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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
activities.

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

childrens publishing in Russia and eastern


Europe; that has declined somewhat since
then.
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


Literature
same benefits that any books confer:

develop reading skills, use of imagination,


awareness of things beyond their own
experience
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


Literature
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
differences

Benefits of International Childrens


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

curriculum.

Experiences children are generally


insulated from in the U.S.
struggles to survive
war, violence
prejudice
death
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-

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

Pay attention to:


authenticity
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
readers?

availability

Not just novels!


picture books
biographies
poetry
non-fiction

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


everything?
No
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
story

The End