Text Sets as Contexts for Understanding

Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona

Several years ago, Amy Edwards and I worked with her fifth graders in literature circles around a set of novels set in China. Her students had been reading and discussing global literature for several years, and so she didn’t hesitate in beginning the school year with these novels as a way to build off interest in the Beijing Olympics. The problem was that the novels were historical fiction, many set during the time of the Cultural Revolution, and it quickly became apparent that the students were struggling because they did not have enough knowledge about that time period. More worrisome, because the novels were historical, students were forming misconceptions about modern China as a repressive country set back in time.
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Paired Books: Reading a Book in the Context of another Book

Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona

Critically reading books set in global cultures is difficult when you only have surface knowledge about those cultures. In a global literature class, we found that reading a book in the context of other books provided us with perspectives that facilitated more critical reading. One effective strategy was to read paired books that were from the same culture or had similar themes, but provided differing perspectives. These pairings often exposed problematic issues, such as the domination of western views or assumptions about race, class or gender. The books in each pair were selected to reflect opposing points of view and so we were able to read the books against and beside each other, which supported us in uncovering problematic issues. We learned how to read critically as we read globally.

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Never Read a Book Alone

by Kathy Short, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

One of the lessons that I have learned as a reader of global literature is to never read a book by itself–to always read a book alongside other books. Over and over, I find that our interpretations and connections change dramatically when we read paired books or read a book within a larger text set or collection. Throughout the next month, my blogs will focus on my experiences of reading books alongside each other, most recently within a graduate course on global literature.

This blog focuses on an example of how our perspectives on a book can change dramatically when we read it within a broader collection. Mirror, written and illustrated by Jeannie Baker (2010), is an Australian picture book that is receiving enthusiastic reviews as visually stunning with a thoughtful message of global interdependence. As an individual piece of literature, this picture book is exemplary and deserving of awards and recognition as an aesthetic masterpiece. When considered within the political structures of our society and the broader collection of children’s books, however, the book is problematic and raises provocative questions about the responsibilities of authors, reviewers, and readers.
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What Makes Small Presses Successful

by Ann Parker, Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ

As we have seen, all of these small book publishing companies are managing to survive in the midst of the large conglomerate companies that have lots of resources at their disposal to publish and market their books. All of these smaller companies specialize in publishing children’s books from outside the predominant cultural perspective in the US, including books highlighting African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, and international communities. Generally, as is the case with Children’s Book Press, Just Us Books, and Lee and Low Books, these companies were originally founded to meet a need in the community, namely, the need for books that reflected the experiences of children from multiracial and multiethnic backgrounds, but that were so well written that all children could enjoy them.
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A Conversation with NorthSouth Books

by Ann Parker, Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ

For the month of January I will be exploring several independent book publishing companies that publish multicultural and even bilingual children’s books in the U.S. and that have received national attention for the quality of their books. These companies have not only avoided being bought out by a large conglomerate, they have even been able to successfully compete with some of these larger publishing companies in publishing quality children’s books that sell well. As I discussed in an earlier blog, it is often easier for these independent companies to publish books for “niche” markets such as books from within specific cultural viewpoints, mainly African-American, Asian-American, Native American, and Hispanic. The four companies featured this month are NorthSouth Books, Children’s Book Press, Lee and Low Books, and Just Us Books.
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Confronting History: Using Realistic Fiction to Reflect on Historical Journeys

Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM

This winter, while visiting Seoul, I felt like I a special reporter assigned to a foreign country. While I am there, Seoul amazes me with its advanced technology and great public services that I wish were available to me in the U.S. Korea is busy, young, and somewhat more modern than I remember from my last visit. I go to places where crowds of foreign tourists enthusiastically hang out. People, old and new, meet at Starbucks and other European coffee franchises. They are beloved here. All of it makes me feel like I am in a real city. Watching sophisticated Korean people subtly reminds me that my new home is Albuquerque. I grew up in Korea and married a Korean man from Seoul. Visiting Korea every other year allows me to comprehend the many rapid changes in Seoul. It is my native culture, yet it is no longer home.

Bookstores are also places that I feel and notice changes. Selections in the children’s area as well as the young adult section are growing more rich and creative. Floods of new genres and themes in children’s literature thrill me. I just want to sit down and read them all!

As I reflect on my experiences living in the U.S. I often focus on how Korea is perceived by the many Americans I meet. When I moved to the U.S. about 10 years ago, people often tried to engage me in a conversation based on their knowledge of Korea. All too often Korea is still remembered within the context of the Korean War, fought some sixty years ago. Sometimes, younger adults ask me whether I am from South Korea or North Korea. It is obvious that they don’t recognize the difference. Before my departure on this current trip, I was frustrated with most American’s limited knowledge about Korea and the Korean War. The question, “Which Korea are you from?” seems innocent enough, yet it reveals an ignorance of the politics on the Korean peninsula.
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Confronting History: Young Korean Diasporas During WWII and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

by Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico Albuquerque NM

Why, in the classroom, is immigration often presented only as a parochial issue? Seldom do U. S. students read and discuss migration as a worldwide political and economic concern. Far too often their understandings of other countries are formed from easily generalizable geographical and cultural information. This denigrates the complexity of socio-political realities and the historical experiences of other countries. For example, they often reference Africa as one large nation instead of as a continent of many countries and diverse cultures. They are primarily aware of dominant groups within countries who, for their part, are frequently dismissive of others (i.e. Koreans in Korea dismissing non-Koreans). Sophisticated inquiry required for deeper understandings of global issues is too often neglected. I want to, then, introduce two books that may challenge such superficial assumptions about other nations.
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