The Powerful Purpose Of Books About Other Cultures

Let’s talk about different races and ethnic backgrounds. It’s something that is a growing topic in our schools, as it should be. Why are these conversations important for students? Studies have shown that kids as young as 3 years old can start showing signs of racism, which can stem from the TV shows they are watching, the toys they play with, and the books they read. 

A few of my favorite books to expose children to these different cultures do not explicitly teach how to be tolerant of others, instead, they give you a peek into their worlds and what makes them special. It can be so powerful. 

CROW BOY is a book about a young boy who attends school in Japan that walks to and from school by himself every day for years and years. By the end of the book, his classmates see just how special Crow Boy is and what a mistake it was to ignore him all of those years. 

I, DOKO: THE TALE OF THE BASKET a story told by the basket a family uses for various purposes over the years, from carrying grain to carrying a baby. This book can become confusing with the different generations of family members, it may be beneficial to write or draw a visual of the family tree to help students understand who is who in the story. 

TUKI AND MOKA: A TALK OF TWO TAMARINS this book is sure to capture your students’ love with two monkeys that follow a little boy around in Ecuador as they collect Brazil nuts to provide for their family. Later, the monkeys and other animals are captured by poachers and the protagonist must take action right away. 

Not only do these books explore the lifestyle of different races and cultures, but they also teach vocabulary words from their language. This can be engaging for students and fun for students to learn these new words and names. A word of advice, before reading these books out loud in class, practice a few readings out loud by yourself to know the words and names pronunciation beforehand. 

Books are powerful. Whether read aloud in classrooms or left for little hands to explore, having ready access to different ethnicities through text and pictures will benefit them, our classrooms, schools, and our society. Our students and teachers can make or break someone else’s school experience based on their cultural awareness. If you don’t believe me, watch this Ted Talk by Melissa Crum. 

What are books you use in your classroom that expose children to different races, whether directly or indirectly? 

Featured Image: pexels.com

The Opportunities Afforded by Authenticity (aka, Watching Moana with My Kids) #TeacherMom

I know a Disney movie has nailed it for me when I find myself repeatedly playing the songs in my head without tiring of it. Moana was just such a film.

But what I loved even more than the strong characters, plot, and score was respectful care that went into representing Polynesian culture. A bonus features documentary shared the production crew’s visits and connections with the people of Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and other islands, expressing the heartfelt desire to portray their culture in a way that would be authentic and recognizable. As one of the Tahitian cultural experts said,

“Our culture is very important for us because it’s the spirit, it’s the soul for our island. It carries values. It carries our life.” ~Hinano Murphy

The documentary highlighted many different cultural elements studied, including music, navigation, coconut use, tattoos, and more. But what really caught my 6 year-old’s attention was the Haka.

She was especially interested in the facial expressions and tongue waggling — in her experience, such behavior indicated silliness, but she sensed an alternate purpose.

So we watched a couple videos, including an emotional Haka performed at a wedding, and one the New Zealand All Blacks Team performs. We discussed the meaning, the unity, and the strength. We discussed sacred traditions within cultures, and how we should turn our hearts toward understanding rather than disdain when we encounter something we don’t initially understand.

I was proud of her respectful response. And not only did our discussion lead to her recognizing aspects of her own culture, but she was also able to make connections in subsequent days to other unfamiliar cultural gestures (such as kissing cheeks in greeting).

Had Disney not been as dedicated to an authentic representation of the culture, this learning opportunity would have been lost (or worse, she would have gained a skewed perspective).

To me, this was a reminder of the critical role of authenticity in education. Wherever possible, we must seek out the honest and shun the watered-down. Not only will this give our students a more accurate view of the world around them, but their learning experiences will be richer for it.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto