Introduction To Global Engagement
This section of the publication is devoted to providing information and resources specifically designed for our K-16 readership and their curricular needs. You’ll find narratives on thematic topics, resource lists, and calendars of events for the University of Illinois’ area studies centers. Should you have any questions or require additional information, please feel to contact the appropriate center.
Center for African Studies
Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies
European Union Center
Center for Global Studies
Center for International Business Education and Research
Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Russian, East European and Eurasian Center
Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
CENTER FOR AFRICAN STUDIES
The Center for African Studies’ Engagement and Outreach Program is designed to increase public knowledge about Africa and to enhance the broader community’s understanding of African peoples and cultures. Our programming serves K-12 schools, community colleges, the media, community groups, the business community, and the general public. For more information, please contact the center.
Teaching African Literature
Keguro Macharia, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of English
Teachers of African literature are often called on to do the impossible: to teach a narrow selection of works that somehow represent a vast continent full of diverse languages, multiple histories, and widely differing customs and traditions. What, for example, binds Liberia and Eritrea or for that matter Mauritania and Botswana? What link can be made between Chinua Achebe’s 1958 Things Fall Apart and J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 Disgrace?
Even though I have been reading African fiction for as long as I can remember, my academic work thus far has been heavily Americanist. This semester, I broke out of the Americanist mold to teach a class called Modern African Fiction. As the semester ends, I am still trying to answer one main question: what is this thing called “African literature” and can it be taught?
In short, I have no great thesis about African literature, no profound insights about teaching it, simply notes from the trenches.
Most critics will agree that most modern African literature is deeply bound to the history of its production. The literature reflects on the social, political, and cultural changes of a restless continent. My overarching frame is that African literature considers the continual conflict between tradition and the modern. I take formal European colonialism as the main rupture point between tradition and modernity. Consequently, I structure my class around the effects of colonialism in novels such as Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The River Between, and Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter.
I teach colonialism by considering three related aspects: the impact of Christianity, the importance of formal European education, and the role of urbanization. For example, in The River Between, the novel’s central conflict takes place between the new converts to Christianity and adherents to traditional belief. The novel allows us to consider the role of religion in shaping political and social identities.
Second, I consider the impact of formal European education. Teachers and students are important, recurring figures in African fiction, be it the village teacher in The River Between or the professor in Disgrace. Education, like Christianity, is central to how characters understand their social and political identities. For instance, The River Between offers two models of education, one based on learning traditional rites and “secrets,” the other based on formal strategies of reading and writing. In Bâ’s novel, for example, the female narrator muses on how education provides new opportunities for West African women to re-shape their social roles.
Finally, I consider the role of urbanization in African fiction and its effects on social structures. I ask my students to consider how the urban impacts notions of family, forcing individual characters to break or modify ties with extended family members and to create new social bonds with strangers. For example, we consider how traditional notions of gift-giving during important ceremonies have been affected: instead of giving material items, characters give money. Focusing on urban spaces also allows us to consider the conflict between the urban poor and elites that is central to many novels.
Because many of these concepts can seem very abstract, I try to ground each class by considering how the novels we read examine the concept of family. By mapping how family structures are affected by religion, education, and urbanization, we can begin to understand how these concepts affect ordinary lives.
Beyond some of the commonly taught African novels, Keguro Macharia recommends K-12 teachers consider the following options:
The Concubine, Elechi Amadi.
Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga.
All of these are in print and available in the United States. Also, they’ve received quite a bit of scholarly attention, so there are several resources available for K-12 teachers.
To learn about more novels on Africa that are highly regarded and aimed at various levels of readers, please visit Africa Access Review and check out the Children’s Africana Book Awards.
CENTER FOR EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC STUDIES
The Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies (EAPS) is the steward of campus-wide teaching, research, programming, and outreach on East Asia, as well as Southeast Asia and the Pacific. EAPS is currently a National Undergraduate Resource Center devoted to the enhancement of campus undergraduate teaching and learning on East Asia and to outreach programming on East Asia for educators, the public, and media and business professionals. EAPS serves over 100 specialists on East Asia, as well as more than 30 off-campus affiliates across the state. For more information, contact Anne Prescott.
Anne Prescott, Associate Director, EAPS
The Lunar New Year, which is celebrated throughout East Asia, begins on February 18, 2007. The traditions of this time of celebration are all told in folk tales, and are a good way to learn about East Asian cultures in general. It is important to know that this festival is celebrated not only in China, but in other parts of Asia as well, and Asian-Americans prefer to refer to it as the Lunar New Year rather than Chinese New Year. But many of the traditions associated with this holiday originated in China, and many children’s books describe the Lunar New Year from a Chinese or Chinese-American perspective.
In China and other countries which follow or traditionally followed the lunar calendar, each year is associated with one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, and 2007 is the year of the pig. Many people know about the Chinese zodiac from placemats commonly found at Chinese restaurants. But which animals are a part of the Chinese zodiac? And how were they chosen?
The basic story line is that the Emperor challenged all of the animals to a race through the countryside, and the first 12 animals to arrive were given a year in the zodiac. Everyone expected the cat, seemingly the swiftest of the animals, to win. But there’s a twist in this tale, and the cat arrives too late and misses out on a place in the zodiac cycle. The story of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac can be found in a number of delightfully-illustrated books for children.
The following is a list of children’s books which tell this story or describe other Lunar New Year traditions.
Story of the Chinese Zodiac: English Chinese by Monica Chang, Yuan-Liou Publishing Company, 1994. In this book, the story is told in both Chinese and English, and it could be used in a classroom or at a library with children who speak both languages. It is also available in English-Korean, English-Thai, English-Tagalog and English-Vietnamese versions.
Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac by Ed Young (Illustrator) Henry Holt and Co., 1998. This is another much-loved version of this story for young children.
For more information on Chinese Lunar New Year traditions, visit Chinese New Year.
In Japanese, the New Year’s festival is called “oshôgatsu.”
Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns And Stars! by Betty Reynolds, Tuttle Publishing, 2006.
How the Years Were Named-kamishibai (kah-mee-she-bye). Chizuko Kamichi, author, Yuko Kanazawa, illustrator, available from www.kamishibai.com.
Kamishibai (literally “paper theater”) is a traditional Japanese storytelling method featuring illustrated cards which the storyteller narrates. Today, kamishibai used in schools and libraries have the dialogue, which is realized by the storyteller, printed on the back of the cards. Kamishibai are a great hit in schools in both Japan and the US.
For more information, please visit Japan-Guide.
In Korean, the New Year’s celebration is called “seol.”
This Next New Year by Janet S. Wong, Yangsook Choi (Illustrator), Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2000
Tales of a Korean Grandmother, by Frances Carpenter, Tuttle Publishing, 1973. This book includes many references to Korean New Year traditions.
For more information on seol, visit ClickAsia.
In Vietnamese, the Lunar New Year is called “tet.”
Tet: Vietnamese New Year by Dianne M. MacMillan, Enslow Elementary, 1994.
Ten Mice for Tet! by Pegi Deitz Shea, Cynthia Weill, To Ngoc Trang (Illustrator), Chronicle Books, 2003.
Want to learn more about tet? Visit Tet the Vietnamese New Year.
EUROPEAN UNION CENTER
The European Union Center (EUC) serves as a bridge of exchange and understanding between residents of the United States and member states of the European Union (EU). The Center brings together faculty and students from across campus to promote the study of the EU, its institutions and policies, and EU-U.S. relations. Working with other campus units and other institutions, the EUC also creates and delivers high-quality programs that serve Illinois businesses, policy makers, high-school teachers and students, and the general public. As one of the most comprehensive EU Centers in the U.S., the Center is the focal point on campus for teaching, research and outreach programs on the EU. For more information, please contact the center.
Scandinavia and the U.S.
Anna W. Stenport and Helena M. Hall, The Scandinavian Program, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
The Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, located in the very northern part of Europe, are in some respects quite similar to contemporary U.S. A high standard of living; an educated population; and a generally Western lifestyle, including advanced use of technology (Internet, cell phones, etc.) are a few key similarities. In the U.S. today, Scandinavia is perhaps best recognized by corporate names, such as IKEA, Ericsson, Volvo, and H&M. During the nineteenth-century, many Scandinavians emigrated to the United States. In 1900, Chicago had the second-largest population of Swedes in the world, after Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.
The three Scandinavian countries share many characteristics of the European Welfare State—a high tax-base provides low-cost health care, daycare, care for the elderly, and free education from kindergarten to graduate school, while it also offers generous unemployment, sick and parental leave. The three countries generally pride themselves on the achievements of the Welfare State and cherish the low rates of poverty and high rates of education, including strict standards of environmental control and policies that promote egalitarianism across social classes and gender equality. The languages spoken in the three countries, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, are mutually intelligible, although almost every adult speaks fluent English. Both Sweden and Denmark are members of the European Union.
A large portion of Sweden’s and Denmark’s population was born abroad, which has transformed these countries into multi-ethnic communities over the last two decades. This transition has, however, not been easy, and the two countries are struggling with racism and discrimination, particularly in the employment sector.
Incorporating aspects of Scandinavian history and contemporary culture in the K-12 curriculum provides exciting opportunities to learn about a region in the world that is both familiar and different. Astrid Lindgren’s illustrated Pippi Longstocking presents a portrait of an independent child, the strongest girl in the world, who lives alone and does mostly as she pleases. The book, suitable for K-1, gives a sense of how Swedes like to think about child-rearing—as a way to promote creativity, independence, and resourcefulness. Ulrika Jondelius, Svea’s Sweden, a recently published children’s book, offers a contemporary introduction to Swedish culture from a child’s perspective. In 1906, Selma Lagerlöf, one of Sweden’s most cherished authors, wrote The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, a geography textbook about a boy traveling around Sweden on the back of a farm goose. Her innovative approach to learning geography can still be enjoyed in elementary and middle school classrooms today.
The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen provide insight into nineteenth-century Danish culture, and particularly its understanding of Lutheranism. Reading Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (1836) and comparing the fairy-tale ending (Ariel seeks an eternal soul) with the Disney film version (Ariel seeks to marry the Prince) offer interesting perspectives on cultural transfer, which is suitable for grade school students to discuss and analyze. The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen influenced modern drama and the women’s independence movement all around the world. His most famous play, A Doll’s House (1879), still inspires discussion about the function of family, motherhood, and gender relations, topics appropriate for junior high school students.
For high school students interested in learning about contemporary Scandinavian multi-ethnic culture, Christopher Caldwell’s “Islam on the Outskirts of the Welfare State” (New York Times Magazine 02/05/2006) gives an excellent introduction. Henning Mankell’s detective novel Faceless Killers (1991) addresses issues of immigration control and racism, as understood by Sweden’s best-known crime writer. The Norwegian film Insomnia (1997) was remade in Hollywood with the same title in 2002; comparing the characters, landscape, and resolution of the crime story offers students insights into the culture and customs of northern Norway.
Unless otherwise noted, the material discussed above is available at amazon
.com or blockbuster.com. For more info, please contact Anna W. Stenport.
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (Paperback) by Selma Lagerlof.
Do You Know Pippi Longstocking? (Paperback) by Astrid Lindgren.
A Doll’s House (Paperback) by Henrik Ibsen.
The Little Mermaid (Hardcover) by Hans Christian Andersen.
The Little Mermaid (USA, 1989) Animated film directed by Ron Clements
Faceless Killers (Paperback) by Henning Mankell.
Insomnia (Norway, 1997)Film directed by Erik Skjoldberg.
Insomnia (USA, 2002)Film directed by Christopher Nolan.
CENTER FOR GLOBAL STUDIES
The Center for Global Studies (CGS) is a National Resource Center for the study of globalization under the Title VI program of the Department of Education. CGS has a four-fold mission: 1) to promote and support research to identify the impacts of globalization on the world’s populations and states and to develop strategies to address global issues; 2) to globalize UI across its nine colleges and multiple disciplinary and professional units; 3) to make teaching programs related to global studies available to K-16 students and teachers in Illinois and around the country as well as to businesses, professional and civic organizations, media, governmental agencies, and all members of the interested public; and 4). through its FLAS Fellowships and Title VI grant, support the acquisition of advanced language skills and understanding of other cultures for UI students. For more information, please contact the center.
Librarian, Center for Global Studies
Providing materials for K-12 students on the topic of global studies and globalization is essential to help them understand the interconnected aspects of the world in which we live. A few wonderful resources exist in the library in print and online. We have provided a few suggestions for your consideration here. You can look for more resources in most online catalogs by doing a subject search. Suggested search terms include globalization—juvenile literature, globalization and teaching, globalization—social aspects, multicultural education—activity programs, international education—case studies, globalization—history, international education, international education—handbooks, manuals, etc., and international education—activity programs. Search the I-Share catalog for the State of Illinois or try the links from the Center for Global Studies .
A few selected books on globalization are listed below:
Globalization by Iris Teichmann (Smart Apple Media, 2004) is targeted at elementary and junior high school students. It attempts to define globalization, the rise of multi-national corporations and global debt, and the ethical and economic questions surrounding these topics at an understandable level for these age groups.
Globalize It!: The Stories of the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and Those Who Protest by Brendan January (Twenty-First Century Books, 2003) targets upper level elementary and junior high school students. The book begins with a description of the “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 and proceeds to present arguments from both anti-globalization activists and pro-globalization enthusiasts that cover the history and missions of the organizations in the title, as well as the influence of companies like Nike and individuals like Michael Jordan, in presenting a somewhat simplified view of the process of globalization.
Travel the Globe: Multicultural Story Times by Desiree Webber (Libraries Unlimited, 1998) provides the reader with a wide variety of resources targeting the younger learner. The work includes resources for storytelling, music, lists of books to read aloud, finger plays, and crafts and activities that take the students on a trip around the world. The countries visited in this book include Australia, Brazil, the Caribbean Islands, China, Russia, Egypt, Ghana, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Vietnam, and the United States’ Native Americans. An author/title index and an index of activities provide excellent access to the materials found between its covers.
Global Winners: 74 Learning Activities for Inside and Outside the Classroom by Jan Drum, Steve Hughes and George G. Otero (Intercultural Press, 1994) is another excellent resource for international education. This work is also available electronically if your library purchases books from ebrary publishing.
Development, globalization and sustainability by John Morgan (Nelson Thornes, 2001) discusses the concepts of economic development and sustainability within globalization from a non-US viewpoint. Part of this work is dedicated to a broad overview of development in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia. The author chooses one country from each of these regions for more in-depth treatment as well.
The Global Community, 1975–2000 by Pier Paolo Poggio, Carlo Simoni, and Giogio Bacchin (Chelsea House Publishers, 2003) explores how industrialization since 1968, especially in communication and information science, has transformed economic, political, and social structures. The effects of this transformation on developed and underdeveloped areas are discussed. The target audience for this work is high school students.
Don’t forget there are some useful materials on the World Wide Web including foreign newspapers, such as those translated on WatchingAmerica.com, and geographic tools, such as Google Earth, that can be used to enrich the learning environment.
CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS EDUCATION AND RESEARCH
The Illinois Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), one of 31 national resource centers for international business, is a leader in designing and delivering programs that equip future business leaders with language skills, cultural awareness, and the specific business skills needed to be at the vanguard of international business management. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Illinois CIBER coordinates seminars and workshops for professional audiences, funds faculty research on international competitiveness, underwrites development and delivery of new business foreign language courses, develops and sponsors overseas experiences for undergraduate and graduate students, supports an annual international business case competition, serves as a resource for the business community through its website, conferences, and consulting, and administers the Certificate in Global Business Culture with Area Specialization. For more information, please contact the center or visit the Web site.
THE CENTER FOR LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN STUDIES
The Centers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago form a U.S. Department of Education National Resource Center consortium to promote Latin American and Caribbean Studies, teacher training, library resources, and expertise in less commonly taught languages throughout the state and beyond. This joint program hosts annual meetings of the Illinois Conference of Latin Americanists, conducts yearly seminars on topics of mutual concern, exchanges faculty and students, shares distinguished visitors and films, and engages in a variety of K-12 activities for schools and the public. The combined resources of the consortium provide one of the largest concentrations of human and material resources on Latin America in the United States. For more information, please contact the center.
Representing and Misrepresenting Brazil: Violence in Movies
Antonio Luciano Tosta, Assistant Professor of Brazilian Literature & Culture, Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese
On December 1st, 2006 John Stockwell’s thriller Turistas, the story of a group of US teenage “tourists” who go to Brazil on vacation, was released nationally. Although Rio de Janeiro is known as the “Wonderful City,” the travelers in Stockwell’s drama are in for dreadful surprises. After a deceiving “sex, drugs, and Samba” welcome, the youngsters wind up stranded in a village, where they realize that their documents and money have been stolen. They later face torture and are persecuted by organ brokers who want to sell their body parts in the black market. The movie trailer highlights that Brazil “looks like Paradise” and is “a country where anything goes.” This stereotypical portrayal, which includes the movie’s appeal to violence, has caused a commotion among Brazilians everywhere.
The passion that has characterized discussions about Turistas is partly because global organ trafficking has been associated with Brazil. As much as one might argue that the black market organ trade is an urban legend, the theme has been brought up in at least two contemporary Brazilian films. Central Station, directed by Walter Salles, portrayed the saga of a young boy who is sold to, and subsequently rescued from, organ snatchers. Sérgio Bianchi’s Chronically Unfeasible also portrays an organ trafficking business disguised as an adoption company. Both films hit Brazil vehemently when they were released, especially because they make explicit social criticism, and incorporate echoes of the “aesthetics of violence” that characterized Brazilian Cinema Novo movement in the sixties. Influenced by Italian neo-realism, directors such as Glauber Rocha and Cacá Diegues, created an intellectual and aesthetic movement whose agenda focused on the discussion of national reality, bringing to light social and political inequality at a time when Brazil experienced a fierce dictatorship.
Although the Cinema Novo productions differ from these recent films, as in the explicit rejection of Hollywood-like cinematography, many of the latter share with the former a commitment to causing social impact by making overt criticism in a documentary manner. Violence is used to highlight oppression and exclusion, as it is portrayed as the outcome of failed economic and judicial governmental policies. Moreover, these films aim at revealing Brazil to its people. That is why Turistas cannot, in fact, be compared with most Brazilian films that explore the theme of violence. Brazilians’ disapproving reaction to Stockwell’s film, therefore, is more than a rejection of an imperialistic look at a third-world society. Turistas tells nothing but the story of a “Spring Break vacation gone really badly.” It generates no reflection on Brazil. Therefore, Turistas misrepresents, or rather, does not represent Brazil whatsoever.
Central Station was the first film in the 1990s that achieved international reputation and connected Brazil to corruption and violence. But Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund’s City of God is the best-known representative of the genre. Resembling gangster and US Western films, it depicts not only the structure of the drug traffic and power disputes among drug lords in a Rio shantytown, but also police corruption, class differences, and social and spatial exclusion. Violence is also a major theme in Invasor, Carandiru, O Homem do Ano, Lower City, Notícias de uma Guerra Particular, and Ônibus 174. Although Brazilian films are also exploring other themes, such as the depiction of colonial and political history, violence still predominates. This choice of representation is incomplete, but valid because violence is a reality in most urban areas and needs to be addressed so that the population can continue to debate its causes and possible solutions.
RUSSIA, EAST EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN CENTER
The Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center is a U.S. Department of Education-designated National Resource Center, committed to providing information and service to K-16 teachers. If you are interested in the Center’s workshops, onsite presentations, or curricular materials, please contact the center or check visit the REEEC Web site. The Web site features a special section for K-12 teachers under Outreach, which includes an extensive annotated bibliography of resources, information on the Center’s multimedia lending library, annotated links to relevant web sites, and more.
Resources for Teaching Russian, East European, and Eurasian Children’s Stories
The following is a bibliography of Russian, East European and Eurasian folk tales and picture books for a preschool through middle school audience. These books were selected and annotated by Colleen Galvin, University of Illinois Masters Student in Library and Information Science and REEEC Outreach Assistant.
Tales Told in Tents: Stories from Central Asia by Sally Pomme Clayton. Frances Lincoln, 2005. Elementary and up. This rich compilation includes stories, poems, riddles and proverbs from Central Asia. Colorful illustrations. Map and small glossary included.
Brundibar by Tony Kushner. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Michael Di Capua Books, 2003. Elementary and up. When Aninku and Pipicek try to get milk for their sick mother, they are thwarted by the town bully Brunibar. The story is based on an opera that was performed fifty-five times by the children of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp located in what is now the Czech Republic. The story itself works for younger audiences, but the context of the tale makes it a good aide for teaching about the Holocaust to all ages.
Silly Horse by Vadim Levin. Translated from Russian by Tanya Wolfson and Tatiana Zunshine; Illustrated by Evgeny Antonenkov. Pumpkin House, 2005. Pre-school and up. Russian poet Vadim Levin wrote this collection of humorous poems in 1969 and they have been influential in Russian culture ever since.
Silly Horse by Marianna Mayer. Illustrated by K. Y. Craft. Morrow Junior Books, 1994. Elementary and up. With the help of her doll, young Vasilisa gets the better of the evil witch Baba Yaga. This retelling of the Russian Cinderella is filled with beautiful, eerie illustrations.
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. Aladdin Picture Books, 1988. Elementary and up. The history of the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience made accessible through the tale one family, their traditions, and the quilt they make. Polacco’s distinctive illustrations are in black and white, with the fabrics of the quilt in color.
The Love for Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev. Illustrated by Elzbieta Gaudasinska. Pumpkin House, 2006. Elementary and up. Adapted from the opera by Prokofiev, the story is a “combination of humor, sorrow, fantasy and grotesquery. And of course it’s a tale of love for three very large oranges.” (book flap). The unique, pastel illustrations complement the text.
Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome. Edited by Shena Guild. Illustrated by Tom Bower. Frances Lincoln, 2005. Pre-school and up. The traditional Russian fairy tale about an elderly couple who long for their own child. They create a snow girl, who comes alive and agrees to stay with them as long as they love her. The folk-style illustrations bring to mind the old Russian countryside.
The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring by Ruth Sanderson. Little, Brown Young Readers (2001). Elementary and up. Sanderson combines elements from several Russian fairy tales to create a compelling story about one young man’s quest. The large, beautiful illustrations make this a good read-aloud book for young readers as well.
The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend by Aaron Shepard. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Atheneum, 1997, Elementary and up. The poor musician Sadko must choose between the Sea King’s daughter and his beloved home, Novgorod. A sophisticated retelling of the traditional Russian folk tale, Gennady Spirin’s illustrations evoke old Russia and the mysterious sea underworld. A history of the story and pronunciation guide is also included.
A Little Story about a Big Turnip by Tatiana Zunshine. Illustrated by Evgeny Antonenkov. Pumpkin House, 2004. Pre-school and up. This traditional Russian folk tale is retold by Russian-born author Tatiana Zunshine. Filled with silly illustrations and simple sentences, it is perfect for younger audiences.
PROGRAM IN SOUTH ASIAN AND MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES
The Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (PSAMES) has just become a National Resource Center for the study and teaching of the Middle East, with a Title VI grant from the Department of Education. PSAMES promotes research and teaching on two regions that, together, comprise one-fifth of humanity and are home to five of the world’s major religions and its earliest civilizations. The program regularly organizes lectures, cultural events, symposia, and conferences concerning current events, political cultures and societies of the Middle East and South Asia, and research on Muslim communities worldwide. PSAMES faculty members have led summer abroad programs in Egypt and India in recent years and the program supports the graduate level study of Middle Eastern languages with Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships. PSAMES is committed to fostering outreach activities for K-12 and the community. For more information, please contact the center or visit the PSAMES Web site.
Books for young children on the Arab Middle East are increasingly visible in juvenile publishing. Fiction about Arab children, picture books portraying Arab societies, and reworked, translated literary texts introduce young students to a region they may catch disturbing glimpses of on television news.
I write as a center director committed to furthering knowledge of the Middle East among learners of all ages and as a mother and educator for whom the region has been central, both professionally and personally, shaping my own learning since age eleven. Here, I suggest a few titles that introduce the Middle East, especially Egypt, to K-6 students. I write from personal experience, and with limitations: this is only a sample and not entirely up-to-date. I offer it as material that I know to be accurate, well communicated, and lively. All titles below are aimed at K-6 audiences and are generally not more than 48 pages.
Everyone “knows” ancient Egypt; there exists copious material on the society of the Pharaohs for elementary students. But what about modern Egypt? Medieval Egypt? What about Egypt’s role in world histories? Books that narrate material histories—of certain products or practices—with an Egypt-centered focus allow students to consider how familiar presences are parts of other people’s histories, too. Vivienne Davis’s The World of Bread and The World of Coffee (Cairo: Elias-Hoopoe, 1993) offer world histories but with some Egypt-centered content. Sports also bring distant worlds closer: in his Focus on Football, Focus on Swimming, and Focus on Tennis (Cairo: Elias-Hoopoe, 1992), Jeremy Taylor gives young (K-3) readers a world tour of sport with details on Egyptian sports figures and events. Published for young readers in Egypt, to read these to young bread-eaters and swimmers in the United States “decenters” US perspectives.
Books that portray rituals and material culture fill out these new perspectives. Two books my children loved remain fine presentations with good photography: Olivia Bennett, Village in Egypt (London: A&C Black, 1983) follows daily activities, while Preben Kristensen and Fiona Cameron, We Live in Egypt (Hove, U.K.: Wayland, 1986), features first-person narratives from a variety of Egyptians—a camel dealer, a civil engineer, a bellydancer, a riverboat captain. In Festivals of Egypt (Cairo: Hoopoe, 1995), Jailan Abbas explains Muslim and Christian holiday rituals and Nile festivals inherited from the Pharaohs.
Offering historical narratives to young readers, Denys Johnson-Davies has written on early Islamic history for a slightly older audience (3rd–8th grades) in The Battles of the Prophet Muhammad and Stories of the Caliphs: The Early Rulers of Islam (Cairo: Elias-Hoopoe, 1997). A biography series, “Heroes from the East” (Cambridge, U.K.: Hood Hood Books www.hoodhood.com), offers portraits of (among others) Razia, Warrior Queen of India, the seventeenth-century Ottoman Turkish architect Sinan, and Mehmet the Conqueror. Abd al-Rahman Azzam narrates travel adventures of a great 14th-century Moroccan voyager and travel writer in The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Ibn Battuta in the Valley of Doom, Ibn Battuta Son of the Mighty Eagle, Ibn Battuta and the Lost Shadow, and Ibn Battuta and the Tatar Princess (Cambridge, UK: Hood Hood).
What about the marvelous story telling for which Arab societies are renowned? Denys Johnson-Davies presents a range of folk tales and 1001 Nights stories in a series published in Cairo in the mid-1990s by Elias-Hoopoe: Stories from the Arab Past, Animal Tales from the Arab World, Tales from Morocco, Aladdin and the Lamp, Tales from Sudan, Maarouf and the Dream Caravan, The Voyages of Sindbad, Goha (a beloved, bumbling folk figure), and Folk Tales of Egypt. Moving away from North Africa, look also for an outstanding rendition of a Palestinian story that blends childhood experience and fairy-tale lore by Sally Bahous, Sitti and the Cats: A Tale of Friendship (Niwot, Colorado: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1993).
Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland have written two wonderful story books, beautifully illustrated by Ted Lewin. The Day of Ahmed’s Secret (New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books, 1992) follows a young, working-class boy, the story’s narrator, as he works his way—literally—through Cairo’s streets, preserving a secret that he eventually tells his family. Sami and the Time of the Troubles (Clarion Books, 1992) is narrated by young Sami, a Beirut boy during Lebanon’s civil war, living in a basement with his mother. War isn’t lyrical, but Sami’s story is.