be proud of all on her own! This version of the tale won the UK National Literary Association’s Wow! Award in 2006, and you can use it in your home or classroom to reinforce the idea that all people, regardless of gender, can be successful and contribute to their community through hard work.
Sometimes the roles that society stereotypically imposes upon women get to be just too much to bear, and that’s exactly what happens in this story illustrated by Quentin Blake. Seven put-upon and strong-willed washerwomen throw off the shackles of their miserable existence and decide to have some fun for once! The Wild Washerwomen effectively undermines the idea that girls are made to do “women’s work”. It shows that we do have the choice to leave the dirty socks to someone else (maybe some washermen?) — and that we might even find love if we do! Encourage your girls to let their hair down and go a bit wild with this adorable romp.
Mamy Wata and the Monster
Mamy (or Mami) Wata is an ancient river spirit revered in large parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Her many followers perform rituals where they dance themselves into a trance. She is a beautiful, complex water queen, known to be able to grant either fortune or bad luck.
In Mamy Wata and the Monster, one of the 100 Best African Books of the century, our protagonist confronts a supposedly fearful monster living in a cave, and manages to help him change his ways.
Mamy Wata displays many qualities we want our girls (and boys!) to aspire to: she is caring and kind, while also fearless and proactive. She deals with tricky situations delicately and fosters a sense of community around her. She is generous and brave. She is, quite simply, a great role model in this fable.
Look out for more about Mamy Wata in a later post!
It’s so important that we raise the young women in our lives to be confident, motivated and ready to take on any challenge. The books they read as children will play a huge part in helping them to develop these qualities, not to mention the fact that learning another language early on will give them a leg up academically and socially! Give your girls the gift of self-esteem: show her books where women rule!
photo credits: Farah Aria @ flickr. com, Anir Pandit @ flickr. com, Jensen Chua @ flickr. com
Picture this: you’ve recently moved to a new country where you are just learning the language, and you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and lost. One day, a colleague approaches you with something she thinks will remind you of home. It’s a book in English, and it’s all about “American culture”! Excited (and homesick), you open the book and read a sweet story all about a boy in a sparkly, perfect suburb who eats too many hamburgers, gets sick, and has to miss his friend’s pool party.
You sigh and smile at the well-meaning colleague. But you are from Detroit, and none of your friends had pools when you were growing up. Plus, you’re a vegetarian. It was a nice gesture, but this book doesn’t reflect America to you – it has nothing to do with your culture.
In the same way, as educators and parents, we want to ensure that the books we’re choosing for the children in our care are culturally appropriate, and don’t simply present stereotypes. These books, suggests an article from the National Center for Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, must “provide authentic representations of the culture” and should avoid illustrations and plots that “make certain groups seem foolish or disrespected.”
Whether we pick bilingual books because we teach Dual Language Learners or because we want our sons and daughters to grow up with an academic advantage, they must be “culturally accurate books…that respectfully represent…cultures, objects, and themes”, according to the NCCLR.
Which books to choose?
The NCCLR specifically recommends some of the books from our site, like Grandma’s Saturday Soup, by Sally Fraser, and Handa’s Surprise, by Eileen Browne. We at Language Lizard would like to introduce you to a whole range of our other books that also fit the culturally appropriate bill.
Holidays and Celebrations
Books about holidays provide a useful access point for children of every culture– we all celebrate something! Our selection includes several holiday-themed stories which will not only feel familiar to the children from whose cultures they come, but will be fun and interesting for everyone who reads them.
- Deepak’s Diwali (by Divya Karwal) is one that has also been recommended by the NCCLR. We like it especially for its contemporary depiction of the holiday. This book stands out in the way it welcomes children who don’t yet know about Diwali with wonderful explanations and illustrations and even a section of fun recipes. Yet it still shows its characters in their everyday clothes and mundane situations, meticulously avoiding the characterisation of those who celebrate Diwali as “other”.
- In the same vein, we’d recommend Samira’s Eid by Nasreen Aktar: its story, which unfolds from the dialogue between two children and their parents, is simple and educational, and therefore appropriate for young children who are only just coming into contact with our country’s growing Muslim population, yet it remains recognizable and enjoyable for those who already mark the festival of Eid.
- Children of Chinese heritage will relate to Li’s Chinese New Year. Again, this portrayal of the holiday avoids stereotypes. Readers will follow a sweet storyline about a little boy deciding which animal of the zodiac he wants to be in the school play (a great access point for school age children!). Fang Wang’s tale makes a new holiday feel accessible and non-threatening for children just learning about new cultures and their practices.
Another way to bring cultural sensitivity into the bilingual books you select is to find those which deal with ordinary, familiar activities and topics that virtually all children will recognize, but from the perspectives of different cultures.
- Brilliant books like The Wibbly Wobbly Tooth and Mei Ling’s Hiccups, both by David Mills, show in sensitive detail the way children from diverse backgrounds respond to everyday problems. What should Li do with the tooth he’s just lost? How should Mei Ling get rid of her hiccups? The children’s classmates, who all represent different cultures, offer up the traditional solutions their families would use in these situations, from throwing a tooth on the roof to holding your nose and counting to five.
- In the same vein, Welcome to the World, Baby, by Na’ima bint Robert, gives young readers a sensory tour of the different traditions people from all over the world have for celebrating a birth. The students in the story touch, smell, and listen to objects that represent these cultural traditions, bringing the topic alive for the audience.
- Our selection of titles from the “Our Lives, Our World” series shows children how people eat, travel, and play in different countries: Yum! Let’s Eat! (Thando Maclaren); Brrmm! Let’s Go! (Julie Kingdon); and Goal! Let’s Play (Joe Marriott). Kids reading these books will be able to make connections between their lunchtime sandwiches and the fajitas Gabriella’s Mexican family makes; between the bikes they ride and Niran’s uncle’s tuk-tuk in Thailand; and between the baseball they watch with their parents and the fun game of cricket Nitesh plays in India. While refusing to resort to stereotypes, all of these books will support young readers in recognizing the amazing and diverse traditions and beliefs all around them while also providing a sense of familiarity. As they grow and learn to categorize, children often begin to perceive a divide between themselves and those who do not look like them: these stories will help bridge that gap.
Of course, if we want our children and students to grow up appreciating and enjoying the diverse society in which they live, we’re going to want to choose books for them which show people of all different races participating in the experiences which so many children go through, like visits to the doctor, dentist appointments, and the first day of school.
- Dealing with a big step in every child’s life, Tom and Sofia Start School (Henriette Barkow) not only reassures little ones as they embark on this important journey, but depicts a classroom and school full of children from many different backgrounds playing together and making Tom and Sofia’s experience less scary.
- Sahir Goes to the Dentist and Nita Goes to the Hospital, both illustrated with unique plasticine figures by Chris Petty, use non-white characters to depict stories about these common “firsts” to put children of all colors at ease. Books like these send the culturally sensitive message that even though we may look different, we all live in one society together and experience life in many of the same ways. Any differences we may have just make life that much more interesting and exciting!
The fact that all of our recommended books are available in English with a range of different languages serves to reinforce the cultural appropriateness displayed by each story’s characters and themes. And, as the NCCLR asserts, these bilingual books “can be very helpful”, especially if the stories are unfamiliar to you when you first read them with your children or students. Choosing the right bilingual books for your readers – books that are authentic, respectful, and well-translated – will make a huge difference to the children reading them. Culturally appropriate stories will make all children feel valued, and will give them the foundations to become interested, informed global citizens.