International Literature

What are the potential benefits of using international books with children and young adults? Are there any downsides?  Can children get excited about reading books set in other countries, or books that are actually from other countries?

There are individual threads for novels from the international text set but one interesting idea we are exploring in class is using a collection of books from another country to evoke interest in the cultures of these countries, introduce styles and literary literary traditions, and spark interest in the world around us.

What are you discovering from working with a set of books from another part of the world, and what do you see as the possibilities for using world literature with children?


18 Responses to “International Literature”

  1. 1 Danielle Pedri July 22, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    All children young and old can benefit from reading or taking a look at international books. The books give you a better appreciation of culture, you get to learn about the challenges that country may be facing, exposed to different writing techniques and illustrations, introduced to other ways of thinking, and different story lines they may not have read before. I don’t see any potential downsides to reading international books unless the topic is inappropriate for that age group. If the book is written in a different language then the student is able to see the different language or dialects that they probably haven’t seen before. I think children can get excited about reading books from other countries but only if a teacher presents them in a way that draws them in. It’s important to set up background information on the country so they can have a better understanding of where this author is coming from. I think students would be excited to see a different culture and would gain a different perspective.
    My international books from France have beautiful illustrations unlike anything I have seen before. Two of my books were in French and although I could not read the story I was fascinated by some of the illustrations and students could write a narrative as to what they think is going on in the story. Students have to understand that you will not be able to read every book you come across and they have to develop an understanding of that. Other possibilities could include using epals. I have never used epals before but it seems like such a great idea to get to know people from other cultures. While reading the international literature you could also discuss with your epal and questions you had about the book or their culture. This is such an exciting way to to gain more understanding of a culture we are not familiar with.

    • 2 Kimberly Eder July 23, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      I agree with you completely Danielle, all of us can benefit from reading and

      exploring international books. I was just thinking it would be a great idea

      to get together with other teachers at your grade level and have each class

      take a country and become experts on that country and then be able to

      share what they have learned with the other classes.

      • 3 Danielle Pedri July 23, 2015 at 2:06 pm

        Kimberly, I loved your idea on each class taking a country and becoming experts. Some grades even have students travel to each teacher to learn about each country and make a little passport or pamphlet to go with it. Both are great way to learn more about other countries and their culture.

    • 4 Alexandra Birckett December 2, 2015 at 4:17 pm


      I really liked your idea of using the epals! It really seems like a great way to give students the chance to see the world from a different perspective and communicate with people from another culture. I think this is important because not everyone in the workplace will have the same perspectives and opinions as one’s background plays an important part in shaping these things. Students need to understand that it is okay to have different perspectives on things. I also liked what you said about the illustrations. Just because a student may not be able to actually read the words on the page, they can create their own story based on the illustrations and for some students this is their favorite part of reading.

      Alexandra Birckett

  2. 5 childrenslitblog July 22, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Here is the link for connecting to the epals message board where teachers from around the world are looking for classrooms to connect with.

  3. 6 Kimberly Eder July 23, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I think there are many benefits for having students read and explore

    international books. It would be a great way to have them learn about other

    places in the world; to give them an understanding of others around the

    world; to be able to start seeing the world through others eyes. I think many

    children and adults don’t realize the beauty and history right where they live

    let alone half way across the world. The possibilities for using world

    literature in the classroom is endless. The students could do individual

    studies, pairing activities and group projects from everything about that

    country including its geography, location, language, currency, animals,

    plants, people, arts and history just to name a few. I am using international

    books from Australia and to see the beauty of the people and the sites is

    breathless. When I am looking at the books and reading the stories you get

    a sense of the people and their culture. It can only help the world if we were

    to reach out and get to know other people and what they go through daily

    and try to understand that part of the world. I think as teachers this

    exploration of other countries through books is one thing we can share and

    have our children explore to give them a better understanding of the world.

    • 7 Stephanie Dunnock July 28, 2015 at 3:05 am

      Kimberly, I learned a lot about Africa while I was doing my study which allowed me to then look at the text of the story with a different perspective. I think have the students do activities and group projects like you mentioned is a great idea. It is interesting to see what European influence was left on different parts of Africa because of earlier colonization. It is also interesting to see how things that happen within the history of the country come to light within the story lines.

    • 8 Robert Sorrells July 28, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      I loved what you said about children and adults not seeing the beauty around the world. Put aside the natural beauty of other countries, looking at their cultures is also another aspect of their beauty. All of these other countries have such deep and rich cultures that date back much further than ours. To learn about kings and queens, dynasties, and tribe leaders is so cool. Then think about the different folklore that is around the world, or even the mythology on how the world was created. It is so interesting to learn about how the people around the world look at everyday situations and ideas.

  4. 9 Stephanie Dunnock July 28, 2015 at 3:02 am

    International books are a great way to integrate social studies and geography into the class setting. International books allow children to see past the norms of their everyday life and gain perspectives of others. Our own society here in the United States encompasses so many cultures and dimensions of those cultures. International books allow students who do come from varying backgrounds to have appreciation and understanding about the world around them and even their own peers.
    Definitely there are books that draw the reader in to the story line surrounding a different nationality; however there are also some that would have the same feel and context if it took place in another country. For example, Splash! is a children’s book that is generalized to take place in Africa and the girl is at the beach with her family. Many students of many nationalities and backgrounds can relate to this little girls situation. The African culture throughout the storyline is very subtle. Then, there are books like Matatu which is deep of African heritage and culture. I think both types of books have a place in the classroom though. African children as well as children from all over the world are children and children have things in common. It is nice to see authentic and deeply culturally storylines and it is also nice to see children of different backgrounds acting the way, thinking the way, and learning the way other children all over the world do too.
    Using international books in the classroom provide many opportunities to discover different cultures and places around the world. There are a lot of chances to use maps within the lessons. Students can have pen pals with other students around the globe. Furthermore, students can be exposed to different types of literature and music. There are also underlying social circumstances like war, poverty, being a refugee, and other national events that lead into great social studies discussions.
    Students can also gain a sense of respect for other nationalities when studying books of a certain country. Students can start to put themselves in other people’s shoes and learn what it is to be empathic. Rich discussions can arise on many topics but the best part about international book studies is that students will be engaged and curious about what they are reading. These book studies allow the student to do the inquiry with the teacher facilitating that discovery and growth.

    • 10 Danielle Pedri July 28, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Stephanie, I like your idea on discussing war, poverty, and other national events. Sometimes I worry about how the students will take it but those are great discussion topics that I had not thought of.

    • 11 Robert Sorrells July 28, 2015 at 10:59 pm

      The idea that some of the books can take place in any country really stuck out to me. One of the books that I read, “Duncan’s Way” could have taken place in any country where fishing is important. I think that if a book like this, that can take place in any country and focuses on an universal issue, is read in the classroom it can open up a discussion and allow the students to become aware of an important problem that needs to be fixed.

      • 12 Stephanie Dunnock July 31, 2015 at 1:48 pm

        I felt the same way when I read Wild Wings for my Environmental Book. It took place in Scotland but would be just as relevant here in the US and even on the Eastern Shore.

  5. 13 Robert Sorrells July 28, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Of course international literature is beneficial to students. The first idea that I can think of is the idea that they are learning about new cultures becoming more excepting of them. A big problem in our world is that we have become unwilling to except other cultures. If it is different that us, then it is not as good and must be stupid. If the students can be exposed to different cultures correctly by a teacher how themselves are excepting of new cultures then the students will be more open in the future. Another benefit is that the students are learning that there are people all around the world that are like them and are facing similar problems. This is something that our students do not realize sometimes, The students think that there is nobody like them and that they are alone, Bringing international books, especially contemporary fiction books will allow the students to know that they are not alone.
    As far as can students become excited about international literature, I am going to say of course. First and foremost, the teacher themselves must be excited as well. If the teacher is not excited then there is little hope to get the students themselves excited. Aside from that, students are always excited to learn about the world around them. Countries on the other side of the world are a mystery to them, let alone countries that border them. Children love to learn about how people are different and love to learn new facts about places. One thing I know that my students love is to see places, geography or even buildings, that are different from their norm. If you can bring in literature that exposes them to that, you will have my students eating out of the palm of your hand.
    In response to have I have learned from my working with international literature, I have learned that there are a lot of similarities in what we write. Yes, there are some topics that American publishers/authors will not write about that others will, but for the most part it is sometimes hard to tell that a book is written in a different country. I do hate to think that our American publishers decide to change books written in different countries into a more americanized version. Besides a great story, the book allows the reader to learn about a new country. This may be more important than just reading the book. The idea that a reader can learn about a different country while actually enjoying a story, that is great. I would love to use these types of books in my classroom for this purpose, and for other reasons that I have mention. It would allow students to compare and contrast countries based on what they have learned through the story or pictures. The books can create an interest in environmental issues that other countries face or just become interested in learning about a different culture. I can see using a book written in a different language as a way to learn a to learn the language or using it as a wordless picture book. The benefits and possibilities of these books are endless.

  6. 14 Kimberly Eder July 31, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    I agree you with that having students explore international literature will be beneficial to them in learning about other cultures will help them to be more excepting of those cultures. It is the things that we don’t understand that makes us react the way we do, which is often not positive. Also I do agree that exposing children to other cultures help them see that there are others out in the world experiencing life in some of the same ways as they are and also sometimes when students can see other cultures and others living situations it makes them realize that maybe they don’t have it as bad as they thought.

    • 15 Stephanie Dunnock July 31, 2015 at 2:02 pm

      Kimberly- I like what you said about other students could realize that their situations aren’t as bad as what they think. It would be great if more students and adults for that matter appreciated more the things they have the opportunities they have to make their lives better. If they could see how hard it is for some children around the world to get an education maybe they would work harder in school.

  7. 16 Cristina Brown November 25, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    I think that using international books can really help to broaden a child’s knowledge and learning as a whole. Different cultures will have different topics that they find important to teach young children, as well as other ideas and ways to incorporate those topics into their readings. It will help the students to become more globally aware, and it will help build their enthusiasm about reading as they might find they like the way in which those specific authors or cultures create books, as well as their illustrations.
    While using books from another country I was able to see what that region found to be most important, also how they view communities as a whole. The one book I read really showed the community, and how they view it as a whole, and everyone interacts with each other in the community, something that isn’t the custom to life here in the U.S.

    • 17 Alexandra Birckett December 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm


      I really agree with what you said about opening up students eyes of other cultures as well as increasing enthusiasm. There is so much going on around the world today and making sure that students understand that not everyone lives the way that we do or values the same things that we do is important and can help reduce conflict between people who are not of the same background. I also agree that reading books from other places may engage students, especially those who do not love to read. Reading different types of books may make them more excited about reading.

      Alexandra Birckett

  8. 18 Alexandra Birckett December 2, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Alexandra Birckett

    Personally, I think that using international literature in the classroom is really effective for all students. Every culture is different and reading international books can broaden students horizons. Different cultures emphasize certain things and teach their children different topics than we might. By reading these types of books, students will become more aware of the world around them and how other people live. Reading about other cultures at a young age will help children to become more open and less judgmental of people who are not exactly like them. International books are written in different ways and may have different types of illustrations than the books that they usually read. This can definitely help engage students and make them want to read the book. Furthermore, even if students can’t read every word on the page, they can create their own story based on the illustrations and can still learn about a different culture. Integrating other subject areas can also be done with these books. For instance, students can compare different regions, nations, geographies, culture, etc. after reading international books. This is a great way to integrate social studies into language arts.

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