Global Perspectives Offered by Children’s Literature

By Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Teaching classes not directly related to children’s or adolescent literature can challenge those whose professional and personal lives involve the potential of literature to bring new insights and perspectives to readers. While our field is vast, not all educators, parents or readers are aware of the potential for contemporary literacy learners. Contemporary children’s literature offers diverse, global perspectives and nurtures a critical mindset for understanding societal issues.

global perspectives

This month’s WOW Currents explores and invites discussions around titles that reveal literature’s role in providing alternate perspectives for readers. Thus we point to children’s literature as a resource that extends an engaging story to critical consideration of others’ perspectives. This week opens with a familiar book as we consider the need for diverse, global perspectives. The following weeks’ posts suggest newer titles and invite recommendations from you.

Reminders of September 11, 2001 appear in the early weeks of the month. Images of this day and the weeks following are still clear for those of us who watched them unfold. It is hard to believe that this year’s high school freshman class is the first in which most students were not yet born when 9/11 occurred. Among the books that appeared recounting this event or the heroes we remember is 14 Cows for America, written by Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah.

Discussed in Vol. II, Issue 2 of WOW Review, I share this book and the post-9/11 event of which it tells to undergraduate children’s literature classes and graduate classes focused on a variety of topics. Though published 7 years ago and well-known to many, 14 Cows for America is new to these students. The book tells the tale of one Maasai tribal member who witnesses the horror of 9/11 while studying in the U.S. He returns to Kenya where he shares what he witnessed with his nomadic tribe. His people respond by giving 14 cows, the heart of their lifestyle and livelihood, to the U.S.

The striking, emotion-filled images by Thomas Gonzalez interfaced with Deedy and Kimeli’s simple, well-chosen words provide a story for all ages. None of the adult listeners in my classes indicated that the book was not for them. Instead they focus on each word with frequent tears. These readers occasionally check their phones or other internet sources to verify the herd still exists and continues to thrive.

Deedy’s closing words reflect one reason why considering global perspectives is necessary as we develop global citizens: “…there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.” And, such perspectives through literature keep these events from becoming just another paragraph in a history book.

I will share this book with an introductory Curriculum and Instruction doctoral class, “Traditions of Inquiry”–not a likely title for children’s literature, correct? I’ll mention a few other titles, museum resources, a YouTube video, and a new musical, Come from Away. This musical presents how a Newfoundland village that took in thousands of people whose planes were diverted on 9/11. Taking a multimodal approach on any social issue offers a greater range of ways of knowing world people. Literature, however, can ignite and sustain this awareness and curiosity!

We invite you to share resources you might use on 9/11 or other events dealing with conflict and support awareness of the thoughts and actions of others in the global community. Upcoming WOW Current topics in September include new titles that present global perspectives on immigration, bullying, and change over time.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Check out our two online journals, WOW Review and WOW Stories, and keep up with WOW’s news and events.

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