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Children Draw Themselves: Self-portraits from All Over the World In Times of Covid

As COVID-19 began its spread around the world, the International Youth Library (IYL) in Munich, Germany, invited children to portray themselves during this unusual time. The response was overwhelming. Over 800 self-portraits from 42 countries and every continent arrived at the IYL. Children aged 3 to 18 depict themselves grey and frightened or colorful and lively, sometimes with a face mask and sometimes without–mostly with big, alert eyes. A curated portion of these self-portraits make up the exhibit Children Draw Themselves: Self-Portraits from All Over the World In Times of Covid, now on display in Worlds of Words: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures (WOW) in the UArizona College of Education.

studio hung with children's self portraits during covid-19 quarantine and books on tables

The exhibit displayed in WOW, with portraits hanging on the wall and books on the tables.

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WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Borders

Questions of sovereignty, citizenship, and who gets to decide are the central issues in Borders (2021), a graphic novel with expressive colorful illustrations representing a realistic sensibility. A first-person narrative told from the perspective of a young boy, readers follow along on a road trip between the Blackfoot Reserve in Canada to the border between Canada and the United States. Upon reaching the border, those wishing to cross the border either for returning to their own country or entering the visiting country must declare their citizenship. When asked for her citizenship, the boy’s mother responds, “Blackfoot.” This creates a dilemma for the border guards, as she is expected to answer either “Canadian” or “USA.” Because she refuses to claim any citizenship other than her tribal affiliation, the boy and his mother are not allowed in the USA, and are turned back. But once they return to the border crossing into Canada, they not allowed into Canada because the boy’s mother responds in the same way when asked her citizenship. Continue reading

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Picturebooks: The Wisdom Found in Ages

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

The last week of December, and of 2021, is a great time to think about wisdom, and what we can learn not only from the past year, and from those who have lived many years. Four picturebooks highlighted during the last 12 months include the wisdom of the ages—three grandparents and one country leader. I Dream of Popo is the story of a young girl who misses her grandmother when her family moves to the United States from Taiwan. The young protagonist remembers what her grandmother means to her, and what she learned from her grandmother. And while they are able to use technology to “visit” one another, there is still the longing to be with, and to continue to learn from, this very special person. Readers can relate to the wisdom of their own grandparents or older family relatives. There are their family stories to be heard, memories to hold, and love to take with them as they venture out seeking further knowledge and perhaps, wisdom as they grow. Continue reading

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Government Practices & Policies, and the Dangers to Individuals

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH


The four novels this week address issues of government practices and policies and how those initiatives impact human beings. The Firekeeper’s Daughter, Your Heart, My Sky, The Beatryce Prophecy, and Unsettled as a text set are a blend of historical realities, fable/fairytale, as well as legends and cultural traditions. The power of these novels is the ability of the authors to create realistic contexts that are often too familiar while highlighting individuals and their responses to that political context. Each of these narratives invite questions about government programming and the gaps within the lived reality as well as the historical documentation of that programming provides entrée into the study of history itself. Who and what is fore fronted? Who or what is silenced or rendered invisible? How can history be re-envisioned, and in what ways can more of the “story” of history be brought into view? How can students of history look beneath the official narrative and, perhaps, bring about change? How do people actually live within the history given? How does one make a life in dangerous times? Continue reading

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Historical Conflicts and the Toll on People and Other Living Things

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Cover art for Cane Warriors features a blue and black photograph of a young Black boy with an ink drawing of Tacky's Rebellion in the background.

Four of the books from WoW Recommends 2021 address the toll of historical conflict: Cane Warriors, Brother’s Keeper, Cat Man of Aleppo, and They Called Us Enemy. All offer spaces of contemplation and discovery, discussion and decision-making. All are great reads. Continue reading

Authors' Corner

Author’s Corner: Ray Jaramillo

By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

Ray Jaramillo’s first picturebook for children, Gust, Gust, Gust! (Page Publishing, Inc., 2021), is the story of a young boy who is afraid of the wind. Gustavo, called Gust, lives in a village located in southwestern New Mexico, U.S.A. where the wind blows constantly. To comfort Gust, his Tata plays the bongos each time the wind begins to whirl. Eventually, the villagers grow tired of listening to Tata play his bongos and ban him from ever playing again. Unbeknownst to the villagers, banning Tata’s bongo playing has devastating consequences for the village. To find out if the villagers can survive without the music of Tata’s bongos, pick up Ray’s new picturebook, Gust, Gust, Gust! Continue reading

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A Review of Recommended Books for 2021

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Throughout the year, a member of the Worlds of Words community recommends a book for others to enjoy. In 2021, we highlighted 12 books, and I thought it would be great to see them all together to get a sense of how 2021 unfolded. There are six middle/secondary school novels, one graphic novel and five picturebooks worthy of a second look. Here are the books we recommended:

JANUARY
Cover art for Cane Warriors features a blue and black photograph of a young Black boy with an ink drawing of Tacky's Rebellion in the background.
Cane Warriors (2020) by Alex Wheatle. Set in 1760 Jamaica, Moa is an enslaved 14-year-old boy who works the sugar cane fields. While his family is also on the plantation, he rarely sees them, but does affiliate with a small group of others to consider escaping over the celebration of the Easter holiday. Moa is frightened, but believes in the cause of freedom, and thus is resolved to join the others in either escape or a fight for freedom. This narrative chronicles Tacky’s Rebellion, an actual historical event, and one seldom studied in schools or written about for younger readers. While written in common usage English, the dialogue is Jamaican patois, giving it an authentic richness. A narrative that is both insightful and uplifting, Cane Warrior is a critical addition to Caribbean literature.

Alex Wheatle is a finalist for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature and Cane Warriors was Shortlisted for the 2020 Caribbean Readers’ Awards. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Your Heart, My Sky

Book jacket depicts a young girl and boy with their heads together under a garden canopy of produce.
Liana, age 14, introduces life in Cuba during the summer of 1991 and el período especial en tiempos de paz, which seems to Liana to be a governmental euphemism for hunger. Risking punishment, she’s chosen not to attend mandatory “volunteer” farm labor. Amado, age 15, likewise stays home. Both spend their days wandering to avoid camp and find food. The Singing Dog, age unknown, brings Liana and Amado together to help them discover sources to quench their hunger, to alleviate their isolation and to pursue a peace. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Beatryce Prophecy


In this review Kathy Short and Marilyn Carpenter share their responses to The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Sophie Blackall.

MARILYN: As soon as I finished this book, I eagerly read it again. With the first reading, I found the plot most engaging. On the second reading, I admired the author’s craft. The story takes place in the Middle Ages during a time of war. Five characters carry the story. First, the reader meets a monk, Brother Edik, who has written a prophecy about a girl who will unseat a king. Next, we are introduced to a cranky and fearsome goat, Answelica, who has a major role in the story as a protector of Beatryce, a young girl that Brother Edik finds ill, wounded and bloody curled up next to that goat, fast asleep. It turns out that the child has experienced a horrific trauma that has left her without any memory except that her name is Beatryce. As Brother Edik comes to know her he discovers that she can read and write which is dangerous because there is a law that says that no girls or women can read or write. Brother Edik shaves her head and disguises her as a young monk. Continue reading

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Activities with Audiobook Incorporating Print Books

Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District, Tucson, AZ

Blended cover
A few years ago, Yoo Kyung and I (Junko) worked with Mr. Wilson’s 8th graders in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), Tucson, AZ. We shared with them Blended (2018) by Sharon M. Draper through its audiobook and printed text. Blended is a contemporary realistic fiction story of Isabella, a biracial 11-year-old girl, with a Black father and White mother. Isabella’s parents are divorcing and having a new family. One week is Dad’s Week, where she spends her week at her dad’s place with his girlfriend and her son in a fancy big house. Alternatively she spends her week at her mom’s (Mom’s Week) with her mom and her boyfriend in a small, not fancy house. Switching houses, nicknames (i.e. mom calls her Izzy and dad calls her Isabella), and school backpacks every week make Isabella feel stuck between the two lives and ripped in two. At school and in public spaces, she faces racial violence, discrimination, and police-involved shooting. Going through all of these, Isabella begins to think of who she is and how her identity, parents’ divorce, and racism impacts her life and relationships with families and schoolmates. (Watch the Blended book trailer here.) Continue reading