Choose literature that emphasizes people’s habits, customs, and general living and working behaviors. This approach stresses similarities and differences regarding how children and families live their whole lives and avoids merely noting differences or teaching only about habits and customs. Multicultural literature today is more representative of various cultural groups and provides a more authentic language experience for young children. It is written by authors from particular cultures and contains more true-to-life stories and culturally authentic writing styles. There are many ways that you can help children understand how multiculturalism is reflected in many kinds of literature. Many rich literature themes are represented in cultures around the world. The following books are representative of the rich selection now available:
- Hannah Is My Name by Belle Yang (Candlewick, 2004). Hannah and her family are so excited to immigrate to the United States, to become Americans, to be free. But how scary and worrisome it is to wait to see if they will be sent green cards so they may stay legally and make San Francisco their home. Joyful, vibrant, and optimistic without minimizing the challenges faced by newcomers, Yang’s book should be an essential part of any immigration, Asian American, California, and/or patriotism unit and a treasure for home and public libraries.
- It Is the Wind by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins, 2005). What has caused the noise in the night? Is it the owl, the gate, the swing? What is it, really? In perfect poetry, a young boy in his farmhouse bedroom wonders, worries, and then sleeps reassured.
- Pizza for the Queen by Nancy Castaldo, illustrated by Melisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005). Raffaele is thrilled when the queen’s messenger asks him to make a pizza for her. What an honor! But what should he put on his pizza? Giovanni’s mozzarella, Maria’s olive oil, Guiseppe’s sausage, Niccolo’s little fishes? Wait! He’ll make three and the queen will have her choice of his best. But what does Meow-Meow do to the little fishes, and what then will Raffaele put on his third pizza? Which one will the queen like best?
- Small Beauties: The Journal of Darcy Heart O’Hara by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex (Knopf, 2006). Darcy notices life’s little gems—the spider web, the pebbles—and so it is she who carries with her the most vivid memories, the family heritage to a new land. With evocative, realistic illustrations, this lovely picture book works well both as one family’s story and a window into the past.
- Grannie and the Jumbie: A Caribbean Tale by Margaret M. Hurst (HarperCollins, 2001). Emanuel’s grandmother is always warning him about the evil Jumbie, a boogeyman. He bravely scoffs at her superstitious lectures until the night when he is almost spirited away. Now, when his grannie talks, Emanuel listens.
- Quilt Alphabet by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House, 2001). This homespun alphabet book introduces each letter with a quilt block and clever rhyming riddle. From a basket of apples to a zigzagging country road, this ode to country living is pieced together with poetry. A quilt is defined as “A patch of you, a scrap of me, / Pieces of family history, / Common threads stitched from the heart, / Pieces of us in every part.”
- Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson (Atheneum, 2002). This historic chronicle traces the escape of a group of slaves and their eventual rescue on the Underground Railroad. Told in prose from the perspective of an adolescent girl, the story explains how quilts were used to mark safehouses. “In most quilts, center squares are red for home and earth,” but a quilt with a blue center signals a house that hides runaways.
- Round Is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Rosanne Thong (Chronicle, 2000). A little girl’s neighborhood becomes a discovery ground of things round, square, and rectangular. Many of the objects are Asian in origin; others are universal: round rice bowls and a found pebble, square dim sum and pizza boxes, rectangular Chinese lace and a very special pencil case. Bright art accompanies this lively introduction to shapes, and a short glossary explains the cultural significance of the objects featured in the book.
- The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo (Harcourt, 2000). According to Aunt Shelly, Woogie is a good luck cat, and he certainly proves it by surviving one scrape after another. But when he doesn’t come home, we wonder if this good luck cat’s luck has run out. This is a light, charming celebration of a young girl’s friendship with a cat. And it’s a children’s picture book featuring Native American characters in which culture isn’t the main theme.
- Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney (Scholastic, 2000). Using simple poetic language, illuminated by brilliant photographs, this is a remarkable book of affirmation for African American children. Photographic portraits and striking descriptions of varied skin tones, hair texture, and eye color convey a strong sense of pride in a unique heritage. Shades of Black is a joyous celebration of children, as well as a gracious invitation to readers of all ages and cultures to explore and embrace the rich diversity among African Americans.
- The Three Pigs by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 2001). Once upon a time, three pigs built three houses out of straw, sticks, and bricks. Along came a wolf, who huffed and puffed.... So you think you know the rest? Think again. It’s never safe to assume too much. When the wolf approaches the first house, for example, and blows it in, he somehow manages to blow the pig right out of the story frame. One by one, the pigs exit the fairy tale’s border and set off on an adventure of their own.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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