By Janine Schall, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, TX
Education is a universal right, but what children are asked to learn and the ways in which they engage in learning is very different around the world. Many children spend a significant portion of their lives in schools so it makes sense that they would be curious about how schools work and how children in different places experience school. This inquiry topic has natural interdisciplinary connections and can be a great way to begin and end the school year.
In this issue of WOW Currents, I share a text set of global and multicultural children’s picturebooks related to the school experience around the world, organized into four themes.
First Days and New Beginnings
First days—whether the beginning of the school year or a move to a new school—bring the possibility of making new friends, learning interesting things, and increasing independence. But sometimes it’s a stressful adjustment! In What Are You Doing? by Elisa Amado and Manuel Monroy (illus), young Chepito isn’t happy about his first day until he’s drawn in by the power of reading. As he explores his Latin American community, he notices people reading different texts for a variety of purposes. At school, he’s greeted by a shelf of books and a teacher ready to do a read aloud. By the time he goes home, he’s excited to share a book with his little sister. Elizabeti, on the other hand, in Elizabeti’s School by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and Christy Hale (illus.) is excited to for her first day…until she gets homesick at school and wonders if it’s worth it.
Another picturebook that feature first days and new beginnings is My First Day by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên.
Differences and Similarities
While schools around the world can look vastly different, there are also similarities in what children do and learn. In Back to School by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko, the authors highlight commonalities across schools saying, “Going to school means learning about the world around you… Going to school means learning from teachers, classmates, books and computers.” These statements of commonality are accompanied by gorgeous photographs showing how differently schools enact them in 38 countries around the world. Captions and back matter provide some information about what’s happening in the photos.
A second book that compare differences and similarities in schools around the world is Adventures to School: Real-life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Baptiste Pau and Miranda Paul and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz (2018).
Most children follow a daily routine at school and participate in regular traditions, such as picture day or the school play. In I Didn’t Do My Homework Because… by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud (illus.), a young boy is questioned by his skeptical teacher about why his homework hasn’t been completed. His increasingly ridiculous excuses are met with disbelief by his teacher—who has a surprise in store for the boy. Detailed, humorous illustrations fill each page.
Social and Political Contexts
While the purpose of schooling is for children to gain knowledge, they learn more than just curricular standards. School experiences and curriculum are enacted in ways that reflect social, political, and community values and norms, both positive and negative. Since children absorb these just as much as they do the stated curriculum, helping them explore and think critically about this aspect of schooling is important in order to support children as they become knowledgeable, active citizens who can take action when needed. One book that fits this theme is Rene Has Two Last Names/Rene tiene dos apellidos by Rene Colato Lainez. After Rene immigrates to the U.S. from El Salvador, he is frustrated when his new teacher and classmates ignore or make fun of his two last names. Bilingual text and cartoon-style illustrations shows how Rene pushes back against this demeaning ignorance and educates his teacher and classmates about why he has two last names and how important it is to recognize and respect this Latin American tradition.
Another picturebook that depict the social and political contexts of schools is Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave (2008).
As a bonus, I want to acknowledge that public libraries are prime locations for learning that happens outside of schools. Children who want to explore how libraries around the world help children access books and knowledge might be interested in this text is The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman and illustrated by Gabrielle Girmard (2020).
Do you know of other books that fit this text set? Add them in the comments!
WOW Currents is a space to talk about forward-thinking trends in global children’s and adolescent literature and how we use that literature with students. “Currents” is a play on words for trends and timeliness and the way we talk about social media. We encourage you to participate by leaving comments and sharing this post with your peers. To view our complete offerings of WOW Currents, please visit its archival stream.
- Themes: Adventures to School, Back to School, Baptiste Pau, Christy Hale, Elisa Amado, Elizabeti's School, Huynh Kim Liên, Isabel Munoz, Janine Schall, John D. Ivanko, Kim LaFave, Manuel Monroy, Maya Ajmera, Miranda Paul, My First Day, Nicola I. Campbell, Phùng Nguyên Quang, Rene Colato Lainez, Rene Has Two Last Names, Shin-Chi’s Canoe, Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, What Are You Doing?
- Descriptors: Books & Resources, WOW Currents