When you look into today’s classrooms, you see children from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Schools are offering foreign-language experiences as early as kindergarten. There are many materials available to help us become more familiar with our new neighbors, including books. The International Children’s Digital Library, www.icdlbooks.org, offers free books in a variety of language choices available for printing. The following are a handful of stories that highlight other cultures and languages.
JULIO’S MAGIC, by Arthur Dorros, collages by Ann Grifalconi, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 4-9.
Many of the men and boys in the small village are carvers. They are working on pieces to enter in a contest in the city. The winner will get more money then anyone can make in their small village as farmers.
Julio learned to carve from his friend Iluminado. After chores are done one afternoon, the two of them go to the mountains to gather wood. When Mom sees the animals Julio has carved, she tells him they are the best he has ever done. Julio tries to convince Iluminado to enter the contest with his latest carvings, which he calls the traveling musicians. Julio realizes that the aging Iluminado can’t see well enough to paint his creatures. Julio helps with the painting and Iluminado enters the contest. Julio saves his animals for another year.
Arthur Dorros and Ann Grifalconi developed this story after visiting Mexican villages. Visit www.arthurdorros.com to see the other books Dorros has done, as well as ideas for developing an understanding of his stories.
SIESTA, by Ginger Foglesong Guy, pictures by René King Moreno, Greenwillow Books, $15.99; ages 4 and up.
It is time for brother and sister to take their siesta. But before they do, they have to collect all their belongings. The story, in both English and Spanish, will help children learn not only colors, but items such as book, bear and blanket. Follow along as the children take items to the yard and put the blanket over a rope to make a tent for their nap.
SAY HOLA TO SPANISH AT THE CIRCUS, written by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Loretta Lopez, Lee & Low, $6.95; ages 4-10.
The family is off to the circus. The sentences in the story start in English. As the animals and objects are introduced, the words change to Spanish. The text goes along with the pictures and is quite easy to follow. If the reader is stumped with a Spanish word, the whole list of 70 words can be found in the back. Two other books in this series are available.
UP THE LEARNING TREE, by Marcia K. Vaughan, illustrated by Derek Blanks, Lee & Low Books, $16.95; ages 4 and up.
Young Henry Bell has never been to school because as a slave he is not allowed to touch books. One of his jobs is to walk Simon to and from school each day. Henry discovers that if he climbs the tree outside the school, he can hear Miss Hattie read to the class. Each day Henry hurries through his chores so he can spend time listening to what the children are learning. Miss Hattie realizes what Henry is doing and helps him. Because of this she loses her job, but she encourages him to continue learning.
SWEET POTATO PIE, by Kathleen D. Lindsey, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb, Lee & Low Books, $16.95; ages 4 and up.
There is a terrible drought and many of the crops are ruined. But the rain comes just in time to save the sweet potatoes. Papa announces that the family will lose their house if they can’t find a way to pay the bank. All that is left to eat are sweet potato pies. Mama gets the idea to make more pies to sell to raise the money they need to pay the bank. That night, everyone helps make pies and in the morning the family loads the wagon to go to the harvest celebration to sell them. The pies are a big success and Mama wins a blue ribbon for best pie. She takes orders for pies from the general store, the sweet shop and the restaurant. The family, working together, is able to save the family farm. A recipe for sweet potato pie is included in the book.
GOING HOME, COMING HOME, story by Truong Tran, illustrations by Ann Phong, Children’s Book Press, $16.95; ages 4 and up.
The trip to Vietnam is taking forever. Mom and Dad say they are going home, but the only home Ami Chi knows is America. When they finally arrive, they are met at the airport by Uncle Binh, Mom’s younger brother. After a ride past many rice paddies, they arrive at Grandmother’s house. How can this be called home? Here is Ami Chi in a house that is smaller than her family’s garage at home with a grandmother who doesn’t even speak English. What a vacation.
One afternoon they go shopping at the market. While there, Ami Chi meets Thao, a girl about the same age. They spend the afternoon together and become friends. By the end of the vacation, Ami Chi realizes she wants to visit her home away from home again. The complete story is written in English and Vietnamese. Both Truong Tran and Ann Phong were born in Vietnam but came to America with their families when they were young.
Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.
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