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I had a social media meltdown the other day.

Not a meltdown on social media, mind you. Thank goodness for that! This was a meltdown over social media.

I’ve been thinking about how I can reach more people with my blog. Discouraged, some days…okay, many days… over these idiotic numbers WordPress and Facebook feed me every time I open my account. Numbers of clicks. Number of likes. Numbers that represent to me — on the gray days — how few, instead of how many.

The solution, so they say, is more social media presence. More tweets, more pins, more posts, more videos.

I dutifully scroll through others’ pages to figure out how to do this thing better. Tink through Twitter feeds. Glaze over at Instagram accounts. And suddenly, everything seems utterly hopeless. All the pristine, perfectly-staged snapshots, the threaded tweets, the young media blitzers out there who have integrated every detail of their on-line presence to accumulate tens of thousands of followers. I am competing with this?

More accurately, I have no hope of competing with this. What’s more, it makes me feel mean in an Old Sneepish sort of way, this gazing at numbers. More often than not, social media is an overwhelming, soul-withering exercise for me. 

 

So, I have a melt down. I move rapidly from being overwhelmed by social media to sheer, existential doldrums. What is the point, anyway? What do I have to say to the world that’s worth hearing in the midst of our present, shattering noise-level of nonstop messages?

The gracious small voice that answers me, does so with a question: What do you give, when you give the gift of reading?

And I know the answer to that question. At least, part of the answer to that question.

The gift of reading, of loving books, is the gift of a magnificent doorway into a rich world. An expansive world albeit a much quieter world.  One that enhances our lives.

This door swings wide to reveal things we never even knew existed, acts as a portal connecting us to human thought across time and space so we can learn seemingly without boundary, be taught directly from the originators of ideas, the seers, the tasters, the handlers, hear the wrestlings of questioners, catch the insights of people remarkably unlike ourselves who may well have thought their thoughts in other languages and millennia. When we give the gift of reading, we put children in touch with ideas and know-how and experiences and insights and viewpoints far beyond our own limited ones. We give them rocket ships to the farthest reaches of knowledge, bridges to cultural landscapes we’ve never traveled, tête-à-têtes with powerful thinkers in areas of expertise we’ve never dabbled in. 

Reading serves as a gateway to empathy and understanding as we meet people utterly unlike ourselves, hear their stories, some so bitter, so intense, see life from their vantage point. This gateway frees us from hedged-in viewpoints, ushers us out of the small neighborhood of our acquaintances and into other communities,  other witnesses of the human experience. Sometimes these encounters rile us, frustrate us, push us to meet folks we disagree with. Sometimes they introduce us to a kindred spirit. Sometimes our new vantage points surprise us, stop us short with exquisite beauty, poignant insight, electrifying connections. When we give the gift of reading, we give access to a barrier-breaking range of human stories and voices — voices that sing and wail, remember and predict, challenge and commiserate.

Reading’s door is a passageway to a world of characters who become as dear to us as flesh-and-blood friends and who make us better people, be they a straight-talking lawyer from Maycomb, Alabama, or a house elf with a penchant for socks. What a gift these book-friends are. They understand us, articulate our pains and pleasures, amuse us, inspire us, accompany us throughout life. They are always there, unchanged by time, ready to invigorate a spare moment come what may. Reading transports us into imaginary and real places that mark us as intensely as human personalities. Middle-earth and Klickitat Street; Cather’s Nebraska and Dickens’ London. When we give the gift of reading, we open provocatively imaginative doorways .

That is part of what we give when we give the gift of reading. Teachers — blessed teachers — from ancient days to the present, keep making millions of copies of keys to that doorway so others can enter in. When we read with our children and grandchildren, when we spread books in classrooms and libraries, hospitals and refugee camps, prisons and shelters, we scatter pass-keys to rich storehouses.

 Here’s to pressing on.

As I step gingerly into more avenues in the hopes of spreading this love of books — which to be honest feels like stepping into busy traffic without knowing the rules of the road! — I invite you to follow me, say hello, help me do this thing better!

Facebook: Orange Marmalade Books
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Some of you have already begun the new school year; some are just gearing up; There are many rich ways for each of us to learn and grow, an untold variety of approaches to education spanning the centuries and regions of our world. I hope something within this smattering of titles is just the ticket for you.

school's first day of school cover imageSchool’s First Day of School, by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
published in 2016, a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Looking at the world from upside down and inside out angles is a great way to see old things anew, tickle funny bones, spark ideas. This brilliant picture book team has done just that, twisting the kaleidoscope a turn or two, making a brand-new school building into the new kid on the block.

school's first day of school interior rex and robinson

The charming, new Frederick Douglass Elementary school is feeling a bit nervous about its upcoming First Day of School. Understandable, right? Soon scads of unknown children will throng its hallways, play on its playground, sit in classrooms, eat lunches. Some may not like it. Some may make rude comments about it. Blaring fire drills might go off!

school's first day of school interior 2 rex and robinson

With the encouragement of a friendly janitor, School copes with all this newness, one step at a time, and emerges from the first day on an overall upbeat note. Besides the lovely space within this text to step back and take a look at first-day jitters from a secure vantage point, Christian Robinson’s irrepressibly cheery illustrations exude comfort and friendliness with a genius vibe that somehow combines old-fashioned simplicity with contemporary diversity. It’s basically the perfect First Day of School book for ages 4-6.

the class cover imageThe Class, Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee
published in 2016 by Beach Lane Books

Ages ago, Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont teamed up to produce one of our favorite books, a survey of all the members of the Philharmonic Orchestra preparing for an evening performance.

This book happily reminds me of their approach. It’s a collection of classmates this time, twenty children from various households all around town, getting ready to become one wonderful class. Some are eager-beavers. Some are over-sleepers. Three eat pancakes for breakfast while two nibble toast. Eight get kisses at the bus stop. Two can’t seem to find their socks.

the class interior ashburn and gee

Charming, lighthearted illustrations spotlight this diverse group of kindergarteners. It’s a tremendously inviting book, great approach to the marvelous differences within commonalities that make up a group. Ages 3-7.

steamboat school cover imageSteamboat School, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

The encouraging depictions of diversity in the previous two titles are, of course, not a given in our society.

Based on a true story, this book bears witness to the immense struggle to be schooled experienced by African Americans. It takes place in St. Louis in 1847, just as a shameful new Missouri law forbade education to “negroes or mulattoes.”

steamboat school interior hopkinson and husband

Through the testimony of one fictional boy, Hopkinson relays the courageous, ingenious actions of Reverend John Berry Meachum whose determination resulted in a highly-unusual method of schooling these children, taking advantage of a most unexpected loophole in the law.

Striking, atmospheric illustrations ratchet up the story’s tension and emotion while bringing the period to life. Includes a lengthy Author’s Note and recommendations for exploring this history further. Ages 5 and up.

frank and lucky get schooled cover imageFrank and Lucky Get Schooled, written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
published in 2016 by Greenwillow Books

I’m a firm believer in all the vivid learning that takes place outside of a formal classroom setting. It’s unusual to find a book that captures so well the spirit of a whole world out there to investigate, the one hundred ideas sparkling in a pond, the windows-upon-windows of ideas opening onto more ideas all lying in wait in the most surprising places.

In which Frank and Lucky learn about beggar's lice, burdock, and dog ticks!

In which Frank and Lucky learn about beggar’s lice, burdock, and dog ticks!

Lynne Rae Perkins dives into that sense in this remarkable look at a boy named Frank, his dog, Lucky, and the immense amount of learning and idea-sparking these two encounter in their life together. From Entomology to Art, Math to Foreign Language — careen along with these two and be amazed at how they both accumulate a vast array of knowledge. Unschoolers — this is your book. Innovative reading, for ages 6 and up.

this is my home this is my school cover imageJust a reminder here, if you are looking for the Gold Standard in picture books about the homeschooling experience, look no further than Jonathan Bean’s masterpiece, This is My Home, This is My School. I am a huge fan of Jonathan’s work, and love the fact that he has allowed millions of homeschoolers to see themselves in a book about school for the first time. Kudos to him and his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

school days around the world cover imageSchool Days Around the World, by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Alice Feagan
published in 2015 by Kids Can Press

I love introducing children to the intriguing cultures around our globe, the clever, beautiful, enticing ways people construct their lives. School is one of the things that looks different around the world, and this cheery catalog is a great way to explore that.

Visit 13 children from a wide variety of countries and types of schools. From the South Pacific to Alaska. Homeschools, public schools, international schools. School in an orphanage. School in an old castle. Immense schools and tiny schools. Fascinating at every turn!

school days around the world interior ruurs and feagan

Colorful, happy cut-paper illustrations will make you want to travel and visit each one of these extraordinary places. Broaden your world and find out ways you can help children in places where school is less available. This one’s a delight for ages 4 and up.

For a more in-depth treatment of different kinds of schools around the world for older children, check my reviews of:
A School Like Mine
Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World
Playground

i'm new here cover image copyAnd one more reminder — some children from other cultures may well be joining your children in their classes. Anne Sibley O’Brien’s book I’m New Here, offers a superb, lovely introduction to what it’s like to be oh-so-new in America. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

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I’ve got a new Musings up, thinking about how we act as gatekeepers of knowledge in our children’s lives.

Passau Mural

You can read about by clicking on the link here, or using the Musings tab at the top of the post.

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this is my home this is my school cover imageThis is My Home, This is My School, written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean
published in 2015 by Farrar Straus Giroux

Okay. This is a book I’ve been waiting for.

Jonathan Bean has delivered an authentic, marvelously-chaotic, loving glimpse of a homeschooling family who charge into the juiciness of life, explore and experiment with abandon, make messes, cultivate curiosity, and embrace the world as their classroom.

this is my home this is my school illustration jonathan bean

Relying on his own experience growing up in this environment, Bean is able to capture — finally! — that mixture of mayhem and creativity and mom, energy and inventiveness and freedom; the seamless intermingling of learning, living, playing, and working; the feast of ideas spread everywhere and responded to by various ones in their various ways.

this is my home this is my school illustration4 jonathan bean

This is how our homeschool looked, too, and it is a curious joy, and somehow a validating experience, to see it presented so positively, so artistically, with such verve and good humor.

If you’ve read Bean’s earlier book, Building Our House (and if you haven’t — you should) you will easily recognize the setting — that homey house set among Pennsylvania’s rolling, wooded hills — and family. The children are older now, though, and their independent, high-spirited lives are portrayed in much more rambunctious line and color than previously. There’s a grand lot to take in, in every scene.

this is my home this is my school illustration2 jonathan bean

Homeschooling is an unfamiliar world to most families, and its portrayal in children’s literature is, understandably, scant. A character might be homeschooled out of some sort of dire necessity, but soon enough they return to “real” school. (Surviving the Applewhites is a delightful exception.) I applaud Farrar Straus Giroux and Jonathan Bean for publishing a new viewpoint of this odd lifestyle some of us have adopted. Thank you.

Certainly homeschooling is not a practical choice, nor the best choice, for most families. I hope that if you’re part of the vast majority of the population who aren’t home educators, you’ll still treat yourself to this book. The delights of living and learning together belong to all of us, to cultivate all our lives. For that reason, I think you’ll come away from this brief tour of one boy’s homeschool encouraged to, as Bean says, scavenge for something to learn in every moment.

this is my home this is my school illustration3 jonathan bean

Ages 3 and up. And P.S. — There’s a swell scrapbook of vintage Bean family photographs in the end pages. Too fun.

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1bd63fc95529bac559e88d62667311a3My household is quieter today after two of my daughters returned to college.

How about you? Has school begun in some form for you or your kids? I find it interesting that our calendars seem to revolve around education schedules more than the seasons…something to ponder.

Anyway, here are five lovely books celebrating learning and life:

When the little one is left at home…

maple and willow apart cover image

Maple & Willow Apart, written and illustrated by Lori Nichols
published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin

When big sister Maple starts school, Willow, the younger, is left behind. Normally these two are peas in a pod, so …what will become of Willow?

Maple lands home each day overflowing with enthusiastic stories about her day and her new friends.

maple and willow apart illustration lori nichols

But what is this? Willow has also made a new friend: Pip. He’s such an interesting fellow, and Willow and Pip have such intriguing playtimes, that it is Maple that feels the left-out blues.

There’s a sweet resolution to this warm story. Sisterly love and Willow’s magnificent imagination are the stars here, tenderly told and illustrated with beauty and charm. Ages 2 and up.

When your family doesn’t do school the usual way…

the year i didn't go to school cover image

The Year I Didn’t Go to School, written and illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2002 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

When Giselle Potter was seven years old, instead of going to school, she and her family launched off on a marvelously unconventional year: touring Italy with their Mystic Paper Beasts puppet theater.

the year i didn't go to school illustration2 giselle potter

Giselle’s childish journal illustrations engage us immediately on the end papers in this creative account of that almost-fantastical time in her life — setting up on the streets of Florence, donning monkey and panda costumes, sleeping in the big caravan truck, meeting new people, eating new things, speaking a new language.

the year i didn't go to school illustration giselle potter

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable narrative of what we might learn by plunging into a new, impossible adventure, illustrated in Potter’s quaint paintings that remind me a bit of Maira Kalman’s work. Read and chat together about this one, with ages 4 and up.

When your skin color bars you from school…

with books and bricks cover image

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School, written by Suzanne Slade, pictures by Nicole Tadgell
published in 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company

When Booker Washington was a young slave child, he first glimpsed the “strange lines on the blackboard” that the white children were somehow learning to read, and he fell in love with learning.

with books and bricks illustration3 nicole tadgell

But it was against the law for Booker to learn to read. This is still mind-blowing, people. 

Even after the American Civil War ended, when Booker was 9 years old, he still had to work backbreaking hours to help his family survive and the local schools still would not admit any non-white students.

with books and bricks illustration2 nicole tadgell

Booker T. Washington was a determined person if ever there was one, though, and this story tells how he persevered to achieve his own education, then made the enormous efforts necessary to provide quality education for others. A fabulous piece of our history, well told, with handsome, evocative watercolor illustrations, for ages 5 and up.

When the craziest things conspire to make you late for school!

a funny thing happend on the way to school cover image

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School, by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books

If you’ve ever been attacked by evil ninjas on the way to the bus stop, or sidetracked by Little Red Riding Hood who needed help finding her grandmother’s house…

a funny thing happened on the way to school illustration chaud and cali

…or if Bigfoot stopped you and asked you to snap a photo of him…

a funny thing happened on the way to school illustration cali and chaud

and thus were late to school…and had to explain these things, then you will sincerely sympathize with the young lad in this book. Preposterous and sunny and funny, for ages 4 and up. The brainchild of two French illustrators, this follows their other equally crazy title, I Didn’t Do My Homework Because

When you have to build your own school…

Rain School cover image

Rain School, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Journey to Chad in this vibrant story as the children of one village and their indomitable teacher begin the school year by building their school.

rain school illustration james rumford

Making mud bricks, building mud desks, drying them in the hot sun, thatching the roof, until finally, finally it’s time to take their seats and begin learning.

rain school illustration2 james rumford

The school year is over when the rains begin again, making the gardens grow, yes, but also washing away roof and walls and desks…until the next school year, when they will begin again.

A fantastic glimpse of life for children elsewhere, briefly told and richly illustrated in hot desert colors. Ages 4 and up.

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Summer has flown by, hasn’t it?! The school year has begun again for many of you. Today, I’ve got a slate of titles that celebrate the joy of learning and shine a spotlight on the creative, devoted, nurturing teachers who open so many doors for us all.

separate is never equal cover imageSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
published in 2014 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

In 1944, Sylvia Mendez was an eager young girl reporting for her first day of third grade in Westminster, California. Her excitement was short-lived, however. The school secretary took one look at her and announced she would not be allowed to attend. She must go to “the Mexican school.”

Sylvia was an American citizen. She spoke perfect English. She would go on to become a registered nurse, working over 30 years at a Los Angeles medical center. But first, her father would have to win the basic right for Sylvia to attend her neighborhood public school.

Nearly all of us know of the landmark case for school desegregation, Brown vs. Board of Education, which opened schools across the nation to all students, regardless of race or ethnicity. Many of us have never heard, though, of the Mendez family and their struggle for equal opportunity in California which paved the way for that decision.

separate is never equal illustration tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh has brought this important, but less familiar case to our attention in this eye-opening book for ages 6 or 7 and up. Using dialogue from court transcripts and his own interviews with Sylvia Mendez, Tonatiuh strikes a dignified, factual tone which seems to underscore how very reasonable the Mendez family’s peaceful request was.

His illustrations, rich with the brown tones of Sylvia’s setting-apart skin, are inspired by Pre-Columbian art, he says in this fascinating interview with Julie Danielson at Kirkus Reviews.  Read it  to learn more about that as well as his research for this enlightening book.

the art of miss chew cover imageThe Art of Miss Chew, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
published in 2012 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Trisha is a young girl who struggles to complete her schoolwork on time, but soars when she  has a drawing tool in her hand. Luckily for Trisha, her teacher, young Mr. Donovan, recognizes her talent and lands her a prize spot in Miss Chew’s class, in the high school art department.

Miss Chew is an elegant miracle, even dressed in her vivid the art of miss chew illustration polaccotangerine smock and covered with paint. Under her guidance, Trisha learns to truly see, and to draw what she sees, gloriously. She flourishes.

Great trouble arises, however, when Mr. Donovan is called away and a substitute teacher comes who thinks art is a silly waste of time. How will Trisha thrive without art class?

In this semi-autobiographical account, Patricia Polacco poignantly conveys the irrevocable impact Miss Chew had on her life. Simultaneously, she gives an eloquent argument for increasing arts education in our schools, rather than shuffling it off the schedule and budget. As always, Polacco’s illustrations are warm and human, masterfully expressing the emotions of this deeply felt story.  A warm and valuable story, for ages 6 and up.

miss nelson is missing cover imageMiss Nelson is Missing, by Harry Allard and James Marshall
published in 1977 by Houghton Mifflin Company

One of the Swanson family favorites, spilling over with sillyness and the dire visage of Miss Viola Swamp! Egads!miss nelson is missing illustration james marshall

Miss Nelson is just the sweetest teacher on the planet, but the rowdy kids in her classroom take dreadful advantage of her. Spitballs. Monkey business. Downright belligerence.  They are the worst class ever. Something will have to be done, thinks Miss Nelson.

Enter Miss Viola Swamp, a substitute teacher from the grim side of town. She wants no funny business and nobody’s fool enough to give her any lip. For days the kids languish under Miss Swamp’s tyranny, reminiscing longingly of dear Miss Nelson’s sunny disposition.

Just who is Viola Swamp? Where did she come from? What has happened to Miss Nelson? And how will the kids behave if she ever comes back?

One of the classics of  kids’ lit, this story is nearly 40 years old and still fresh as ever.  Jolly good fun for ages 4 and up. 

 annie and helen cover imageAnnie and Helen, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raul Colón
published in 2012 by Schwartz & Wade Books

One of the most famous persons of all time — Helen Keller — was taught by an extraordinary woman named Annie Sullivan. Of her, Helen would say, “At the beginning I was only a little mass of possibilities. It was my teacher who unfolded and developed them.”

Annie was only 20 years old when she stepped into the Keller home and met this wild, demanding, ill-mannered child, locked in darkness and silence, yet fiercely intelligent.  The story of how she brought order to Helen’s life, then brilliantly set about building a bridge of communication with her and opening up the world to her, is staggering.

Deborah Hopkinson has written an absorbing account of the first four months of this partnership. Her prose is packed with vivid detail, and excerpts from Annie Sullivan’s letters are interspersed with the narrative.

annie and helen by hopkinson and colon

As always, Raul Colón’s illustrations are riveting, ushering us right into the inner circle of Annie and Helen, their interactions, emotions, and communication. Historic photographs are included on the endpapers, and an Author’s Note fills in some more details.

I love that this book emphasizes Annie’s role as much as Helen’s. It’s an outstanding read, for ages 6 and up.

billy and belle cover imageBilly and Belle, written and illustrated by Sarah Garland
first published in 1992; republished in 2004 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Finally, here’s a charming story from one of my favorite British author-illustrators, Sarah Garland.

Billy is a young, school-age boy, and Belle is his little sister. It’s an exciting morning at Billy and Belle’s household because it looks like today’s the day that Mum will have their new baby.

Dad’s going to the hospital with her, so kind Mrs. Plum, their neighbor, is walking them to school, and Billy’s heroic teacher is allowing Belle to sit in Billy’s class, just for today.

Today happends to be pet day. Everyone has brought a pet, from a guinea pig right down to a beetle. Belle desperately wants to bring a pet as well, so she nabs a spider.billy and belle illustration sarah garland 001 After everyone’s introduced his pet to the class, the teacher wisely puts the lot out in the playground — for fresh air — and directs the children to draw their pets in brilliant color.

This sounds like everything is under control, doesn’t it? But from here, things take a little turn towards mayhem, courtesy of Belle.

Not to worry, though. All’s right as rain in the end, including a lovely homecoming for the sweet new baby and Mum.

Sarah Garland has a knack for seizing on the lovely ordinariness of families and bringing it to endearing life. I am so happy she has given us this loving,  multi-racial, realistic family portrait, for ages 3 and up. Please check out her other work as well. If you’re in the U.S., it is harder to find but worth the search.

 

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Portraits of mothers, children, and foodHow big is your world?

Those of us living in the U.S., sadly, really have to work at pushing the boundaries of our world past local affairs and celebrity gossip. News headlines omit much real, often painful, news of the rest of the world. It is terribly easy to be insulated from international issues.

Most of us want better for our kids. We want the hardships of children in Syria: children speak from Zaatari refugee camp - videoSyria to matter more than who said what on Facebook. We want them to see and feel others’ needs rather than mainly their own. To dream of ways to make a difference in the world.

guatemalan child from ifad dot orgI’ve got a round-up of some titles I’ve come across that beautifully draw us in to the welfare of children around the globe. Some of these have been on my blog before, and there’s a link to my longer review of them. I’d love to hear in the comments any other great books you know of in this category.

The entire new set of titles I’ve got today comes out of Canada.  Kids Can Press in Toronto has a fantastic series called CitizenKid, accessible to early elementary and up. You can find more titles in this series at their website. Here are a few I’ve seen and recommend:

razia's ray of hope cover imageRazia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education, by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst
2013, Kids Can Press

Evocative mixed media collages accompany this story of Razia’s deep yearning to learn in school, which conflicts with the authoritative voices of her father and oldest brother. Razia’s respect for her family and culture, and her grandfather’s role in brokering a solution, honor the Afghani culture, even while the story illustrates the need for change. Discussion about how to help in this complex issue is included.

mimi's village cover imageMimi’s Village: And How Basic Health Care Transformed It, by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
2012, Kids Can Press

A rather drab title, but the content is excellent. Mimi is a young girl from a Kenyan village. She lives under a cloud of concern as neighbors’ babies die and her own little sister becomes ill by drinking untreated water. After visiting a health worker in a nearby town, Mimi lobbies her own village to raise up a small health center for themselves.

Having lived in Kenya briefly, and in West Africa, I found the depictions of life and death in these village settings authentic. An Afterword tells more about village health workers and ways you can help through a variety of non-profits engaged in basic health care.

untitledOne Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Revolving loans and microfinance — not your typical subject matter for elementary students, but this story of Kojo from Ghana vividly illustrates the principles as he uses a bit of money to buy one hen, sells its eggs for profits, reinvests, and eventually achieves phenomenal success.

An Afterword gives the true account of a successful Ghanaian businessman and his Mustard Seed Trust that gives small revolving loans to tens of thousands of Ghanaians. There’s also a list of organizations who accept donations to their loan funds, and anecdotes of several small businesswomen — very often the beneficiaries of these start-up funds.

this child every child cover imageThis Child, Every Child: A Book about the World’s Children, by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
2011, Kids Can Press

David Smith is a numbers guy. Here he has sifted through scads of statistics about the quality of life of our world’s children, and presented them in orderly, clear segments for upper-elementary students and older. Family sizes, kinds of homes, health, transiency, school, gender equality, work and war…Look through about a dozen lenses to see how children around the world are faring.child labor from ragamuffinsoul dot com

Smith brings the information to life with anecdotes about specific children in far-flung locations. Meet Ling, living in the densely-crowded Aberdeen Harbour in Hong Kong — what is her home like? Or Nasir, age nine, working in a rug factory in Pakistan. What does life hold for him? Discover that “if you have access to health care, clean water, adequate food and a healthy environment, you are better off than many children in the world.” And what do we do about that?

This is challenging material, and would be best absorbed in dialogue with an adult.

if america were a village cover imageIf America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States, by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
2009, Kids Can Press

Though already 5 years old, the statistics in this book are cleverly presented and worth your time. Imagining the U.S. as a group of 100 people allows Smith to take percentages down to a child’s level of understanding. In a group of just 100 representative people, how many were born in Latin America? How many live in cities? What religions do they practice? What do we own? Fascinating stuff. 

A companion book If the World Were a Village was published in 2002. Though the stats are even more outdated, it’s still interesting and thought-provoking.

Here are links to a few excellent titles I’ve reviewed earlier:

A Long Walk to Water — a short novel by award-winning author Linda Sue Park about the Sudanese Lost Boys and the water needs of Sudan

Hamzat’s Journey: A Refugee Diary about a boy injured by an explosive device in Chechnya

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth

Where Children Sleepa remarkable photojournal of children’s sleeping quarters around the world

There are many, many titles in the Cultures section of my Subject Index kenyan schoolgirls from bbc dot co dot ukwhich illumine another way of life as well.

If you have a favorite title highlighting global child welfare issues, please let us know about it via the comments.

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