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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Books for peace?

December 9, 2010

Over 50 years ago, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) was established by Jella Lepman. Her vision for the organization was to "to promote international understanding through children's books." There are now over 70 chapters of IBBY throughout the world, including the US chapter, known as USBBY.

Each year, a committee of USBBY members selects books to appear on the Outstanding International Books for Children (and young adults). The 2010 list features books published in the previous year for children in kindergarten through grade 12.

I'm working with the committee to select titles for the 2011 list — and in fact, the committee will meet and deliberate this weekend.

Each committee member has read lots (and lots) of books published in other countries before being published in the United States. Of course, the books are evaluated on literary and artistic merit but also on how well they introduce American readers to book creators with other than American perspectives.

It's interesting when reading these books many present a distinct culture but with themes that American children can readily relate to — like the need to belong, to understand, for friendship. It's also interesting to see very different styles of illustration.

Jella Lepman was on target, I think. Even though most children won't have the chance to travel the world, they can meet people from across the globe through and in books — and isn't that what creates understanding?

Books can help eliminate the notion of "them, not me" — perhaps building empathy and maybe even one day, peace.

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