When Julia and her friend Patrick team up on a state fair project, Julia is disappointed that the silkworm project is too Korean. She wants to do something more American.
Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (author of A Long Walk to Water) is a simple story that touches on race and identity, but doesn’t drown in them. It’s an internal debate for Julia, but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. It’s actually refreshing to see her struggle with difficult questions, ask some awkward questions, and move on. It’s not one of these depressing novels about the horrors of institutional racism. It’s about everyday struggles, everyday problems.
That makes it a lot more relatable.
What’s weird about Project Mulberry is the between-chapter dialogues between Julia and Linda Sue Park, the author. The character and the author actually have a conversation. They talk about how the story is going, what Julia likes and doesn’t like, etc.
It’s a fun concept and an interesting way to teach kids about the writing process. But I’m not sure if it works. I felt kind of ambivalent about it, and it seems if something like that is going to work it really needs to be a positive addition to the book.
While generally I have a weak spot for sci-fi reading, I’ve also noticed I enjoy books that help you understand a specific culture or history. I think that’s one of the greatest joys of reading—better understanding part of life. Young adult and teen novels seem to be the best at this, since they’re usually more focused.
These sorts of stories may be a weak route to diversity, but they at least offer some. I’d also counter that understanding differing perspectives is the whole point of more diversity in our books, so that’s a big win.
So what are some good reads in that genre? I’m probably just getting started and missing the obvious ones, but since I do read a lot I realized I have quite a few to suggest. Continue reading Children’s Novels That Teach Culture & History
We were talking with some fellow adoptive parents the other night about the issue of embracing our children’s culture of origin. One mom made the comment that having a child adopted from Ethiopia means that her entire family is now Scottish and Ethiopian. There is no distinction—the Ethiopian child is now Scottish and the Scottish parents/children are now Ethiopian.
Saying it doesn’t make it so, but it’s a helpful attitude to have. Ethiopian culture isn’t some add on we endure to humor a child. And it’s not simply that child’s culture to the exclusion of the rest of the family. The entire family needs to embrace that culture. Likewise the adopted child needs to embrace the family’s culture. We blend, mix and share.
This is the kind of cultural blending that happens when people get married or when step families are formed—of course some families require more mixing that others. It’s natural that we embrace the culture and background of our loved ones.
I’m not sure why but in adoption there’s a temptation to leave that culture one step removed. We definitely want to embrace it, but we think of it as the child’s culture and not our own. We’ve mistakenly done this to some extent with Milo, thinking that we’ll dive into Ethiopian culture classes when he’s older and can appreciate it. But the rest of the family should learn that stuff too and there’s no need to wait for Milo. Heck, we could have been doing that before he came home.
Not that we haven’t been embracing Ethiopian culture. We were already doing a lot, but this brings it one step closer. For me, I think it’s about internalizing it. I always seem to be one step slower on this stuff, but I’m getting there. I even started an Ethiopia page to begin collecting the helpful resources I’m finding (most of which my wife has found; See? One step behind).
What I love about this approach to blending cultures in a family is that it’s not the child’s responsibility—it’s the family’s responsibility. So when a child is struggling with identity issues and wants nothing to do with their culture of origin (which is pretty common for internationally adopted children) that doesn’t mean it disappears from the family entirely. The stubborn kid doesn’t want to go to a cultural event? That’s fine. But I’m going because I enjoy it. It’s my culture, too.