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Books for Exploring the Dignity of the Non-Human World

Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Pax by by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon KlassenThe environment has become a critical issue for a majority of people around the world. There are a number of ways to address the issue, and one of those ways is through an eco-cosmopolitan perspective. Eco-cosmopolitanism is “an attempt to envision individuals and groups as part of planetary ‘imagined communities’ of both human and nonhuman kinds” (Heise, 2008, p. 61). In children’s literature, we often get the perspective of an animal or insect. From Peter Rabbit (Potter, 1999) to Watership Down (Adams, 2014) to Charlotte’s Web (White, 2012) to more current texts such as Alice’s Farm (Wood, 2020) and Pax (Pennypacker, 2019), readers are delighted by the antics and/or adventures found within these marvelous examples of non-human creatures interacting in the world. Humorous tales such as the two Skunk and Badger stories (Timberlake, 2020; 2021) make us laugh, while Pax (Pennypacker, 2019), Pax Journey Home (2021) and Charlotte’s Web (White, 2012) can develop empathy for the living things outside the “human” realm. Continue reading

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

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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: Unsettled

Cover of Unsettled depicting a young girl in a light blue hijab walking towards the left on a yellow background, her hijab spilling out behind her to hold aspects of Pakastani culture suck as food, flowers, and street cars.
In Unsettled by Reem Faruqi, readers meet Nurah, who loves her life in Karachi, Pakistan. She loves her extended family, the sounds and tastes of home, and the local pool, where she and her brother Owais feel like they belong. So when her family moves to Peachtree City, Georgia in 2001 for a more stable job for her father, Nurah is not especially happy about it. She and her brother Owais, however, discover the community pool, and life in Georgia begins to show promise. They both make the swim team and work hard not only to excel in the pool, but to blend in to the local culture. But Nurah’s bright clothes, strong accent, and shy ways prove to be a hindrance to that blending in—as does September 11th and a horrific incident at the pool involving her brother. Nurah finally recognizes that she has stood on the sidelines of her own life and her family’s cultural heritage and well-being for too long. She must decide if she wants to fit in or stand out, knowing that her decision will make a difference in not only her happiness, but her sense of self. Continue reading

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MTYT: Just Like That

By Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ, and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson discuss four historical fiction novels that are relevant to current issues this month. They revisit two novels that are considered classic novels while also introducing a couple of newer books.

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MTYT: Mississippi Bridge

By Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ, and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson discuss four historical fiction novels that are relevant to current issues this month. They revisit two novels that are considered classic novels while also introducing a couple of newer books.

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MTYT: Brother’s Keeper

By Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ, and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson discuss four historical fiction novels that are relevant to current issues this month. They revisit two novels that are considered classic novels while also introducing a couple of newer books.

Continue reading