Trade Books with Global Themes
One way to increase the global reach of your classroom and instruction is to fill your classroom and personal libraries with books that have a global theme. Some of these books have global characters, themes that cross cultural boundaries, or inspire adults or youth to take action in their own worlds.
I have roughly arranged these books into Adult, Middle / High School, and Elementary Readers. Please use your own best judgement. Many of these books can be used with younger audiences as long as there is proper support and guidance. The title of each book has a link that will take you to Amazon.com if you're interested in purchasing it OR you can go to your local library (Something I highly recommend!). Don't stop at this list though, there are so many more books out there with global themes. Use these as a jumping off point. The books are listed in no particular order, other than in the order that I grabbed them off my shelves.
Selected Books for Adult Readers
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
There are three main characters in this book (four if you count the dictionary you might need to help you understand some of the terms); Renee, the concierge of a Paris apartment house who purposely hides her intellectual curiosity behind stereotypes; Paloma, a 12 year old girl who is trying to avoid turning into a spoiled teenager by planning her own death; and Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese businessman who moves into a vacant apartment and sees through the facades that both Renee and Paloma wear. Translated from French, this book was thoroughly enjoyable for me and really explored how we conform to our own stereotypes while simultaneously yearning to break them.
The Ruby Tear Catcher
Nahid Sewell captures the human condition and really opened my eyes to how similar we all are, no matter what country we grew up in or what culture we are. Prior to reading this book, all I knew about Iran was what I saw on the evening news. Now, I have developed a greater appreciation and respect for the culture and people of Iran, and a greater understanding of the political climate there. Through her writing, I came to feel like the characters were real people. At the end of the book, I thought to myself, "there is no way this isn't an autobiography!" It felt so real and so authentic.
How to Be an American Housewife
This mother-daughter story centers around Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI at the end of WWII and her grown daughter, Sue. It explores ideas about culture, cultural loss, family secrets, and acceptance. The narrative of this book is split halfway between Shoko and Sue, with Shoko's story taking up the first half of the book and Sue's taking up the second.
Sandra Cisneros is a master of description. Her phrasing and vivid language brings her heroine's world to life, from Chicago to Texas to Mexico. The mundane aspects of family life are transformed into the greatest adventures in a way that makes you remember your own family stories. I am actually planning on using some excerpts from this book in lessons on using details in writing with my 8th graders this year.
Inés of My Soul
A piece of meticulously researched autobiographical fiction, this novel focuses on Inés Suarez, a poor seamstress from Spain who ended up becoming a conquistadora and helping to found the city of Santiago, Peru, and while she was at it, shape the New World.
Reading Lolita in Tehran
From Amazon.com: "Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics."
For me, this book was dense and took a while to get through, but I really connected with the yearning of all the women involved to know themselves and to express themselves, and how reading good fiction provides an escape for all of us from our troubles and lives.
The Line Between Us: Teaching about the Border and Mexican Immigration
An excellent reference for Secondary level teachers who are looking to teach or discuss the debates and issues surrounding the U.S. and Mexican border, Immigration - legal and illegal, and the impact that immigration has had both historically and in the present day. There are a wealth of resources such as role-plays, poems, stories, debates, etc. included.
Of Borders and Dreams: A Mexican American Experience of Urban Education
Chris Liska Carger
Portraying the struggles of Alejandro Juarez Jr. and his family as they attempt to navigate the Chicago Public School system in search of a good education. This book shares the problems facing bilingual, bi-cultural children in the American School System.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
The autobiography of a young boy who, loving science and school but living in abject poverty in rural Malawi, decides to build a windmill to generate electricity for his town out of bicycle parts and other junk despite having no resources other than old discarded science books. This book would be appropriate to share with High School students and possibly middle school students with guidance.
God Grew Tired of Us
John Bul Dau
This is an excellently written autobiography of John Bul Dau, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. His experiences as a refugee, his struggles in America, and his eventual triumphs make for an riveting story. I have used this book, and the Movie based on this book in my classroom as part of a unit on the Lost Boys. My students are riveted and really develop a desire to take action and to try and help other refugees after learning about John Bul Dau and the other Lost Boys.
Selected Books for Middle / High School Readers
The House on Mango Street
This is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in inner-city Chicago. Told through a series of vignettes, we learn about Esperanza's struggles and dreams.
I teach selections from this book to my eighth grade students and know of other teachers who teach the entire book to their High School students.
Novio Boy: A Play
Ninth grade Rudy has a date with an eleventh grade girl, but he still needs the money and confidence to pull it off. An excellent exploration of not only the humorous experiences of adolescence, but of Mexican American culture.
Fourteen-year-old Cloyd is constantly getting trouble. After running away from a group home for Native American boys, Cloyd is sent to work for an old rancher. Cloyd's courage and loyalty is tested in this coming of age story.
Letters from Rifka
Forced to flee the 1919 Soviet Revolution in Russia, Rifka and her family flee for the U.S. Unfortunately, Rifka is stuck in Belgium due to illness while the rest of the family continues on to the United States. The story is told in letters between Rifka and her cousin Tovah that are written in the margins of a book of poetry written by the Russian author Pushkin.
Pam Munoz Ryan
For most of her life, Esperanza has been rich, living on a prosperous ranch in Mexico. But tragedy strikes and Esperanza and her mother are forced to move to the United States in the middle of the Great Depression and to work as migrant farm laborers.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
The story of a Japanese girl who contracts leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima. She has the goal of making 1000 paper cranes while in the hospital, but dies after only making 644.
Koly is 13 years old, and her parents have arranged a marriage for her. It turns out, though, that her new husband is terminally ill and his family only wanted her dowry money in order to take him to the Ganges. When he dies, her mother-in-law abandons her in "the city of widows," Vrindavan, where she has to make her own way.
Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
Alternate Title: Left Behind
There is not enough food for a group of Athabascan Native Americans to survive the Alaskan winter. The chief makes the difficult decision to leave two old women behind in order to save the rest of his tribe. Can the old women survive on their own? For grade 7 and up.
Lafayette and his brothers are left alone after both of their parents died - their father of drowning and their mother of diabetes. One of the brothers turns to crime, the other gives up school in order to earn money to support the others. Lafayette blames himself for his parents' deaths. How are all three brothers expected to survive when they can't seem to get along?
Ties that Bind, Ties That Break
Ailin, or Third Sister, saw how her two older sisters had their feet bound and the painful ordeal they went through in order to be considered "marriageable." Ailin rejects this cultural norm and persuades her father not to do it to her. This choice has some very real negative consequences which force Ailin to make decisions that change her life.
Lost Boy, Lost Girl
John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech
This book tells the stories of John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech with each chapter alternating between them. While it tells the same story as the book "God Grew Tired of Us," the story has been adapted for younger readers, and the story of Martha has been added. An excellent book, students have a hard time believing that it is real and truly happened, once they do so, they develop a desire to take action.
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Malala Yousafzai was only 11 or 12 when the Taliban took over her town, forbidding girls to continue with school. Instead of being silent, Malala stood up to the Taliban through an articulate blog and fought for her right to an education. In retaliation, she was shot in the head by the Taliban and survived. Now aged 16, she has written this book about her experiences.
To Be a Slave
This book is a collection of true narratives dictated or narrated by slaves and ex-slaves. It tells about the forced journeys from Africa to the United States, and about the experiences the people had as slaves in the United States. It is a difficult topic to read about and many of the stories are heart-rending. Perfect for Middle School.
An autobiography of the author, at the age of 14 Francisco and his family are caught by La Migra and sent back to the U.S. / Mexican border in Arizona. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, Francisco and his family must keep their family together, work long hours at labor and suffer through extreme prejudice.
Out of War: True Stories From the Front Lines of the Children's Movement for Peace in Colombia
True stories of children surviving war in Colombia and their hopes for peace in the future. Sara interviewed hundreds of children to get their stories but only a few are included in this book. Websites are included to help other students learn more about the Children's Movement for Peace and about the conflicts in Colombia.
The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir
Farah Ahmedi and Tamim Ansary
Farah Ahmedi grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan and her descriptions of gunfire and and the sight of falling bombs are told with an innocence and clarity. She narrowly escapes death after stepping on a landmine and eventually has to flee from Afghanistan to a refugee camp and ultimately to America. Perfect for older middle school / high schoolers.
And the Earth Did Not Devour Him
A collection of short stories documenting the Mexican American Immigrant experience in the 1950s and the horrid working conditions that migrant workers suffered through. As an example, a child gets killed for sneaking a drink of water while working in the fields. Much more appropriate for upper-level readers.
Facing the Lion
Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton
The biography of Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, a Maasai warrior who left home to pursue an education. Growing up between two cultures, that of the Maasai, and that of an educated African meant navigating the definition of manhood. After an encounter with a lion, Joseph learns what true manhood is.
Farewell to Manzanar
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
When she was seven years old, Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family were uprooted and sent to the Japanese Internment Camp, Manzanar, during WWII. Along with armed guards and watch towers, there were cheerleader squads, Boy Scouts, and a dance hall. The true story of one Japanese American family's attempt to survive forced detention.
New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens
Stories from eleven young immigrants tell their stories of how they escaped war, poverty, and repression. Some students include Abdul from Afghanistan, Xiaojun from China, and Von from Vietnam.
Selected Books for Elementary Readers
The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty & The Beast Tale
Author: Laurence Yep
Illustrator: Kam Mak
Age Range: Kindergarten - 3
A poor farmer falls into the clutches of a dragon. The farmer can only be saved if one of his daughters agrees to marry the dragon.
A Southern Chinese version of a classic tale.
Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan
Author: Mary Williams
Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
Age Range: Grade 3 and Up
A based on real events story of a boy named Garang Deng who is orphaned by Sudan's civil war. Garang and many other Lost Boys have to travel from Sudan to Ethiopia, and from Ethiopia back through Sudan on their way to Kenya. I use this book in my Lost Boys of Sudan unit as an introduction to the unit. It is easy enough for my English Language Learners to understand, but still deep enough a topic for Middle School students to enjoy reading.
Get Ready for Gabi: A Crazy Mixed-up Spanglish Day
Author: Marisa Montes
Illustrator: Joe Cepeda
Age Range: Grades 2 - 5
Third grader Gabi is partnered with two of her least favorite people in her class on a Science Project. She needs to learn not only how to work with people from different (multicultural) backgrounds, but how to appreciate her own a little more. A Spanish / English glossary is included.
Who's Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse?
Author: Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison
Illustrator: Pascal Lemaitre
Age Range: Grades 2 - 5
An updated version of Aesop's classic Lion and the Mouse fable, Toni Morrison and her son Slade have given the fable a clever twist, adding in a lesson about bullying and using great hip-hop style wordings and comic book style format.
Author: Andrew Clements
Age Range: Grade 4 - 6
Phil is trying to find his younger brother in a group of people and thinks he sees him because he recognizes his jacket. But it turns out that it's a different kid - an African-American kid. Phil automatically assumes that the kid stole his brother's jacket and accuses the boy. Confronted with the reality, Phil has to look hard at his own prejudice.
Author: Diane Stanley
Age Range: Grades 4 - 6
Elena is a young woman from a prosperous Mexican family during the early 1900s who has her own ideas about what role she should play. When the Mexican Revolution comes, she has to use her strength to help her family to survive the exodus to America.
Domitila: A Mexican Cinderella Story
Author: Jewell Reinhart Coburn
Illustrator: Connie McLennan
Age Range: Grades 2 - 5
A version of Cinderella from the Mexican tradition - specifically from Hidalgo, Mexico. Domitila is forced to work at the governor's mansion as a cook. When she leaves, the governor's spoiled son goes searching for her, with only a leather sandal as a clue. The character who changes the most is the governor's son, who learns to be kinder and more loving.
When Marion Sang: The True Recital of Marion Anderson
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
Age Range: Kindergarten to 3
The true story of Marion Anderson who, because of her race, was not allowed to attend music schools or perform in the United States. Marion became a singing sensation in Europe and finally returns to the U.S. to sing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I use this book with my Middle School English Language Learners when reading about segregation.
Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq
Author and Illustrator: Mark Alan Stamaty
Age Range: Grade 4 - 7
The true story of Alia Muhammad Baker, the head librarian of Basra's library. Fearing looting and bombs during the American Invasion of Iraq, Alia hid more than 30,000 books in order to preserve the cultural and literary heritage of Iraq. Graphic Novel format means students have high interest.
Navajo Code Talkers
Age Range: Grades 3 - 6
The true history of a group of Navajo Native Americans during World War II. Prior to this, these young men and their families were being forced by the U.S. Government to give up their language in order to assimilate into white U.S. society. During WWII however, a group of Navajo came up with an unbreakable code using their native language that helped the U.S. and its allies to win the war.
A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Ines
Author: Pat Mora
Illustrator: Beatriz Vidal
Age Range: Kindergarten - 3
Juana Inés is three years old and wants desperately to learn to read. Soon she is reading and collecting books. As she grows, she becomes one of Mexico's most brilliant women writers in all its history: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909
Author: Michelle Markel
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Age Range: Preschool to grade 3
Clara Lemlich is a recent Jewish immigrant who doesn't speak English. She has to work in a factory to help her family, but the girls and women are treated poorly and Clara doesn't think that's fair. She gets fed up and leads one of the greatest walkouts in American History.
We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song
Author: Debbie Levy
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley - Newton
Age Range: Grade 1 to 3
"We Shall Overcome" is a song that has influenced many movements throughout American History from its roots in Slavery to the Civil Rights movement.
Take Me Out to the Yakyu
Author: Aaron Meshon
Age Range: Preschool to grade 3
A young Japanese American boy learns about baseball from his two grandfathers, on in America, and one in Japan. From the uniforms, to the snacks, to the seventh-inning stretch, side by side illustrations and story show the differences and amazing similarities between both cultures.