World-Leading Collection of Children's Literature Bridges Worlds with WordsPosted on: September 9, 2011 in People & Places
Imagine you are a teacher or librarian, and you want to teach your students about China though reading them a series of children’s books. How would you know which books to select from the hundreds or thousands you find to share with your students? How can you be sure the book you’re selecting offers an accurate representation of Chinese life and culture?
Given the endless sea of books available, making informed decisions that are sensitive to all of the cultural intricacies involved are daunting for any educator, and the risk of selecting a book that might misrepresent a culture is immense.
But what if you had access to a comprehensive collection of children’s books that you knew had been vetted by knowledgeable experts and members of the culture you were presenting? What if there was a complete resource to help you understand which books were accurate, high-quality representations from the most respected authors?
UA students and the entire Tucson community have access to exactly this resource on the fourth floor of the UA College of Education, in the Worlds of Words collection. This one-of-a-kind collection of over 30,000 volumes of children’s and adolescent literature from around the world has been meticulously composed with a singular purpose in mind: to promote intercultural understanding.
It is the largest of its kind in the U.S. The only other comparable collection on the planet resides at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany.
“The collection is used locally as a lab for undergrads who are studying to be elementary teachers,” says Kathy Short, Ph.D., Worlds of Words program director and professor of language, reading and culture. “Since they have to study children’s literature, instead of learning about books, we immerse them in books.” Through Worlds of Words, aspiring educators and authors experience the best literature the world has to offer, first-hand.
Short says she teaches her courses in much the same way that she would work with young students to ensure that the experiences are valid and effective.
“We do literature circles, we browse, we engage in the experiences. And we can only do that because we have the collection. We give – and teach – an authentic representation of culture.”
Aside from the collection itself, Short and the WOW program have a world-wide reach through a comprehensive online catalog of reviewed books, WOWLit.org. They also have two online journals, WOW Stories: Connections from the Classroom and WOW Review: Reading across Cultures, as well as a blog called WOW Currents. They also host workshops, author visits and book signings throughout the year at the WOW collection.
One of Short’s former students, Professor Nojood Alsudairi, has brought that understanding of authentic culture to her teaching at the Childhood Studies Department at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She graduated from the UA College of Education in 2000 with her Ph.D. in language, reading and culture.
“My dissertation was an eye opener for me as I found out that children's books in our Arab world need some serious reform,” says Alsudairi. “The project helped acquaint me with global children's books.” Since Saudi Arabia is a monolingual society with limited access to books in other languages, WOW was – and continues to be – Alsudairi’s window to the best children’s literature from around the world.
She also appreciates the understanding offered by such literature, and continues to serve on the WOW board – an opportunity open to doctoral graduates from the children’s literature program. Alsudairi and her students, through WOW, are able to take an active role in recommending the best books from their culture.
Another program graduate and board member, Seemi Aziz, Ph.D., assistant professor of reading and literacy education at Oklahoma State University, says that the Worlds of Words helps educators figure out how to present essential, potentially taboo topics such as religion.
“Worlds of Words takes on the aspects of demonization of religions and their followers throughout history,” she writes. “It’s wonderful to have an institution that is committed to addressing these concerns through the power of children’s literature.”
Yet another graduate, Yoo Kyung Sung, assistant professor of language, literacy and sociocultural studies at the University of New Mexico and member of the WOW board, says that continuing to be a part of the program beyond graduation has been a great benefit, even from afar.
When it comes to international children’s literature, “no one else can compete with the WOW collection and the extra materials that have come through their programs and workshops,” she says.
How can you experience the WOW collection?
WOW hosts workshops and talks for educators throughout the year as well as workshops and programs with authors for families and children. Also, educators are invited to bring their classes to visit the collection. Contact WOW to learn more and schedule your visit.
All are welcome – families included – to come browse, relax, read and discuss the world of international children’s literature. The collection is open to anyone and everyone Monday-Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and Saturday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.