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Louise and Laura: Challenging our Assumptions of Indigenous and Pioneer Life

By Mandy Medvin, Elizabeth Ford, and Charlene Klassen Endrizzi, Westminster College, PA., retired faculty

A young girl with a bird on her shoulder stsands in front of a small house in the woods.“Who’s telling the story? What changes when someone else tells the story?” Videos like this one, “The Trouble with History,” from the Native New York exhibit, a branch of Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian, challenge students, teachers and parents to consider, “What if the story we are reading isn’t the only one?” And what if the text contains labels that marginalize specific groups?

This month we seek to move beyond a single, white Euro-centric lens on the Westward Movement, a common feature in many middle grade social studies’ textbooks. Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House series and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House novels, both aimed at middle grade readers, are set in the mid-late 1800s and offer a comparative lens on this time period in U.S. history, often called the “pioneer era.” Louise (1954-present) wrote her books based on her family research as a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Ojibwe, Anishinaabe people who lived in the Great Lakes region. Laura (1867 – 1957), born nearby in Wisconsin, provides an early white-centric perspective on the same historical time period and location. Juxtaposing these series offers a way to initiate conversations with students regarding two distinct ways of life and perspectives. Continue reading

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Indigenous Family Stories

By Angeline Hoffman, White Mountain Apache Tribe

A family in a white car drive down a road, away from mountains.This month I celebrate global children’s books focused on Indigenous families. Today in the U.S. there are 574 different federally recognized Indigenous tribes. While many teachers see the usefulness of celebrating American Indians during October and November holidays (October 14, Indigenous Peoples’ Day and November – Indigenous Heritage Month), we need to move beyond single days and months to explore Indigenous cultures. Much like the hazards of limiting the study of African American life to Black History Month in February, I hope teachers will ponder how we can explore Indigenous families and life as a part of any literature, history, art or science exploration throughout the school year.

Strong Nations is a useful publisher as I continually search for Indigenous children’s books. My goal in working with fifth and sixth grade Apache and Navajo students is to share books that value their culture, thereby empowering them. This month I focus on five children’s books that center on Indigenous families. Continue reading

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An On-going Struggle for Equal Voting Rights

By Charlene Klassen Endrizzi, Westminster College, retired, and Rebecca Ballenger, Worlds of Words, University of Arizona, Tucson

People from all backgrounds hold signs that say vote in multiple languagesJane Goodall recently outlined, “Every vote matters, more this year than perhaps any time in history.” As voters from the United States to South Africa, Mexico, India and beyond enter a major election year, Jane urges anyone who will listen to pause and consider each candidate’s record on a single issue–her/his/their efforts to support the health of our Earth. Yet we know U.S. voters will ponder additional issues, ranging from the economy and democracy to immigration, reproductive rights, foreign policy, gun rights, equality and more. Continue reading

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Awards for Translation and Cultural Exchange with Korean Picturebooks

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM

2021 Concurso de Traduccion de Libros Illustrados Coreanos y MexicanosThis month, I invite the WOW Currents audience to partake in global intercultural and language celebration events that unite young and adult readers with languages and cultures from contemporary nations across diverse countries. This edition of WOW Currents invites readers to take a closer look at select award-winning books from recent translation competitions, including Korean to Spanish, Spanish to Korean, Korean to Arabic, and Arabic to Korean languages. The award ceremonies for these competitions were held at the Korean Embassy in Mexico City and the Seoul International Book Exhibition, marking significant intercultural solidarity programs in the field of translation and cultural exchange. Continue reading

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Celebrating New Authors and Illustrators at the 2024 Tucson Festival of Books

By Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Two girls holding dolls with a hay bale behind themFestivals are an opportunity to connect with well-known authors who win awards and are on best-selling lists. Plenty of those authors are coming to the Tucson Festival of Books this year, such as Kate DiCamillo, Donna Barba Higuera, Roshani Chokshi, John Parra, Sayantani DasGupta, Jennifer Nielson, Kazu Kibuishi, R.L. Stine, Marissa Meyer, Shelby Mahurin, and Gene Luen Yang. They will appear on panels, solo sessions, and workshops, giving readers a chance to talk with the authors they admire and love to read.

What is often overlooked is that festivals are also an opportunity to meet new authors and illustrators who are making their mark on the field, adding their books as new favorites. Recent illustrators who have published picturebooks will appear on panels and give illustrator studios this year. Jonathan Nelson is the Diné illustrator of Forever Cousins (2022) and A Letter for Bob (2023), demonstrating his commitment to illustrating Native stories by Native authors. A Letter for Bob celebrates the treasured family car that has taken a young girl’s family through happy and sad times. In Lian Cho’s new picturebook, Oh, Olive! (2023), Olive loves to smear, spatter, and splash with a brush in each hand, but faces the displeasure of her parents who are serious artists, painting proper perfect shapes. Continue reading

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Experience the 2024 Tucson Festival of Books

By Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

As a long-time attendee and presenter at professional conferences for educators, book festivals were a new genre for me when I first started working with the Tucson Festival of Books 14 years ago. I quickly realized that the audience was much broader for a festival, many of whom are parents, children and teens with different preferences than educators. A festival needs to balance authors who have popular appeal and write series books with authors who are critically acclaimed, and well-known authors with emerging authors. The sessions also need to offer laughter and playfulness as well as discussions of critical issues.

Over time, we have developed different types of sessions for the children/teen section of the festival to appeal to the different audiences. The overall festival has over 300 authors and 130,000 attendees. 65 of those authors are picturebook authors/illustrators, middle grade authors, graphic novel creators, and young adult authors, who present over 100 sessions. One strength of our program for children and teens is that many of the sessions are in rooms that seat 40-50 people to allow for more intimate interactions with authors, instead of only large auditoriums where authors are at a distance. This WOW Currents highlights the types of sessions and a few of the authors who are coming this March. Go to the festival website for a full list of authors and sessions for the entire festival. Continue reading

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Enriching the Story of Europe’s Middle Ages

By Holly Johnson, Professor Emerita, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A gargoyle on top of a cathedral. Creating a love of history in many young people often feels like a Sisyphean effort with some time periods garnering more attention than others. I personally love the history of the American West, so it came as a big surprise that several of my favorite books for young people focus on Europe’s Middle Ages. With such wonderful literature available, a spark could be lit and young people’s imaginations could take flight. Continue reading

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Journeys: Shared and Forced

by Seemi Aziz-Raina, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Sejal, her mother, and grandmother hold hands.As summer looms many of us think about travel, whether for pleasure or for work, and suddenly the long hot summer seems approachable and accessible. While travel can be exciting and relaxing, journeys and travel don’t always bode well for many. The world that we live in is changing at a very rapid pace due to global discord and accessibility, where news and world events impact us all. This month I look at journeys that are shared and/or forced within recent picturebooks. To do this, the focus will be on the following powerful exemplars while I share other intertextual examples that reinforce the same thematic threads. Continue reading

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In Praise of a Good Book

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A large wolf in a forest walking towards the viewer. In the foreground is the silhouette of a young boy.There are many great books for young people available, and summertime is a great time to take advantage of the books we might have set aside hoping to get to them. Within the numerous books we might read, every now and then there is one that not only brings us pleasure but can have us thinking deeply about the state of the cosmos. Wolfstongue (2021) by Sam Thompson is one such book. I want to take nothing away from any number of books that might also have readers thinking philosophically about the world, but this book awed me in its thoughtfulness and its cosmopolitan way of envisioning the relationship between humans and nonhuman animals, and the role language plays in our often-hierarchical stance toward other species and the power differential displayed within those relationships. In the following paragraphs, I want to share some of the instances that had me contemplating and appreciating the marvels of this book. Continue reading

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Exploring Schools and Schooling Around the World

By Janine Schall, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, TX

Large waves fling a small boy and his boat into the airEducation 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.

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