Kicking off our guest posts for #WorldKidLitMonth, Anneke Forzani, president of US bookstore Language Lizard, talks about the many benefits of sharing stories from around the world, and exposing readers to new cultures and languages.
By Anneke Forzani
Reading can transport us around the world, to a different time period, or even into a fantastical landscape. This is the magic of literature. However, when we only expose ourselves to books written in our language or published in our country, we unknowingly put a limit on that magic. Here are three reasons why we need to challenge ourselves to find new stories.
1. Books as Mirrors – Seeing Ourselves
Stories touch us most when we see ourselves reflected in the characters. Until very recently, the vast majority of characters in children’s books were white, largely because of what’s known as the “publishing diversity gap.” As recently as 2014, only 10% of US children’s books featured non-white characters. This, in spite of the fact that by 2060, almost two-thirds of American children will identify as a non-white ethnicity.
It can be disheartening for students to read a never-ending stream of stories that feature characters to whom they can’t relate. Students in diverse classrooms get a boost of self-esteem when they read or hear books in which their cultures or ethnicities are represented and celebrated. It creates a sense of pride when we see parts of our own life on display.
2 – Books as Windows – Building Empathy
Kids are inherently self-centered. They gradually learn empathy in order to have meaningful connections with other people. Researchers believe empathy may be the key to having a joyful life because it leads to better relationships at home, school, and eventually work.
The tricky part is, you can’t really teach empathy like you would teach a kid to ride a bike. It is something that must be modeled, nurtured, and kindled. Empathy is more than simply understanding another person’s point of view. Empathy involves understanding, respecting, and placing value on another person’s perspective.
Diverse books build empathy because they immerse kids in the places and experiences of people very different from themselves. They help them to understand another person’s life, thoughts, and values. By simply turning a page, young readers can expand their appreciation of different cultures.
3 – Developing Global Citizens
When we read stories published in only one language or from only one country, it creates a false impression of the world at large. It can create a sense of “otherness,” or an “Us vs. Them” mentality. The reality is that we live in multicultural communities, and our population is getting more diverse each year.
If we want our children to truly succeed and flourish as global citizens, it’s essential that they understand and celebrate diversity. By building empathy with diverse books, we can weaken the idea of “otherness,” and increase our compassion. Cooperating as global citizens with other countries is especially important in the face of global challenges.
How Can You Celebrate #WorldKidLitMonth?
Whether you celebrate in your classroom or at home, you can start with a reading tour of the world. The majority of books that are published in translation are from countries in Western Europe, so challenge yourself to read translated works from other parts of the world.
Once you’ve selected a few books, you can share what is on your shelf with a #shelfie! Take your opinions to the online community and review some of the books you decide to read. You can also watch “World Kid Lit LIVE!” where authors, translators, publishers, editors, and other literary professionals come together for an online discussion. Take a look at this page for some more ideas.
As the new school year gets underway, it’s time to get excited about translated books from around the world! Happy #WorldKidLitMonth!
Anneke Forzani is the president of Language Lizard (www.LanguageLizard.com), an independent publisher that offers children’s books in over 50 languages, audio resources, and free lessons to support culturally responsive teaching. Anneke founded Language Lizard to provide educators, librarians, and parents with resources that develop literacy skills among English Language Learners, build inclusive classrooms, and celebrate cultural diversity. She is the author of the teaching manual Building Bridges with Bilingual Books and Multicultural Resources and numerous bilingual children’s books. She also manages blog.languagelizard.com, a resource for parents and teachers working with language learners and culturally diverse students.