Amplifying Voices, Perspectives, and Experiences with USBBY’s 2021 Outstanding International Books List
BY JENNIFER M. GRAFF AND BETTIE PARSONS BARGER
“The stories you read can transform you. They can help you imagine beyond yourself. When you read a great story you leave home. We leave home to find home.”
(Rochman & McCampbell, 1997, p. vii)
The COVID-19 Pandemic has significantly shifted global travel to “zooming” from digital screen to digital screen and surfing online streaming services. For those fatigued by such excursions, international children’s books can offer exciting and thought-provoking adventures of the heart, mind, spirit, and global consciousness. Readers can enter fantastic worlds, hear previously unheard voices and perspectives, learn more about scientific worlds and cultural communities, and become immersed in emotional episodes that speak to senses of humanity and belonging in books published on multiple continents. The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY)’s annual Outstanding International Books (OIB) list is a great go-to guide for such literary experiences.
As mentioned in Wendy Stephens’ overview of youth literature awards and described by USBBY President, Evie Freeman, the OIB list provides readers of all ages--especially educators and readers in grades PreK-12--a collection of 40-42 books originally published outside of the United States (U.S.) that are now available in the U.S. These books, selected by a committee of teachers, librarians, children’s literature and literacy education teacher educators and scholars, connect us to noteworthy international authors and illustrators who seek to entertain, inform, challenge, delight, stimulate, and unite people through story.
Engaging with the 2021 OIB List: A Geographical Map and Themed Text Sets
Even with the grade-level band organization of the OIB list, selecting which books to read might feel daunting. Two ways to help facilitate book selections are the Interactive Google Map and thematic text sets.
Each OIB list has its own interactive Google Map, illustrating the international communities represented by the selected books. Using the color-coded pins on the world map or the left sidebar, select a book to zoom in on its location. Additional uses of the maps include critical analyses and discussions about dominant/absent voices, cultural representations, and equity on a global scale.
The 2021 OIB books also fit within text sets conducive to interdisciplinary and socioemotional learning as well as differentiated instruction. The table below includes the 35 OIB titles identified for PreK-8 grades organized into five themes. While each book is mentioned once, many could fit into multiple themes. The variety of genres, formats, and cultural origins reminds us that storytelling and humanity have no borders and amplifies the connections and intersections of self and society. Visit the USBBY OIB website or the February issue of the School Library Journal for all of the book annotations.
Rochman, H., & McCampbell, D. Z. (1997). Leaving home. HarperCollins
Children’s Literature References
The OIB 2021 Bookmark has bibliographic information for the aforementioned books.
Jennifer M. Graff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia, is a former CLA President and has been a CLA Member for 15+ years.
Bettie Parsons Barger is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at Winthrop University and has been a CLA Member for 10+ years.