To help children understand the world around them, here are a few books about international cultures from the Sudan to Haiti written just for them.
It was 1985 in a small village in Sudan. A loud shot interrupted the classroom full of boys, and the teachers shouted, "Go quickly, all of you. … Stay away from the village — run into the bush."
Joining many other frightened people, the boys ran from the gunfire and soldiers that plundered their homes.
Eleven-year-old Salva walked with the rhythm of wondering where his family had gone and whether he would ever see them again. Fearful, he joined hoards of villagers fleeing Sudan crossing the Nile into Ethiopia.
For six years, they trooped together, begging, stealing, often with intense hunger and thirst. Once an uncle joined the band and encouraged him on with advice so he would not be captured and sent to war. But a marauding band killed the uncle, and Salva was once again left to his own devices. Young boys and men — now thousands of them — found themselves in refugee camps foraging but constantly hungry.
Five years passed in the camps. Salva had learned enough survival skills to keep himself fit and somewhat healthy. Remembering his uncle's good counsel, he led a group of young boys toward Nairobi. They are known as the Lost Boys.
A few of the Lost Boys were selected from the camp for exile in foreign countries. Salva was one. He traveled to Rochester, N.Y., where he was welcomed by a host family. He thrived, learned English and procured an education.
Park cleverly weaves this story of young Salva later as an adult, with another child in Sudan in poor living conditions. When foreign workers arrived to drill a well, life changed for Nya and the whole village. Tying the two narratives together, the author portrays Salva's dedication to raising awareness for clean drinking water and his personal investment in drilling wells in Southern Sudan.
"A Long Walk to Water" is based on major events of Salva and Nya in Sudan where the Second Sudanese Civil War of 1983 caused the death, imprisonment and torture of millions of people.
"Among those displaced were hundred of thousands of so-called Lost Boys like Salva, who walked in desperation through southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya in search of safe haven," says Park.
This book can serve as a foundation for young readers helping them understand people struggling with peace accords, trying to resolve government conflicts in Sudan and Darfur.
Harsh reality is apparent as Haitian-born Danticat relates the story of young Junior, who is pulled from the rubble of his home eight days after the January 2010 earthquake.
While buried alive, Junior relives in his mind daily joyful experiences with family and friends that help him through the crisis. "On the third day I teased Justine by pulling her pigtails …" "Oscar and I went out to play soccer … (he) felt really tired and went to sleep. He never woke up. That was the day I cried."
The up-beat illustrations portray the ingenuity of a little boy who survives a terrible disaster and the way he was able to maintain focus. Young readers may not realize the depth of Junior's fear, but they will understand the bravery in a true story of courage.
Small vignettes tell about the connectedness of the world: a mother and her baby to a farmers market to people of interracial cultures as the illustrations link them with clues from one page to the next.
The sensitive drawings really tell the story, and the coordinating story line never distracts from the main theme of people and places all around the world being so much alike. There's much to talk about and re-read here.
A nonfiction book that portrays this attempt in the Middle East is "Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp," by Trish Marx with photos by Cindy Karp. Marx tells of a camp where children can learn not to be afraid and to respect one another. The story is of Alya, an Israeli Palestinian girl and Yuval, an Israeli Jewish boy who meet at a two-week summer camp to talk, learn and play. Even though their communities are close to each other in proximity, they live in two completely different ethnic and religious groups which keep them apart. Their families share a land that has been in conflict for the last one hundred years — Israel.
The activities of the two-week camp are documented with full color photos showing the children in games, contests, arts and craft classes with field trips. The children visit the museums of each other's culture. They learn to say a few foreign words, sing songs, "first Jewish songs, then Arabic and finally popular Western songs."
The culminating activity is the sleepover, for some children the first time they have slept away from home. With parent chaperones from each community, the children plan evening events, sometimes with visiting performers.
The author and artist both spent time at similar summer camps for children and attest to the benefit it could have. "It was a camp that can change perspectives, futures and perhaps the future of a country."
"Sharing Our Homeland" has a helpful pronunciation guide and glossary with an extensive reading and internet list for further study.