Promoting a Global Perspective

Citizens living at the approach of the 21st century cannot help but recognize that our world has become an increasingly diverse and interdependent place. As social educators, we must acknowledge that our primary responsibility is to enable young citizens to think and act locally with the awareness that they are participating in a global community.
Simply providing children with information about world geography, cultures, and religions will not promote authentic appreciation for diversity and global interdependence. While young citizens must have learning experiences that help them acquire knowledge in each of these dimensions, they must also have frequent opportunities to construct personal meaning from this information, to relate with people of varied backgrounds, and to tackle common issues that bridge cultural differences. When young citizens read quality literature, such as the examples which follow, they can begin to construct meaning through encounters with characters, settings, and situations that introduce and reinforce the concepts of global education.

Around the World through Its Walls

Teachers may find it useful to begin global studies by providing students with exposure to many cultures, whetting children’s appetites for deeper knowledge. In Talking Walls (Knight, 1992), words and pictures transport young people from China’s Great Wall to the walls of Taos Pueblo, from Jerusalem’s Western Wall to Mecca’s Muslim Wall, from the Berlin Wall to the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The author and illustrator show primary and intermediate students how walls impact the lifestyles and perspectives held by people around the world. To make the book user friendly for teachers, Knight and Chan (1992) have developed an accompanying resource, the Talking Walls Activity Guide. Using both of these works as a starting point, teachers might launch a literary “World Tour” in which young citizens compare and contrast global differences and commonalities more intensively.

North America’s Varied Lifestyles

As their first stop in a global tour, children might travel to northern Canada. In Arctic Memories, Normee Ekoomiak (1988) tours his childhood “iglu.” Written both in Inuktitut and English and illustrated with paintings and embroidery, the book depicts life as the Inuit once lived it. People catch fish, hang them out to freeze, play games, and give gifts to the Inuk Baby Jesus. To supplement Ekoomiak’s memories, the editor has added descriptions of more recent Inuit lifestyles.

Moving southward, children might read Who Belongs Here? An American Story (Knight, 1993). In this narrative based upon actual events, Nary and his grandmother flee civil war in Cambodia and immigrate to the United States. The bulk of the text and illustrations relate the boy’s struggle in adjusting to unfamiliar customs. Knight, in order to set the context for Nary’s personal tale, provides italicized data revealing how the immigration process has made the United States such a rich blend of cultures.

Dumpling Soup (Rattigan, 1993) transports young readers to Hawaii. Marisa, a 7-year-old Asian American girl, wants to make wonderful noodles for her family’s New Year celebrations. Cultural differences complicate her task, as her relatives include Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiians and haoles (Hawaiian for white people). Marisa’s example encourages young citizens to celebrate diversity while appreciating the commonalities that unite her closeknit family.
Back on the North American mainland, cultures again interact in Mrs. Katz and Tush (Polacco, 1992). Larne#146;s friendship with Mrs. Katz begins when they adopt Tush, a tailless kitten. Spending time together, the two “persons” better understand the unique qualities that distinguish their African American and Jewish heritages as well as the sufferings and triumphs uniting them.

Crossing and recrossing the Texas-Mexico border, Lomas Garza portrays 14 scenes from her childhood in Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia (1990). Like Ekoomiak in Arctic Memories, Lomas Garza uses bilingual text and warm paintings to share family traditions — preparing tamales, going to the beach, playing the cakewalk at the “feria,” and reenacting the Christmas custom, “posadas.”

Differences and Commonalities in Central and South America

Leaving North America, children can observe both the differences that separate and the commonalities that bind us together. In Abuela’s Weave (Castañeda, 1993), Esperanza and her grandmother intertwine customs and culture on their looms as they weave tapestries to sell at the market in Guate, Guatemala. Displaying their wares, Esperanza worries that handmade crafts cannot compete with factory-made goods. To her amazement, tourists and natives love the intricate weavings of these handmade items (beautifully illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez). The girl and her grandmother leave the market intending to return the following month.

Tonight is Carnival (Dorros, 1991) serves young readers a slice of village life, while portraying the final preparations for a Peruvian festival high in the Andes. Photographs of “arpilleras,” wall hangings constructed from cut-and-sewn pieces of cloth, convey the excitement and camaraderie that Carnival can generate for a community. The young narrator offers a chance for teachers to make literary connections (e.g., as he grazes hungry llamas near the ancient city mentioned in Talking Walls).

Trekking south to Argentina, young citizens can experience everyday life on a South American ranch as they read Brusca’s On the Pampas (1991). The narrator spends the summer with her cousin, Susanita, at their grandparents’ “estancia,” doing what gauchos do. Children can compare and contrast these tasks with chores performed by North American cowboys (e.g., throwing a lasso, rounding-up cattle, branding them, and telling scary stories around the campfire).

Cultures across Africa and the Middle East

By describing structures in Jerusalem, Mecca, and Great Zimbabwe, Talking Walls flashed glimpses of African and Middle Eastern lifestyles. To extend and enrich their knowledge, children might visit these regions, sampling excerpts from Beneath the Rainbow: A Collection of Children’s Stories and Poems from Kenya (1992). This slim volume, written and illustrated by eight African artists, allows children to construct meaning as they experience these rich perspectives of literature conceived, written, and published in Kenya. A second volume (King & Mbugua, 1994) and an African Art and Literature Series are among the additional publications of Jacaranda Designs.

Children might better appreciate the strong ties linking African and African American people as they read Krol#146;s Africa Brothers and Sisters (1993). In the story, Jesse and his father play a question-and-answer game about the cultures and occupations of African peoples. The boy uncovers new knowledge and discovers his own heritage in the process. To reinforce this cultural connection, the illustrator juxtaposes African American and African brothers and sisters in her drawings.

To survey the continent’s geography and culture, young travelers might consult Afro-Bets First Book about Africa: An Introduction for Young Readers (Ellis, 1989). In this simple story, a teacher tells students “all about Africa” in remarkable detail. Ellis encourages respect for diversity while emphasizing cultural commonality, making the book a powerful tool for promoting a global perspective.

In The Day of Ahmed’s Secret (1990), Heide and Gilliland allow children to make an informative stopover in Egypt. Lewin’s illustrations detail the daily routines of busy, modern Cairo as the main character, young Ahmed, delivers fuel from a handcart. As he works, the boy anticipates sharing a new achievement with family members. Later, he reveals his secret—he can write his name for the first time!

Children can also investigate religious influences that span Africa and the Middle East (and touch Europe as well) through Peter and Ruth Mantin’s The Islamic World: Beliefs and Civilisations 600-1600 (1993). The authors outline the rise of Islam and analyze the religion’s influence on education, architecture, language and literature, science and mathematics, trade, medicine, and hygiene. Interesting links to the intermediate curriculum are made through the rich collection of primary sources (e.g., photos, maps, drawings, and quotations) provided in this work. Intermediate readers should find this book engaging and informative.

Australia through Time & Space

Children can continue their journey across the Indian Ocean to the island continent, Australia. Wheatley’s My Place (1989) should intrigue primary and intermediate learners. The book sketches a modern Australian neighborhood, then illustrates its transformation back through time, decade by decade to 1788. A different narrator capsulizes daily life in each decade, while maps indicate physical changes. The picture book references world events, social movements, and environmental issues, encouraging older students to do additional research and make global connections.

In Possum Magic (Fox, 1990), young citizens might “sample” Australian foods (e.g., Anzac biscuits, pavlova) and “encounter” distinctive animals (e.g., dingoes, wombats, kookaburras, kangaroos, and possums). Grandma Poss’ spell makes her granddaughter, Hush, invisible. For a bit, Hush has fun, but soon wants to be visible again. Unfortunately, Grandma cannot undo her magic, but takes Hush around Australia searching for foods that might unlock the spell. This lighthearted story might prompt children to examine diversity issues in a non-threatening way.

Sights and Sounds of Asia

Heading north from Australia, children reach Southeast Asia. Folk Stories of the Hmong: Peoples of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam (Livo & Cha, 1991) describes individuals who inhabit the region as well as those who have emigrated from there. Cha left a Hmong village in Laos for the United States, but learned many stories from her relatives. Fearing that the tales and stories might otherwise be forgotten, she recorded them on elaborate “pandau” (storycloths). The anthology contains much of her work, including: “in the beginning” myths, “how/why” stories, and tales of “love, magic and fun.” This useful volume also provides historical information about Hmong culture.

Heading further north and east to Hong Kong, young citizens meet a boy returning home from school in Levinson’s Our Home is the Sea (1988). In addition to exploring different perspectives, Luzak’s illustrations portray contrasting lifestyles, including our new acquaintance’s home — a boat in the harbor. The text also explores family traditions as it relates the boy’s ambition to follow family footsteps and work the sea as a fisherman.

The next stop is Japan, as portrayed in Wells’ A to Zen: A Book of Japanese Culture (1992). This comprehensive alphabet book introduces students of any age to 22 aspects of ancient and modern Japanese culture. The author also explains why she did not prepare 26 entries; she omitted L, Q, V, and X as these letters do not have corresponding sounds in Japanese. Yoshi’s vivid drawings supplement discussions of wide-ranging topics (e.g., housing, language, religious beliefs, historical events).

Diversity and Interdependence in a European Setting

As they turn homeward, children might cross Asia, enter Europe, and consider a remarkable story of diversity set in Spain. El Chino (Say, 1990) chronicles the exploits of Bong Way Wong, a native of China who grew up in the United States. After visiting Spain, “Billy” Wong set an unusual career goal, bullfighting. Because his father had insisted that an American citizen could aspire to any job, Billy was surprised to hear that only a Spaniard could be a matador. Refusing to give up, he acknowledged that he could not become a Spanish bullfighter. Dressed in Chinese costume and known as “El Chino,” he faced his first bull on a ranch, commissioned a “suit of lights,” and signed for his first public fight. The sell-out audience cheered as Billy fought gloriously, carrying him from the plaza with shouts of “Oeacute;! El Chino, oeacute;!”

Rumer Godden places Fu-Dog (1990) in a modern English setting. In this realistic fantasy, Li-la and her brother, Malcolm, two children of mixed British-Chinese ancestry, take a circuitous and dazzling route to their uncle’s restaurant in London’s Chinatown. Along the way, both children discover the differences and similarities that mark their cross-cultural heritage.

Planning Additional World Tours

At this point, we hope that our literary tour around the world has added quality titles to your list of books that encourage children to experience global connections. Our global itinerary only samples the many excellent picture and story books that promote a global perspective. To locate additional literature, we recommend an excellent resource, Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children and Teenagers (Miller-Lachmann, 1992). This annotated bibliography presents numerous titles that portray lifestyles and cultures within the United States and around the globe. Use it to continue your search for authentic and accurate literature that helps children appreciate the diversity and interdependence that shape our modern world.

The itineraries of global tours could also be supplemented with informational books that would allow students to explore further into the areas and cultures introduced by quality stories. Teachers might wish to have books like Kalman’s (1993) The Lands, Peoples, and Cultures Series available as references. This series currently includes books on Canada, China, India, Mexico, Peru, and Tibet. Each is richly illustrated with photographs and contains information useful to young citizens seeking to find out more about a culture. Canada Celebrates Multiculturalism (Kalman, 1993), for example, illustrates the rich blend of cultures, holidays, and celebrations found across the dominion. The recently published books on Canada and Mexico in particular can be used to promote students’ understanding of our “new partners” in a rapidly changing political and economic world.

Although we have categorized titles by reading level, please remember that, since many books cross these arbitrary levels, our designations are only suggestions to aid in the selection process.

P = Primary (Grades 1,2,3)
I = Intermediate (Grades 4,5,6,)
A = Advanced (Grades 7,8,9)

Brusca, M. C. (1991). On the Pampas. New York: Henry Holt. P
Castañeda, O. S. (1993). Abuela’s weave. (E. O. Sanchez, Illus.). New York: Lee & Low. P & I
Dorros, A. (1991). Tonight is Carnival. New York: Dutton. Illus. with arpilleras sewn by the members of the Club de Madres Virgen del Carmen of Lima, Peru. P
Ekoomiak, N. (1988). Arctic memories. (In English and Eskimo). New York: Henry Holt. All ages
Ellis, V. F. (1989). Afro-Bets first book about Africa: An introduction for young readers. (G. Ford, Illus.). Orange, NJ: Just Us Books. P & I
Fox, M. (1990). Possum magic. (J. Vivas, Illus.). San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/ Gulliver. P
Godden, R. (1990). Fu-Dog. New York: Viking. P & I
Heidi, F. P., & Gilliland, J. H. (1990). The day of Ahmed’s secret. (T. Lewin, Illus.). New York: Lothrop. P & I
Kalman, B. (1993). Canada celebrates multiculturalism. Toronto: Crabtree. Part of the lands, peoples, and cultures series. I & A
King, B. A. C. (Ed.). (1992). Beneath the rainbow: A collection of stories and poems from Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Jacaranda Designs. I
King, B. A. C., & Mbugua, K. (Eds.). (1994). Beneath the rainbow: A collection of children’s stories and poems from Kenya, Volume II.
Knight, M. B. (1992). Talking walls. (A. S. O’Brien, Illus.). Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House. All ages
Knight, M. B., & Chan, T. V. (1992). Talking walls: Activity guide. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House.
Knight, M. B. (1993). Who belongs here? An American story. (A. S. O’Brien, Illus.). Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House. All ages
Kroll, V. (1993). Africa brothers and sisters. (V. French, Illus.). New York: Four Winds. P & I
Levinson, R. (1988). Our home is the sea. (D. Luzak, Illus.). New York: Dutton. P
Livo, N. J., & Cha, D. (1991). Folk stories of the Hmong: People of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. All ages
Lomas Garza, C. (1990). Family pictures/Cuadros de familia. (R. Zubiazarreta, Trans.). San Francisco: Children’s Book Press. P & I
Mantin, P., & Mantin, R. (1993). The Islamic world: Beliefs and civilisations 600-1600. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. I & A
Miller-Lachmann, L. (1992). Our family, our friends, our world: An annotated guide to significant multicultural books for children and teenagers. New Providence, NJ: Bowker.
Polacco, P. (1992). Mrs. Katz and Tush. New York: Bantam Little Rooster. P & I
Rattigan, J. K. (1993). Dumpling soup. Boston: Little Brown. P & I
Say, A. (1990). El Chino. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. P & I
Wells, R. (1992). A to Zen: A book about Japanese culture. (Yoshi, Illus.). Picture Book Studio. I
Wheatley, N. (1989). My place. (D. Rawlins, Illus.). Australia in Print. P & I

All photos are used with publisher permission.

About the Authors
Tom McGowan is Associate Professor at Arizona State University. He teaches courses in elementary social studies and literature-based instruction.

Meredith J. McGowan is a librarian and consultant in Tempe, AZ.

Robert H. Lombard, Associate Professor at Western Illinois University, teaches courses in elementary social studies and global education.