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Multicultural Literature

Seeing and understanding

other cultures through stories

Two kinds of multicultural lit

different cultures within the U.S.
cultures outside the U.S.

Both can be enormously important and

therefore useful. Both can be very appealing.
Which you choose to emphasize will depend
largely on what you are attempting to achieve
in your class.

Childrens Literature in
Other Countries: Africa
In Africa, where there is incredible poverty in

most of the countries, most of what publishing

that takes place is of textbooks. Picture
books are rare because of the expense of
printing them. Childrens books certainly do
exist, but they are not plentiful, also for
economic reasons.

Childrens Literature in
Latin America and the Caribbean
Rich local folklores have helped produced

some excellent childrens writers and

childrens books. Brazil, Argentina,
Venezuela, and Cuba have the most
developed childrens book publishing

Childrens Literature in
Childrens books are seen as far less

important that textbooks. We do, however,

get some books from India (often written in
English), some from China, and a great many
from Japan, where childrens publishing is a
big business.

Childrens Literature in
the Arab World
The Arab world has a very rich tradition of

folklore, but virtually no tradition of literature

for children.

Childrens Literature in
During the Soviet era, there was plenty of

childrens publishing in Russia and eastern

Europe; that has declined somewhat since
In the rest of Europe and the English
speaking parts of the world, there is, of
course, a great deal of childrens literature.

Benefits of International Childrens

same benefits that any books confer:

develop reading skills, use of imagination,

awareness of things beyond their own
develops cultural awareness and
understanding of differences
supports development of visual literacy by
presenting new and unfamiliar styles of
illustration; develops aesthetic sensibility

Benefits of International Childrens

supports the development of language skills,

often, by exposing them to different language

patterns and by giving them words for
unfamiliar things, such as tatami mats and
pagodas and rice paddies
helps students recognize what is universal in
people, especially children
helps students appreciate and accept

Benefits of International Childrens

presents problems that we are insulated from
develops critical thinking skills
can be linked to many other subjects in the


Experiences children are generally

insulated from in the U.S.
struggles to survive
war, violence
cultural taboos
Of course, books from other cultures can

present commonand similareveryday life

as well.

Evaluating merit: look at

quality of the story
authors background, qualifications, point-of-

portrayal of characters (human beings, or just
language patterns (is there something
identifiable that comes from the country?)
illustrations (appropriate style for that culture?)
accuracy of details

Pay attention to:

insider / outsider debate
quality of translation

are any instances of verbal humor

successfully translated?
are there words that might cause offense?
has the translator purified the text to make
the values more acceptable to American


Not just novels!

picture books

How should students react?

They may well react with disapproval to

cultural elements that are especially different

or unfamiliar.
But you mustnt.

Do you have to approve of

The whole point of reading such a book is to

help students know and understand elements

of culture that differ from their own in some
important ways.
Understanding the differences doesnt require
approvalbut it does require respect where
respect is due.
The greater the difference, the greater the
need for understandingand your guidance.

Using Multicultural Elements

In the class, you and your students should
identify cultural differences
understand whats involved (e.g.: if theres
mention of a holiday that matters in the story,
make sure everyone knows what it is)
try to understand why the culture does things
this waydiscuss benefits as well as costs
compare this element with more familiar ones
keep in mind that not everyone in the class will
have an identical cultural background

Using Multicultural Elements

In the class, you and your students should
above all else, discuss how the cultural
differences affect what is happening in the

The End