Across Cultures: A Guide to Multicultural Literature for Children

Louise Ellis‐Barrett (Downsend School, Leatherhead, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 18 April 2008




Ellis‐Barrett, L. (2008), "Across Cultures: A Guide to Multicultural Literature for Children", Library Review, Vol. 57 No. 4, pp. 327-328.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As the populations of the world's largest countries become ever more mixed and diverse due to the continual movement of people, it is important that children from a very young age are introduced to the cultures of the people living around them. This is because there are so many varied cultures in the world many have yet to be fully explored. Of those cultures that have been studied, much has been written and more is understood, certainly by adults, than ever before. One of the ways in which the adult population discovers more about the cultures of the world is through literature: this is a perfect medium to use with children. There are now a considerable number of children's books written for pre‐schoolers through to teenagers that address issues faced by immigrant as well as native cultures. America has a particularly diverse and mixed society; children in many parts of this country are likely to find themselves surrounded by any number of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. If they can begin to understand more about these people with whom they share their world, then it could perhaps be hoped that, one day, there may be a greater degree of tolerance and understanding in the world.

Teachers are in an ideal position to educate children and young people about the cultures of the world. Often such teaching will form part of the curriculum, particularly in the subjects of history and geography. However, religious studies and social education may also encompass such studies. Teaching about multiculturalism is not always easy and, in order to provide some assistance to teachers, East and Thomas have compiled A Guide to Multicultural Literature for Children containing 465 suggested texts to support programmes of study ranging from pre‐school to the American grade 6.

The contents of this volume are divided into six major categories: Identity, Self‐Image, and Learning; Families, Friends and Neighborhoods; Traditions – Food, Art, Poetry, Music and Celebrations; Traditions – Folktales; Exploring the Past in Diverse Communities and Knowing Today's World. There are also sections on parent–child discussion groups and literature circles, both of which follow the same format as the rest of the volume. This format is to divide each chapter into a number of relevant sub‐sections, for example, “Identity” covers acceptance and self image; “Families Friends and Neighborhoods” looks at adoption, bullying, libraries and family gatherings, and so on. It is very easy to connect the suggested books by theme or subject when you have had a number of years' experience. Using their knowledge of the field as well as award lists and established reviewing sources, East and Thomas have ensured that there is little bias in the book. All the suggested titles have been used by the authors with children in a teaching context so the recommendations have been tried and tested. Although many of the titles are merely annotated with details of the story, there are suggestions for how to use many of the books. The 465 titles suggested are not intended to be an exhaustive list, and the categories into which they have been placed are not immovable. Many of the titles can be cross‐referenced for use under other headings, for example, titles under Civil Rights connect well with those on Protests and Migrant Workers.

The book has some excellent features in addition to the annotated bibliographies of the chapters. There is an appendix of awards for multicultural literature, of which eight have been included. The annual winners for each award are listed providing complete listings: some of which date back to the 1960s, although the majority of the titles included in the book have been written and published since 1990. Following on from this appendix there are five indexes; Culture/Grade Level Index; Author Index; Title Index; Illustrator Index and Subject/Grade level Index. These are an excellent aspect of the book allowing readers to find relevant titles in the manner which is easiest for them. The non‐American audience may find many of the authors and/or titles unfamiliar although authors such as Floella Benjamin and Alexander McCall Smith are included. This should not, however, deter librarians from using this excellent resource. The potential for teaching children about the many aspects of foreign cultures is immense and this book provides not only a very useful introduction but also suggestions for how to teach some of the many aspects of this topic.

This is an indispensible resource packed guide full of suggestions for books that could be used to teach multicultural studies to young children. The many books suggested will introduce not only new cultures and peoples but differing story styles to many new readers. There is a very wide range of literature suggested and the annotated bibliography style makes the process of selection straightforward. It should act as a must read resource for librarians and teachers, revealing a vast range of literature that may otherwise go unnoticed.

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