Developing Intercultural Competence with OIBs, Part 2: Seeking Multiple Perspectives

By Susan Corapi, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL

This week I profile titles from the USBBY Outstanding International Books 2019 list that serve as examples of another characteristic of intercultural competence. In the two fictional titles the main character is forced to understand different perspectives. In the non-fiction texts, the reader is invited to consider multiple ways of seeing the world.

One of my earliest conscious thoughts about people who move easily between cultures happened when I was a teenager and had just returned to the U.S. after having spent five years living in France. It struck me that the way my French friends approached life was just as “valid” as the approach of my new American friends. One was not better or more correct than the other–they were just different. Years later, my husband and I took our four boys to France to live for two years because we wanted them to learn that there are multiple ways of approaching food, family, the tempo of life, academic studies, etc. I wanted them to understand how important it is to seek other perspectives–it does not require agreeing with the perspectives, but it does mean finding them and hearing them. This willingness to look for other perspectives and listen to them is a characteristic of an interculturally competent person. The four books mentioned in this post helped me understand a perspective I was not familiar with. As a result I did more research on facts or ideas I discovered in these books.

Book Jackets from all four books mentioned in post that encourage seeking multiple perspectives.

The House of Lost and Found by Swedish author Martin Widmark and illustrated by Polish artist Emilia Dziubak
In The House of Lost and Found Niles, an elderly man who has lost all joy of life, begins his routine of going to bed. He has lost is wife, his kids are grown and have homes of their own, and he sees no way out of his joyless routine filled with sad memories. However, as soon as he is in bed, he hears a knock at the door. His young neighbor quickly drops off a plant for Niles to care for while the boy and his family are on vacation. Niles is surprised speechless so ends up with a pot of dirt in his care that he waters with lots of grumbles. In the morning, a shoot appears in the pot. Over the course of the next weeks, caring for the plant changes his perspective. The living growing plant needs him, and he begins to change his life and house so that the plant can grow. His house goes from being infested with darkness, dust, and grime to being clean and full of light. When the boy returns, he extends an invitation from his parents to come to their garden for a visit. The final spread is Niles and the boy hand in hand, on their way to a wonderful friendship.

The change in Niles is striking. He sees life with one perspective–colorless. When forced to entertain a pot of dirt with a seed, his perspective changes to include light, cleanliness, neighbors, books, happy memories, and even the return of his long-lost cat. This change is from one single outlook to an openness to a life of color.

Skating Over Thin Ice by Canadian author Jean Mills
Piano prodigy Imogene St. Pierre is a member of an international chamber trio with her grandfather and father. Music and the cocoon of her family is her life. However, in her last year of high school she enrolls in a private school in Quebec. There, she meets Nathan McCormick, a prodigy hockey player who made an error that cost him a year of play. He is on the sidelines, doing what he needs to so he can return to the world of hockey. When the two teens are assigned a project together, they both struggle to understand the world of the other. However, in the process of making a film that intertwines their two worlds, music and powerful skating, they began to understand the other person’s perspectives about life.

Imogene narrates. Through her eyes, readers begin to gain an understanding of the perspective of an intensely shy person who keeps life in two boxes: the public performance self and the relaxed self among safe family members who share her love of music. When she goes to school with lots of students from wealthy families or children of diplomats, she can easily ignore most–a rise into society does not interest her. But she is forced through a school project to enter into Nathan’s world of skating and to begin to grasp a wider perspective that goes beyond what feels familiar and comfortable.

After Life: Ways We Think About Death by Canadian author Merrie-Ellen Wilcox
In this informational book, Wilcox presents, in a beautiful mix of text and photos, the way many people think about death. The subject is often avoided, but the way we think about death comes from the belief systems we hold. The way we grieve reflects the values we place on people. So, death is a great place to start when trying to dig below surface-level artifacts (like foods, festivals, famous people) and develop an understanding of ways people see life.

The book includes a wide range of cultural practices, outlining beliefs people have about the afterlife, burial practices, funerals and the grieving process. The book is typical non-fiction–full of information and facts. But the writing is solid so reading about death is actually interesting!

The book is published by Orca Books, a Canadian publishing house that began with Hi-Lo books from young readers to adults–high interest content with fewer literacy challenges. They have since branched out and publish beautiful non-fiction texts that include texts that support exploration of complex cultural and social issues.

Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World by French author-illustrator Guillaume Duprat
While this book does not support the idea of a single individual seeing multiple perspectives, it does give a fascinating way of looking at the same scene through different lenses! Duprat chose a rural scene that we, as humans, can see in all of its color and glory. Then he walks readers through the way different mammals, birds, reptiles and insects would see the same scene. For instance, cats cannot see the difference between red and green, so Duprat repaints the same scene the way a cat would see it in daylight or at night.

The book invites exploration with all of its flaps and info-bytes. Readers are treated to lots of scientific information about how different kinds of lenses take in outside data and transfer it to the brain. The explanations are presented in an interesting visual way—underneath the eyelid!

Next week we will explore titles that help us see ourselves with a multicultural identity.

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