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.


A Trip Around the World

This year Ruth and I are going to read our way around the world. (A hat tip to Sherry at Semicolon for the idea. She is writing a new preschool curriculum of the same theme and I was looking for something new to do with Ruth but can’t wait for her curriculum.) We’ve started in the past two weeks with a bunch of books looking at the whole world. The first of these was an old favorite: How To Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. We also revisited the lovely Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein where one smile travels around the world in “butterfly effect” fashion causing all sorts of unintended good things to happen.

Sometimes having a third child is a delightful excuse to re-read old favorites. Sometimes it’s an avenue to discovering new-to-us favorites. Both Ruth and I loved Toot and Puddle by Hobbie. This charming story celebrates the friendship between two best buddies. Toot is an adventurer who decides to go on a round-the-world trip. We see his adventures through postcards he sends back to his buddy Puddles, who preferred to stay home. I loved that Toot doesn’t mind that Puddles stays home and Puddles doesn’t resent Toot for leaving. And I loved that we see Puddles having his own (slightly tamer) adventures at home.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ruth is our resident fashionista. We read a bunch of books looking at different customs around the world and I think of all of them What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World  was her favorite. She wanted to pick our her favorite outfit on each page. Typically it was whichever one she deemed “most fancy”.


More Books about Differences (and Similarities) Around the World: 
If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche
I liked this beautiful book so much that I nominated if for a Cybils award last year. The boys were super excited to see it again and Ruth very graciously agreed to let them listen in to her special school time (That is a big deal. This year I’m trying to have some one-on-one reading time with her everyday and she typically jealousy guards that time.)

Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Sally B. Beeler
Did you know how many different traditions there are for what to do when a baby tooth falls out? And how many involve throwing said tooth on the roof? And how many involve mice for some reason? I sure didn’t before reading this book. I found this one really interesting, although it was probably too much for Ruth. A little too long and not that interesting for someone who has yet to lose a tooth.

You and Me Together: Moms, Dads, and Kids Around the World by Barbara Kerley
After reading lots of books about our differences it was nice to read one that emphasized how we are all similar. Kerley’s photos are the star of this book, showing real parent and child pairs around the world with just a word of two of text for each page.

Do you have a halipupu in your house? How about a xiao pie dou or a knuddelbaerchen? (Hug bunny , Little Mischievous Pea and Cuddle Bear in Finnish, Mandarin and German respectively.) We giggled a lot while reading Little Treasures: Endearments from Around the World by Jacqueline Ogburn. The kids especially thought it was funny that my grandmother did indeed call me “mon petit chou” (“my little cabbage” in French).

We also had a lot of fun reading a pair of books by Linda Sue Park about the different terms for people sounds and animal sounds. Yum ! Yuck! and Mung-Mung both use a fold-out format which makes it easy to read these in an interactive way. In Mung-Mung we could guess what animal made the sounds. Sometimes this was easy: cats all make a sound that ends with “ow”. Sometimes this was hard: neither of us got that ee-go-go was what a horse says in Russian or that a pig says hoo-loo in Chinese. Yum! Yuck! similarly allows the reader to guess what English sound is equivalent for various sounds in other languages.

The concept of time differences is probably beyond Ruth right now but we read several books that introduced that idea in a gentle age-approriate way. Nine O’Clock Lullaby by Marilyn Singer was one of my favorites. The book starts with a Mama “turning the page of a sleepytime tale” at 9 PM in Brooklyn. Each page then moves forward an hour in time to show something that is happening at the same time elsewhere in the world.

Other Time-Zone Themed Books:

While You Are Sleeping by Durga Bernhard.
This lift-the flap-book pairs two children on each page and shows what they are doing in their respective time zones at the same time. I thought it was a little confusing as it doesn’t progress around the world and around the clock in order but jumps from place to place. 9 AM in Nigeria becomes 1:30 PM in Japan. Then 5 PM in Japan becomes 2 AM in Mexico. The text is at a preschool level but it made an already confusing concept more confusing for that age group.

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley
Another beautiful photo-journalism style book by Kerley, this one looks at kids doing different activities around the world in the course of one day. It doesn’t really introduce  the  concept of time zones as it’s not clear in the book when the things are happening in relation to each other. But it does serve to again emphasize the similarities between kids living in very different living circumstances and places. They all get up, eat breakfast, go to school, play, eat dinner with their families and go to bed.

Next week we start our journey. First stop: Canada. If you know of any must-read books about Canada, I would love suggestions.