It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going!
Books that taught me about a different culture and helped me to step into the shoes of someone different than me?
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
These are all in the children’s or young adult literature genre, and two are novels while one is a wordless graphic novel.
The Arrival details one man’s journey to seek out a life in a new country, in order to escape the hardship and danger of his previous home. He leaves his wife and daughter in order to make a home for the family, with the intent that his family will follow him eventually. The wordless graphic novel’s illustrations are powerful in illuminating how foreign and strange this new country is for the protagonist. Everything is different, and the pictures adequately communicate this. What is interesting is that the reader is struck by how strange and foreign the country is—we are meant to feel as discombobulated at the protagonist does. In this way, readers are firmly set into the shoes of someone who is arriving in a foreign country for the first time. Some pictorial allusions (especially in the endpapers) connect this experience to arriving at Ellis Island in the late 19th century for the first time. In this way, some readers might reflect on how immigrants felt when they first arrived in America. Tan’s book is beautiful and is wonderful for classrooms, especially middle school ones (at least, from my own experience, I can say that!). This story changed my perspective about what it means to move to a foreign country and/or become immersed in a different culture (whether that’s classroom culture, workplace culture, church culture, etc.).
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is a science fantasy that engages with human cloning, greed, slavery, and what it means to be human. A darker young adult novel, the story engages with significant themes that generate rich discussions about how we should treat and care for each other. Matteo (Matt), the protagonist, discovers he is less than human upon being told he is a clone. However, there is something different about Matt and the other clones. Matt has compassion, can make his own decisions, and feels emotion. In this way, he acts more human than some of the other characters in the book (but no spoilers here). This story changed my perspective about how easy it is for us to ostracize those whom we don’t understand or are different from us. The book also really made me think about what it means to be human, and the importance of seeing people for who they are, rather than for their actions.
A hybrid text, The Devil’s Arithmetic is both historical fiction and fantasy. It’s the late 20th century, and Hannah assumes her evening will be spent with her family celebrating a Passover Seder. What she doesn’t expect, however, is to be transported back in time to Poland, during World War II. She experiences life in a concentration camp, and comes to understand what it really means to be Jewish during one of history’s worst moments. Reading this unique Holocaust story gave me a deeper glimpse into what it might have been like for Jewish Eastern Europeans during the Holocaust (although I can never fully comprehend what that was like). Yolen has crafted an excellent story that is moving and powerful. This book taught me about a different culture and it also planted me (through the protagonist) in someone else’s shoes, shoes I can never really completely understand. However, through literature, this is a little more possible.
What books have expanded your own borders or changed your perspective?