Wednesday, August 1, 2012

If America Were a Village, by David J. Smith

If America Were a Village: a book about the people of the United States
by David J. Smith
illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
32 pages
Toronto: Kids Can Press, Ltd.
ISBN 9781554533442

Smith reduces characteristics of the United States' 300+ million population to the scale of a 100-person village, making it easier to see what census percentages and large numbers mean about class, race, language, religion, etc.

This book breaks down the big numbers into a picture that's easier to grasp. For example: 82 members of the village speak English as their first language; 10 speak Spanish; 1 speaks Chinese, 1 speaks French; 1 speaks German. The many other languages are represented by fractional parts of "villagers". Wouldn't that make an impact on an English-speaking student deciding which second language to learn? Often, the U.S. census numbers are compared to a global standard or to other similar data from other countries. Would hearing that an average person in Kenya thinks that 6 children would be an ideal family, while Americans would prefer just 2, stimulate a discussion about how much children cost, or how low-tech societies differ from industrialized societies in family structure, mortality rate, and expected levels of responsibility by age?

This book highlights the diversity of American society with its illustrations: we see people of all ages, colors, occupations, but all smiling happily in spite of divisions and inequalities (unrealistic, but that can be something to talk about with kids). There are some Rockwellesque moments (a crowd watching Independence Day fireworks; a child saying bedtime prayers). The text addresses issues like consumerism, wealth distribution, and use of natural resources, which are all topics that middle school students should be considering in their personal lives as well as on a larger scale. It's important to think about how the averages of America as a whole differ from your immediate community -- are the racial or religious demographics very different? Does the population reflect the national statistic of a new immigrant every 27 seconds? At the end of the book are some suggestions for engaging children in critical thinking as global citizens. In an economics or US history class, this book would be an excellent addition to the curriculum.

Author Info
Illustrator Info
Media: acrylic paint

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