November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Getting Tweens To Think (and Act) Globally | Nonfiction Notions

When I set out to write the final part of my series of essays on inspiring kids to build a better world through nonfiction, I found myself facing a challenge. I wanted to showcase books that would expand tweens’ ideas and knowledge of the world, especially about the experiences of kids from communities different than their own. But I struggled to find books that were at the right reading and interest level, that were written from the perspectives of local kids and adults rather than outsiders coming in to “fix” problems, and that showcased a culture’s diversity rather than focusing on issues like poverty and lack of resources. When thinking specifically of my library’s needs, I know that many parents do not want their kids to know about harrowing current events, and I am wary of introducing younger readers to heavy subjects without giving them ways to be involved and active. However, after much searching, I did find a few titles that fit well into these parameters.

After William Kamkwamba was forced to end his schooling due to a severe drought and famine in his country of Malawi, he continued his education on his own. Using books from the small local library and recycled scraps, and with the help of his friends, he constructed his own windmill to bring electricity to his rural village. His hard work and ingenuity earned him national and worldwide recognition as well as access to a better education, which he used to improve his community. The young reader’s edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind stands out among other memoirs because of its inclusion of science, visceral writing about the effects of famine, and Kamkwamba’s ability to portray his culture and family lovingly and with respect and appreciation for his home and the possibilities he sees there.

For a more global look at education, Tanya Lee Stone’s Girl Rising, an expansion of the Girl Rising documentary film and nonprofit organization, looks at how girls obtain an education, and their feelings, hopes, and dreams. She tells stories of young women who have suffered abuse and poverty, of families who have supported their daughter’s desire to attend school, and of families who have not. The book also includes Stone’s discussion of the difficulty in telling stories through a translator and how she worked hard to make sure the girls’ authentic voices were heard. This thought-provoking collection of true tales and essays about the power of education and how it can change the world will give readers not only an expanded view of the world but also challenge teens to think about how they are using their own education.

For younger readers, I discovered a new-to-me publisher last year: Crickhollow. Cathleen Burnham has written a series of books about local kids working to save wildlife. Tortuga Squad is a fine sample of her work. The book tells a brisk narrative of real kids in Costa Rica working with their families and communities to protect endangered sea turtles. Photographs and dialogue enhance the reading, and while some kids might shy away from the picture book format, they will be intrigued once they realize they’re reading a story about kids their own age with similar concerns and interests.

Finally, the best resource for tweens interested in learning about global issues, other cultures, and how they can be involved is Kids Can Press’s CitizenKid imprint. It includes a wide variety of titles for different ages. Many of them are in large, picture book format and told in the form of illustrated stories, and there is a good variety of subjects covered. Some of the titles I most frequently recommend include The Good Garden by Katie Milway, a story of families in Honduras who use education to improve their land and overcome poverty, and Razia’s Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby, about an Afghan girl who overcomes many difficulties in order to attend school. Both books resonate in my community, showcasing tight-knit families who work together.

For older readers, Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine’s Child Soldier is the story of one boy’s experience being kidnapped by a rebel militia. The story is told in a graphic novel format but does not graphically show the violence and abuse suffered by Chikwanine and his friends. Rather, it focuses on his family life before and after the traumatic events and how they changed his life.

All of these titles are great choices for classroom use as they include discussion questions and activities. Child Soldier can be used to spark in-depth discussions, as it encourages readers to think about how children and teens are involved in war and the personal and global implications of that fact.

This is just a starting point for encouraging patrons and students to think and act globally. Use these titles in class discussions, book clubs, and to spark learning about worldwide challenges and accomplishments. When tweens are able to relate to their peers and to reflect on their own privilege and opportunities, they will be inspired to build a better world.

Titles referenced:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Dial. 2015. ISBN 9780803740808.

Girl Rising by Tanya Lee Stone. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. 2017. ISBN 9780553511468.

Tortuga Squad by Cathleen Burnham. Crickhollow. 2016. ISBN 9781933987248.

The Good Garden by Katie Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault. Kids Can Press. 2010. ISBN 9781554534883.

Razia’s Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby,  illustrated by Suana Verelst. Kids Can Press. 2013. ISBN 9781554538164.

Child Soldier by Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine, illustrated by Claudia Davila. Kids Can Press. 2015. ISBN 9781771381260.

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Jennifer Wharton About Jennifer Wharton

Jennifer Wharton is the youth services librarian at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. You can follow more of her library adventures at jeanlittlelibrary.blogspot.com.

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Comments

  1. Finding age appropriate and reading level appropriate books within this genre is tough. Thanks so much for this thoughtful list! Will be adding some of these titles to my classroom library.

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