Multicultural literature is described as a tool that helps children identify with their own culture, exposes children to other cultures, and opens the dialogue on issues regarding diversity (Colby & Lyon, 2004). Picture books are a great resource for teachers and topics such as Refugees, Leaving Home and Separation can be addressed in picture books through different scenarios. Books included on this list, for example - Drita My Homegirl; The Colour of Home; Azzi in Betweeen; How Tia Lola came to stay; The Day of the Pelican can help children to think more critically and creatively, and in turn to be more open, sensitive and appreciative of new ideas.
You could choose two books listed here on a similar theme and plan lessons by ‘pairing the books’. For example, two common themes - the power of literacy and bullying are illustrated in Thank You Mr Falker and Once Upon a Time, as Trisha in Michigan, and Sari in South Africa struggle with reading and dread coming to school. Although living in separate cultures, each feeling like a victim, their assumptions about lack of ability are challenged by an adult – children can develop their critical thinking skills and literacy skills by discussing issues raised in these books.
Consider the diversity and ethnic background of the children in your class. Choose books that celebrate the everyday life of children in South Africa – Masai and I; Jamela’s Dress; Fly Eagle Fly; Mama Panya’s Pancakes. You could explore traditional tales from other countries – Baboushka and the three kings (Russian folktale); Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (African tale); The Gift of a Traveller (Romania) Mountain Windsong (Cherokee Indians). Including a selection of cultural and multicultural books in your lessons can help your pupils to develop ‘windows and mirrors’, to ask questions, to have an opinion and to be critical thinkers.
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Dr. Thérèse McPhillips
Senior Library Assistant for Education Services and Resources, DCU St. Patrick's Library