I remember as a child I would be chastised to turn off the light and go to bed, but I would sneak in a flashlight, just to be able to finish the chapter of a thrilling adventure book. Books have the ability to transport us anywhere in the world. Multicultural books help us imagine what it would be like to experience life from a different perspective. Here are 6 reasons to teach our children using multicultural books.
1) Multicultural Books Transport Us
One way to begin learning about other cultures through books is to choose one country per month to “study.” By picking stories that are set in a specific country, we begin to experience common cultural themes, and understand the perspectives of some of the people from that country. To extend the learning, you can made food from that country (especially if there are dishes mentioned in the book!), study the map, learn the flag, watch video clips, and decide to read a lot of fiction and non-fiction books.
Map out the settings of the books you read. Hang up a world map in your room, and place a marker with the title of every book you read on the country where it takes place. Purposefully choose books to represent a large geographic area so that soon your markers are spread across the globe. This graphic organizer will help you recognize if there are regions of the world that you haven’t covered yet.
2) Multicultural Fairy Tales Show Common Human Emotions
Check out fairy tales, folklore, and fables from other cultures. For example, try comparing Cinderella stories from around the world. Although the storylines are diverse, you will notice everyone has a common need for love from family and friends, hope and security. No matter where the story is from, we all possess feelings of happiness, anger, pride, and loneliness. When reading the fairy tales, notice how different culture portray and deal with these emotions, and compare them to how you, your family and friends would show the same feelings.
3) Great Multicultural Books Help to Dispel Stereotypes
In choosing multicultural books for kids, there are many great titles- but also some pretty awful stories too, that perpetuate stereotypes. When looking at books about a certain culture, it is imperative to make sure the story does not depict indigenous characters inaccurately or negatively, nor lump together various tribes and people into a general and indistinct group. For example, there is a tendency to erroneously teach young children about tipi-living, feather-wearing, tomahawk-carrying “Indians.” Yet, Native American people are not static or extinct; in fact they are contributing members to society, with deep-rooted traditions and values that are pertinent to our world today. Picking a variety of good-quality books will help to distinguish stories that are purely stereotypical vs stories that are written by people of the specific culture. Reading great books helps to dispel misconceptions and inaccurate stereotypes.
4) Books Teach us about Kids around the World
Kids around the world are curious about their peers: kids wonder where we sleep, what toys we play with, or even what snacks we have. There are many non-fiction books that showcase children living in different countries around the world. For example, there are books that talk about the different homes– both rural and urban- where families reside, different types of schools around the world, children of different religions and their celebrations, traditional and contemporary customs, and even how children around the world play with their friends. By paging through these photographic journals, readers get a glimpse of the life of another child halfway across the world. How are we similar to and different than the families around the world in the books?
5) Multicultural Books Teach Tolerance and Respect
It’s never too early to begin instilling positive attitudes about acceptance and tolerance in children. Reading books about people from other cultures will increase cultural awareness, and help us become more respectful towards people with different backgrounds and perspectives. It is crucial to be exposed to those who might be different than you, because we will often sympathize with others once we’ve become familiar with them. It’s also important, however, to simply encourage the idea that accepting differences is important and that hateful behavior is harmful.
With so much violence in the world today, it is parents’ and teachers’ duties to teach our children about compassion, showing them kindness and respect, and giving them examples and role models to follow. One way to do this is to studying great leaders who embody peace helps kids to make better decisions and learn from others wisdom as well as from their mistakes. Reading biographies written for kids, of leaders from around the world and the challenges they have overcome gives children examples of character traits, perspective on current events, and expands their ideas about other countries. For example, you can read wonderful biographies written for children of leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Wangari Maathai, Jane Goodall, or Nelson Mandela.
6) Characters can Encourage Pride in our Cultural Heritage
Finally, reading books about our own cultural heritage encourages a positive self-concept and self-identity. Students can benefit from reading literature that reflects their own background because it helps develop a healthy pride in our family background. Whether the books recount a historical event, a national leader, or a child hero from another era, positive stories of our own cultural background help us to understand a bit of what makes us unique and special.
Whether in a social studies class, a multicultural unit, or simply for enjoyment, teachers and parents can use these literature journeys to stimulate children’s wonder and increase our cultural awareness of the many different people, cultures, and ways of life around the world. When choosing children’s literature to increase global awareness, I think it is important that the books are visually appealing, culturally accurate and without stereotypes. Books should be age-appropriate, engaging stories that subtly inform and showcase new traditions and people.
Please share your favorite multicultural books in the comments! I am always on the look out for great books to help teach kids about the world!