February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nine Resources for Building Cultural Literacy | Mix It Up

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The “We Need Diverse Books” movement calls for literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. Access to diverse books and resources serves to empower students. Giving them the proper tools to understand and respect cultural similarities and differences enables students to cease using the “us” and “them” dichotomy when relating to peoples around the world and, ultimately, become culturally literate citizens.

From materials that showcase the important aspects of North American culture, such as the history of Native American peoples, to apps and websites that detail issues abroad, including the flow of refugees through Europe, these tools serve to enrich students’ discovery and understanding of places and cultures other than their own. Each tool provides readers with the ability to experience cultural differences through literature, history, and playful exploration. Start here to launch a lesson, engage in deeper inquiry, or expand classroom instruction.


1605-MixItUp-InternatChildrenInternational Children’s Digital Library
Free | All ages–
Learn about another culture, language, or people through the lens of its picture books. The ICDL currently contains more than 4,600 full-text books in 59 languages, and visitors can search for books in specific languages or regions. Works can also be located using keywords, titles, or genres, as well as cover color. Books are clickable and easy to read in their scanned versions. This is a great way to share books in languages that are not always accessible in schools and public library collections.

Lucify: The Flow Towards Europe
Free | Gr 7 Up–
This website uses infographics to demonstrate the flow of refugees through Europe. The dynamic map makes the current refugee crisis more obvious and visible to students. Lucify also uses a chart and specific infographics to make the numbers more understandable. Linked to this page is a section showing the cost of displacement. This is a very powerful tool for helping students understand where refugees come from and where they are going. A big missing question, though, is the “why” of their refugee status. A supplement to deeper study and discussion.

The Big Myth
Free | Gr 3 Up–
This Flash-based website is a hub for world creation mythology. Content is available in three languages (English, Dutch, and German), and users can access the mythology either through an interactive map (where the myth is read aloud) or as PDFs in the teacher section. Along with the stories are sections outlining the pantheon of gods, the culture of the people, and questions to answer. As a bonus to educators and students alike, there are links and biographies that provide a wide variety of sources for further study.

1605-MixItUp-CenterReligionStudyCenter for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis
Free | Professional Resource–
World (and United States) history is deeply enmeshed with religion. Many public educators may be faced with challenges when trying to design a religion unit (or even broach the topic of world religions in the classroom), and the IUPUI Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture’s resources can help support teachers and librarians seeking information on how to “teach about religion without teaching religion.” The site offers hundreds of syllabi dating back to 1991—mainly from college-level courses, but there are some K–12 resources available—for inspired teachers who aren’t afraid to wade through the mass quantity of text and cherry-pick ideas to use in a religious studies unit.

African American History Month Teacher Resources
Free | Gr 3 Up–
This incredible site, courtesy of a partnership among Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, serves as a tribute and rich source for African American history. The teacher page provides lesson plans and activities to support learning about the civil rights movement, the history and abolition of slavery, African American leaders, and more. A resource to be used all year round.

1605-MixItUp-LibCongressLibrary of Congress:
Native American Lib Guide

Free | Gr 5 Up–American history is incomplete without a study of Native American tribes. The Library of Congress has a sleek Native American Lib Guide aimed at teachers preparing units on Native history. A deeper look into their sources includes websites and links to content on specific and varied tribes, instruments, traditions, and informational sources (including games and quizzes for students) that will round out lessons.


1605-MixItUp-UNHCRMy Life as a Refugee (iOS)
Free | Gr 5-8–
Developed by the United Nations refugee agency, My Life As a Refugee is a slideshow-style app that prompts users to make decisions based on the real-life situations of refugees. Users begin by choosing a persona and then make timed choices regarding their future—acting fast is a must. Harsh realities are not sugar-coated, and the life and death repercussions of day-to-day decisions are made palpable. The app also features a section on refugee news and a place to donate to UNHCR.

1605-MixItUp-Amazing-World-AtlasAmazing World Atlas (iOS; GooglePlay)
$2.99 | Gr 4-6–
Brought to you by the folks at Lonely Planet, this app is filled with games, quizzes, and maps aimed at upper–elementary–age kids. Learn about countries, capitals, and flags while playing a series of games complete with a cheering section. The more kids play, the more games they unlock.

1605-MixItUp-GlobeSmartEdGlobe Smart Education 1 (iOS)
$19.99 | K-Gr 3–
Though pricier than most apps, this friendly global primer is visually attractive and easy to use. It includes real stories from children in the Netherlands, Indonesia, Haiti, Burundi, and the United States, complete with audio narration and striking photography. Along with the personal narratives are key facts and background information about each country and culture. A teacher’s guide section includes lesson plan support, extended activities, and discussion prompts. A fine resource for early childhood education units on global studies and social-emotional learning.

Stacy Dillon is the lower school librarian at LREI in Manhattan; Amy Laughlin is a children’s librarian at Darien Library, CT.


This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Thank you so much for including our, award winning and research based, Globe Smart Education app and website! As a non-profit, we are always on the look out for partners and support. Any library/school/teacher/parent interested to work with our materials, please get in touch so we can help make our children as Globe Smart as can be!