Global interdependence demands that matters once viewed as local are now multi-national in scope and require a global perspective. We can’t rely solely on our domestic experience, but must focus on new dimensions of problem-solving demanded by international realities. This is true in politics, business, science, humanitarianism — any activity requiring human interaction. Cultural myopia persists not because of inertia or habit, but because of difficulty in overcoming it. People acquire personality and culture in childhood. If exposed to culturally distinctive ways of people from around the world, children can value their own culture while learning about new ones, increasing the potential for mutual respect. This helps to overcome frustrations in intercultural communication, a prerequisite to mutuality and achievement in a global community.
One important resource for expanding children’s intercultural understandings and global perspectives is high quality, culturally authentic international children’s literature. Literature provides an opportunity for children to immerse themselves in ways of thinking and living in the world in order to recognize both their common humanity and cultural uniqueness.
In establishing an exemplary teaching and research collection of the best books for young people, we address the need for story to make sense of human experience at home and around the world. At the same time, we aim to develop effective strategies for bringing kids and books together so they can embrace the similarities and differences of people everywhere.
Although growing in availability, culturally authentic literature from countries outside North America is limited. Additionally, this literature may contain unfamiliar stylistic features and terminology. Consequently, educators are often not familiar with these books and do not bring them into their classrooms and so they lack experience in moving children’s responses beyond the superficial notions of the exotic to deeper understandings. ICCAL seeks to address access to quality international books and effective ways of using these with children.
ICCAL houses books for North American children and those in international contexts who need books in English. Each text is evaluated to ensure quality book lists that reflect the world’s diversity, which teachers anywhere in the world can access to use with their students. Even more crucially, ICCAL seeks to provide teachers and children with effective strategies to go beyond stereotypes in understanding these books, both in terms of the values, dreams, and beliefs we share as human beings and the cultural differences that enrich our world.
Our current goal is to move our local and university services to the global community. In so doing, ICCAL can provide experiences with literature that will promote interest in reading, language development, reading achievement, and writing growth. That literature will validate home culture while expanding understandings and respect of the world around us.
A private collection of an estimated 25,000 volumes of children and adolescent literature focusing on world cultures and indigenous peoples is housed at the University of Arizona, College of Education in several specialized reading rooms. Adjacent to the collection is a classroom for courses and workshops and offices for staff and visiting scholars. The collection functions for the community in the following ways:
- Support for undergraduate and graduate courses in children and adolescent literature.
- Reading rooms with open hours for researchers, students, and community members.
- Presentations by international authors and illustrators.
- An annual conference on children and adolescent literature.
Through these programs, many people have participated in learning experiences and applied their knowledge using ICCAL resources. Classroom teachers have developed projects and research, which they used with children and converted into scholarly presentations.
Projects of the ICCAL still in the planning include:
- Formalization of ICCAL including acquisitions, collections, and shelving.
- Website offering a searchable database with companion journal featuring book reviews and cutting edge teacher action research.
- An international distinguished scholar in residence.
- Professional workshops.
- An annual week-long summer institute.
- Establish a two-tiered board of advisors. These projects will launch ICCAL as a global resource. In this way, we will expand our accessibility to teachers, librarians, researchers, and students world-wide thereby providing them with valuable information that is not readily available.