I love using high-quality children’s literature to show them how children around the world live with their families, go to school, and enjoy playing with their friends. Educators and parents can use literature to increase cultural awareness because young children are able to digest new concepts when the information is presented in story form (see journal articles below).
Here are a few books about life in Ethiopia, from children’s perspectives. When I purchased these books, I was looking to enhance my son’s knowledge of his birth country and encourage a positive self-concept of his cultural heritage, without portraying negative stereotypes. We enjoyed the photographs and information presented so much that we decided to purchase extra copies to give to our children’s school, to enrich their library.
The text and photographs for E is for Ethiopia are done by Ashenafi Gudeta, Ataklti Mulu, Betelhem Abate, Dama Borum, 4 young photographers in Ethiopia whose work is supported by the UK aid agency “Catholic Agency for Overseas Development” (CAFOD). Their vibrant and colorful photos were taken around the country of daily life, and celebrates the rich culture and beautiful people of Ethiopia. The book presents a good balance between city life and the countryside, shows children and families in a wide variety of situations and packs in a myriad of details onto each page. This book is great to read aloud and discuss with all ages of kids, but also is perfect for kids to pour over by themselves: every time we read it my kids point out a new discovery in one of the brilliant photographs, which never cease to interest them. I highly recommend this book for all ages for its content and amazing photographs. This books gives us a tremendous learning opportunity about the beautiful country of Ethiopia.
The second book I adore is Tsion’s Life, by Stacy Bellward. This book provides readers with a window into the life of a young girl named Tsion (SEE-yon), who lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Using an Amharic word on each page, simple descriptions and detailed photographs, she shares her daily life and activities. In a subtle way, readers will learn about cultural values of people who live in Ethiopia, such as respect for elders, importance of family, and generosity towards others. Children will notice that in many ways, Tsion is like them: she goes to school with her friends, goes to church, and has dinner with her family. They will also notice traditions that may be new to them and lifestyle differences, that make every family unique.
Both of these books focus on experiences specific to Ethiopia, a country in the Horn of Africa. When you read them, it is important for kids to distinguish that Africa is a continent, not a country. This might sounds obvious, but so often I see geography lessons and books teaching about “Mexico, India, Russia, and Africa,” for example. I believe it is important to be consistent (either use Asian and African, or say Chinese and Ethiopian), and hesitate from making blanket statements about an entire continent. The 50+ African countries are as diverse as the countries making up Latin America or Europe or Asia, with their own distinct languages, traditions, cultures, and people. By choosing a specific country/region and learning about it in more detail, you will show your students and children that the vague stereotypes of a nondescript “Africa” are inaccurate, and cause more harm than good.
For further reading:
Piper, D. (1986). Language Growth in the Multiethnic Classroom. Language Arts, 63, 23-26.
Tway, E. (1989). Dimensions of multicultural literature for children. In M.K. Rudman (Ed.), Children’s literature: Resource for the classroom (109-138). Needham Heights, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Wells, G. (1986). The Meaning-Makers: Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.