School Days Around the World

We’ve been spending this school year studying about world geography and cultures. This new book by Margaret Ruurs was a fun addition to our studies. It’s a fairly simple picture book but manages to highlight both the similarities of children around the world while also showing the differences that make them unique.

We visit Tamatoa in the Cook Islands who is called to school by a wooden drum and spends recess at the whale-watching fort by the sea. We meet Annika in Denmark who goes to forest school where they spend most of their time outdoors learning. And the one we were excited about: Amy and Gwen who are homeschoolers in Alaska and say, “The world is our classroom!”.

Ruurs includes different types of schools as well as showing the diversity due to different cultures. There are public schools, boarding schools and that one homeschool. There are kids who are blind and who live in an orphanage. There are kids that go to small village schools that have to share the building with other villages. And there are kids at very large busy city schools.

You could argue that this kind of very general survey misses a lot and over-simplifies. Obviously, this is true. The one US school is the homeschool in Alaska and that is a very different experience than most US school children have. However, by focusing on specific individual kids rather than a generic “Brazilian” kid or “German” kid, Ruurs manages to drive home the idea that kids around the world have a myriad of different experiences while still all learning, playing and growing up. Of note, the endpages  mention that all the kids and families in this book are real. My kids liked knowing that. It made the different school environments that much more real to them as well. I would highly recommend this book to go along with any elementary school aged study of world cultures.


Africa Picture Books

21965198We recently finished a unit study on Africa (part of a larger year long world geography/cultures study). I previously shared some of the broader survey type of books we read and some of the young adult and middle grade fiction that we’ve read. We also read quite a few non-fiction and fiction picture books. Interestingly, many of the non-fiction picture books fall in the general category of “inspirational stories”.

Laurie Ann Thompson’s Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmauel Ofosu Yeboah is certainly inspirational. It tells the story of a young boy born with a severely malformed right leg who grows up to bicycle across Ghana with one leg. More than just succeeding at a challenge for himself, he aims to change the view in his country of people with disabilities as people who are worthless or cursed. It’s a beautiful story (and has also been made into a documentary) that was nominated for the Cybils this year in the non-fiction elementary/middle grade category.


Another inspiring story and Cybils nominee is Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou
Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia.
 This one tells the story of how one woman began a campaign to clean her country of the thousands of plastic bags that were littering the countryside. She learns how to cut the plastic bags into strips, crochet them and make them into purses. You can see how they do this on this YouTube video (and there are links to purchase the bags themselves if you are so inclined). Another inspiring story of enivromental activism was Franck Prevot’s Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. Maathai was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work in reforestation in Kenya. 23688743

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella is not about one person’s inspiring story but instead looks at the good one donated bicycle can do. A red bicycle is loved by Leo, a boy in a small North American town. But eventually he outgrows the bike and he decides to donate it to an organization that takes bikes overseas. The bicycle is followed as it belongs first to a  young girl in Burkina Faso who uses the bike to help her grandmother bring items to the market and then as it finds a third life as a hospital ambulance.

Other Africa themed books we read and enjoyed: 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema
Zomo the Rabbit: A Trickster Tale from West Africa by Gerald McDermott
Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric Kimmel (just one of many Anansi stories)
Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora



Africa with Kids

550120This year we are doing a world cultures/geography study as part of our homeschool. For each area of the world we study the geography, talk a little about the history and a bit about the different cultures. This isn’t by any measure a comprehensive study of any one area but instead it’s a survey course where I want the kids to get a taste and feeling for different areas in the world and appreciate just a bit the diversity of the world we live in.

One thing I’ve emphasized with each area is that we are looking at that part of the world with broad brushstrokes. We can’t learn everything about Australia or Canada in three weeks. I also want the kids to realize that when we talk about “South American art” or “Australian food” we are usually talking about something that is a stereotype and not something that is representative of every single person or even most people in that country or continent. I have felt like no where is this more true than our current area of the world, Africa. Too often in the west our view of Africa is one of the savannah with a few nomadic tribesmen roaming the wilderness. When I was planning this unit I realized that if my kids come away with an appreciation for how diverse Africa is then our study will be a success. Maybe the best way to think of it is that I want them to know what they don’t know.

Africa is Not a Country by Margy Burns Knight is an excellent book for beginning a study of Africa with kids. Knight begins by explaining that Africa is not one country but instead 53 (now 54 with the addition of South Sudan). She uses the illustration of a pie cut into slices to explain how much of the land is different ecosystems (savannah, desert, rainforest). She then goes on to describe a “typical African day” by highlighting a child from a different country on each page. Some of the kids are in villages, some in cities. There is snow and desert. There are kids playing soccer and kids gathering water and kids going to school. There are dark skinned kids and light skinned kids. It’s a long book to read-aloud but kept the interest of my first grader.

Children Like Me by Barnabas Kindersley looks at kids around the world. Photographic 835178spreads with a little text highlight what kids in different countries eat, how they go to school, what activites they like to do, what their homes are like, what their clothes are like and what their families look like. We read the pages on kids in African countries to again highlight the diversity of the continent. Both Children Like Me (published in 1995) and Africa is Not a Country (published in 2002) are slightly out of date. However, I felt like they were good introductions to the people of Africa, especially for a younger elementary student.

We also enjoyed Africa by Mel Friedman, part of the True Book series and Introducing Africa by Chris Oxlade. Both were good basic surveys that covered physical geography, animals and well-known landmarks.


Preschool Around the World: England

Ruth and I completed our trip to Canada and have been spending time in England. Most of the books I was able to find at our library took place in London, so we concentrated our time there. I think my favorite was A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino. A little girl and her mother take a walk through London and the mother tells the girl about the sights they are seeing. The main text gives a very nice overview of the main landmarks with smaller text giving more details for those interested (or for older children).  I think Ruth also found this one approachable as the idea of a Mommy and daughter appealed to her.

The Adventures of Bella and Harry: Let’s Visit London! is part of a series by Lisa Manzione about an adorable globe-trotting pair of dog friends (and their human companions). It was a cute introduction to some stereotypical English things: fish and chips, double decker red buses, tea and crumpets and the changing of the guard.

More books on England: 

This is London by Miroslav Sasek
-Retro, cool and classic illustrations. First published in 1959, the information in the main body of text is often out-dated (some landmarks mentioned are no longer there). There is a list of 21st century corrections at the end of the book. Ultimately, we enjoyed Rubbino’s tour of the city more, but this one is still worth looking at.

Madeline in London by Ludwig Bemelmans
-A slightly odd storyline that felt a little forced. But hey, it’s Madeline, so what’s not to like?

The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook by Shirley Hughes
all the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child
-Ruth enjoyed the gentle stories about Alfie and Annie Rose. Even more she enjoyed the stories about Charlie and his “little and funny” sister Lola. I think she identifies with Lola.



Preschool Around the World: Canada



For our first stop on our preschool-round-the-world-trip, I picked Canada. It seemed to make sense since we just went on a real trip across the border in August.

First: a disclaimer before I get lots of nasty comments from Canadians. I know you live in a big, diverse, country. I know that there is more to Canada than ice and snow and hockey and moose. But you need to get some children’s authors to write about all that other stuff, ok? Because there just isn’t a lot of Canadian children’s literature. Or, I’m sure there is a lot of children’s literature written by Canadians, but it’s not discernibly Canadian. Which is fine but not so useful when you are planning a round-the-world themed preschool.

We mostly focused on animals for our first week in Canada. I’m not actually sure that Annie and the Wild Animals takes place in Canada but it introduces lots of animals that would be found in a northern forest: a moose, a bear, a stage, a wildcat and a wolf. It’s kind of an odd little book as far as the story: Annie’s cat is lost so she leaves corn cakes at the edge of the forest to attract a new small furry animal to be a pet. But instead she attracts big animals that become more and more demanding of corn cakes. Finally, they all leave when she runs out of corn and Taffy the cat comes back with a litter of kittens. The illustrations are classic Jan Brett and Ruth enjoyed looking at all the animals and at the borders full of details that Brett includes as is typical with her books.

We read several books about moose but Moose Tracks by Karma Wilson was our favorite. Karma Wilson could probably write a manual on dust bunny removal and we would enjoy it. Told in typical rhyming text and with just the right amount of repetition, the narrator of this story is perplexed at why there are moose tracks all over his house. The feathers from the hokey-pokey playing goose and the wood chips in the bed from the beaver can be explained. But the moose tracks? A mystery. The narrator never solves the puzzle but the reader will giggle as it’s revealed on the last page that the narrator is a moose. A moose who claims to never ever make a mess.

Goose’s Story by Cari Best is a sweet story of a girl who becomes attached to a goose with one foot who spends the summer at her family’s pond. When the goose leaves for the winter, the girl is left wondering if it can survive in the wild. Not to worry, there is a happy ending. I liked the sweetness of the connection between girl and wild animal and the way the story is told in a simple, straight-forward text that manages to convey the wonder a child experiences from nature.

I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it was recommended as a book by a Canadian author. I used it as a way to discuss that not all of Canada is frozen wilderness with the same types of animals. Since we had visited Toronto, we talked about how the mouse in this book might live in those subways. The Subway Mouse lives a life of hardship along with all his relatives underneath the platforms of a busy subway station. But his favorite part of the day is storytime when the older mice tell tales of a place called Tunnel’s End where the air is sweet and food is plentiful. One day, fed up with the noise and cramped conditions in his home, he decides to travel to Tunnel’s End. I liked this book overall.  Barbara Reid uses a unique collage style with plasticine or clay that was quite realistic, sometimes almost too much so in the depiction of the rat-like mice and garbage. Although I was a little turned off, I think most kids would be fascinated and not repelled by this story and pictures.

Other books for a “trip” to Canada:
Little Loon and Papa by Toni Buzzeo
Very sweet, appropriate for younger preschoolers. Papa teaches Little Loon how to dive. 

Moose on the Loose by Kathy-Jo Wargin
Silly scenarios about what to do with a moose on the loose, told in rhyming text. 

Duck Duck Moose by Dave Horowitz
Technically, about a moose in the US not Canada. I also thought it was a bit weird but my kids requested it multiple times. A Moose decides to migrate with his Duck friends to Florida. I think my kids liked the slight comic book feel to the book, and sometimes they like goofy. This was goofy.

Welcome to Canada
Part of the “The Child’s World” series. A fairly generic non-fiction book about Canada but gets the job done at giving a general introduction to the country and has nice photographs for illustrations.