The Books That Bind Us by Susan Knell
I had the opportunity to visit The Netherlands and Germany this summer, and like many teachers, I try to find children’s books from the culture I’m visiting. Bringing back children’s books from trips, whether across the state or across the ocean and sharing them with students is a wonderful way to show them the world. Being exposed to books from other cultures, countries, and multicultural authors/illustrators is an important way that teachers can promote global awareness and appreciation of other cultures and ideas. These books can also teach children that no matter where people live, what they look like, and what they believe, we are more alike than different.
In Amsterdam, I visited the American Book Center where everything is in English.
I found the Dutch children’s books translated into English and as I was browsing a young, probably college-age woman was pulling books from the shelf. We struck up a conversation (thank goodness most Dutch folks speak English!). She was going to visit Canada and was picking out Dutch children’s books in English to take to friends she would visit. During our conversation she showed me her favorite author and books that her mother read to her as a child, the Jip and Janneke books by Annie M.G. Schmitt. She spoke with such passion about these books and the wonderful memories she had having these books read to her as a child by her mother, and her desire to share them with others. Obviously, I bought them all.
A few days later, I traveled to Berlin where I was visiting good friends. Barbro took my daughter and me to Dussman’s bookstore, which is every bibliophile’s dream. If you ever travel to Berlin, you must find this bookstore. I just gasped when I entered and saw multiple levels of every type of book and media imaginable. Escalators and elavators took you to to book heaven.
She took me to the children’s department where the books were in English and booktalked me through her favorites as a child, which I obviously bought.
I hope teachers will seek out bookstores wherever they travel. One can find regional folklore, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and more about the area being visited. Bringing these books back to share with students can integrate geography, social studies, and other curricular areas, not to mention multicultural awareness. Not every child will go to Holland or Germany, but they can be exposed to the cultures and develop an appreciation for literature from all over the U.S. and the world.
Both of my international bookstore experiences reaffirmed what we already know. Children’s books are beloved across the world. Parents and teachers read aloud to their kids across the world. Kids all over the world will remember what was read to them long after they’re grown. Grown-ups all over the world remember their favorite book they read as a child and how that book made them feel. Books are powerful. They connect us with a love and passion no matter where we live in the world. Books bind us together no matter where we live.
Susan Knell is a professor at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, She teaches graduate courses in literacy education, and taught children’s literature to pre-service teachers for 19 years. Her main interests are children’s literature and reading motivation. But she also is an avid reader of adult books. She’s an active member of ILA of which she is now member emeritus, NCTE, Kansas Reading Association, and serves on her local library friends board. She loves to travel and brings home children’s books from all the places she visits.